Why do so many contemporary churches or best-selling Christian books focus almost exclusively on practical application rather than doctrinal truth? Why do most Christians prefer to talk about their own testimonies or changed lives, rather than arguing for the truth of the Christian faith? On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts take a look at the philosophy of pragmatism and its effects on contemporary Christian thought and practice (originally aired June 15, 2008).
A great God makes proud sinners uncomfortable, a diminished God less so. Given our sinful proclivity to exalt ourselves, the diminished God can easily become a means to an end. While such a God is still much bigger and more powerful than we are, nevertheless the smaller we make him, the greater the opportunity to manipulate his power to further our sinful ends. Unlike the God of the Bible, who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11) and who does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3), the diminished God exists to do whatever pleases us. On call 24/7, he is there to attend to all our whims and respond to our constant whining. This God is not to be served and adored, rather, he is a means to an end. Like the genie freed from his bottle, this God is there to answer our prayers and give us what we wish.
Sometimes we use God quite intentionally; other times we do it without even knowing it. The bottom line is that we use God to suit our own ends because we live our lives through the distorted lens of human pride. Inevitably, we see our own interests and agendas as far more important than they really are. From this distorted perspective God exists to enable us to achieve that which we have decreed, that which pleases us-the complete reversal of the two biblical passages just cited. This, of course, is the height of human folly and the sad consequence of sinful pride.
Some of the ways in which we use God are much more obvious than others. Several instances of this sinful tendency can be found within the pages of the New Testament. In the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel, Mark recounts for us the early days of Jesus’ messianic mission around Capernaum. When Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick, it was not long before word spread throughout Galilee that a healer/exorcist extraordinaire was in their midst. Soon, Jesus could not eat or rest because multitudes of sick and suffering people swarmed around him (Mark 3:8-10, 20), making his messianic mission nearly impossible to complete.
While Jesus demonstrated nearly unlimited compassion on those who were sick and suffering-he healed countless of them-these poor people serve as a sad example to us of people who see in God a means to an end without even knowing they are doing it. As the gospel narrative unfolds, we learn that Jesus did not come to heal the sick or cast out demons, but to deal with the root cause of all human suffering-the guilt and power of sin. Jesus’ messianic mission was not to serve as a walking emergency room or medical clinic. Instead his mission would take him to the cross, the very place the suffering crowds did not want to see him go. The multitudes who sought out Jesus didn’t care about the root cause of their suffering. They just wanted to be healed, right then and there. And they could not see, nor did they much care, how a crucified Jesus would save them from something much greater than sickness.
In this tragic set of circumstances, we see how the symptoms (sickness and demon possession) of the deeper human condition (the pride stemming from our fallen nature) blinded these people to the fact that in Jesus’ death and resurrection the human condition would find its ultimate and final cure. Desperate people do desperate things. Sufferers don’t want ultimate solutions as much as they want immediate relief. These crowds saw in Jesus a means to an end. In their eyes, it didn’t matter why Jesus came, it only mattered that he had the power to heal them. Because of human sin and pride, they saw in Jesus an opportunity to gain relief. They were using God without even knowing that they were doing so.