What good is a cold, distant and useless God?

Caution: Spoilers Ahead

The most recent film from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan is based on a folktale in which the devil roams the earth in order to collect the souls of sinners unsaved.  The movie, “Devil,” is a thriller about five individuals  (one of whom is the devil incarnate) stuck on an elevator.

As each person meets his or her doom, the lights in the elevator flickers out briefly.  (Spoiler alert!)  When the lights return, chaos ensues amongst the small group as each one accuses the other of being the killer.  The movie unfolds until there are two left standing, and the sole survivor is spared only because he takes responsibility for his misdeeds.

The movie is one of many that explores the universal battle between good and evil in human society.   For this particular caper, as in others, the devil is present within the plot and interacts with the protagonists.   Whenever I watch these horror flicks, I am always left wondering: Where is God?

Ever notice that these films usually portray demons as near and present dangers while God remains aloof or missing from the story entirely?  People end up saving themselves.  Even when they do get religious, as in the movie “Stigmata” for instance, it is because of human initiative, not because of a direct intervention from a very present God.

When I watched “Devil” several weeks ago, this little puzzle bothered me.  What bothered me even more, however, was the realization that we do not treat God any differently in real life than do the movies.  We often live our lives as if God is distant and detached, merely a Clockmaker that sets things in motion only to let humans muddle along.

And like these movies, humans rely on their own power in order to bring about salvation.  No wonder we have a crippled economy, countless broken families, and a high rate of depression.  We think we can figure this all out on our own and escape the snare of the real Satan (not a movie stereotype) who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

If we go on long enough without relying on God in all aspects of our life, we threaten to forget God altogether.  God becomes an after-thought.

One way to get out of this rut is to transform how we talk about salvation.  For many years, I heard that when a person “accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior,” they are “saved.”  I believe this to be true; but for many people, their salvation stops there.  For many, the acceptance of Christ is a one-time event rather than a beginning of a life-changing journey.

Consider that our acceptance of Christ–our conversion–is like a wedding vow.  When we get married, we have a special event in which we exchange vows with our beloved, but the relationship and the true love that follows takes a lifetime to cultivate.

Truth is, our relationship to God is like a marriage, and we recommit to making God an intimate part of our life on a daily basis.  There may be times when we feel distant from God and there are times when we feel close to God, but in all things our marriage to God is something that keeps us connected.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages readers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:12b-13, NRSV).  A Christian who works out salvation is one who truly believes that God is present–a God incarnate and living in the power and person of the Risen Christ.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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