Oftentimes we think of the Bible as a self-help book. We think there are formulas that will help us to be better people…to be more like God and less like us, really, to be perfect. Early on, I learned I love formulas. I loved math and science. It just made sense. 2+2=4 always. There was no room for interpretation. There was no debate. There were no sides of the argument to consider before solving the equation. There was just the formula. Black and white. Clear as can be. As an engineer throughout college and in the first eight years of my career, I lived within this domain of science and formulas. It was easy to live there. There was little confusion or room for argument.
Recently, I started working for a church and, so far, it’s the hardest job I’ve had. Besides the blurred lines between my personal and work life, I also struggled with the people aspect of my job. By that I mean, ultimately, the church’s product is people. It’s about giving people the opportunity to take steps that get them closer to God, that enable them to continue moving on in their faith journey.
In the corporate world, I worked with consumer goods. Our products were tangible items that people consumed. Working with people is hard, really hard, because relationships are messy. There are no formulas for every situation or personality you encounter for the 6 billion people on this planet. Heck, not even animals respond to formulas (says the proud owner of two cats and rabbits)!
So I identified with the author Don Miller of Searching for God Knows What when he wrote the following:
It made me wonder, honestly, if such a complex existence as the one you and I are living can really be broken down into a few steps. It seems if there were a formula to fix life. Jesus would have told us what it was.
…when Jesus was walking around on earth He taught His disciples truths through experience, first telling them stories, then walking with them, then causing stuff to happen like a storm on the sea, then reiterating the idea He had taught them the day before. Even then it took years before the disciples understood, and even then the Holy Spirit had to come and wrap things up. So it made me realize that either God didn’t know the formulas, or the formulas weren’t able to change a person’s heart.
To be honest, though, I don’t know how much I like the idea of my spirituality being relational.
The formulas propose that if you do this and this and this, God will respond…but it makes me secretly wonder we don’t wish God were a genie who could deliver a few wishes here and there. And that makes me wonder if what we really want from the formulas are the wishes, not God. It makes me wonder if what we really want is control, not a relationship.
I mean, who wouldn’t?! Formula are EASY! Formulas leave no room for debate. Why wouldn’t I want to control my life? It’s mine, isn’t it? Donald Miller goes on to say:
Relationships aren’t the best thing, if you ask me. People can be quite untrustworthy, and the more you get to know them — by that I mean the more you let somebody you know who you really are — the more it feels as though something is at stake. And that makes me nervous. It takes me a million years to get to know anybody pretty well, and even then the slightest thing will set me off. I feel it in my chest, this desire to dissociate. I don’t mean to be a jerk about it, but that is how I am wired. I say this because it makes complete sense to me that we would rather have a formula religion than a relational religion. If I could, I probably would have formula friends because they would be safe.
and ultimately so would I…
I have this suspicion, however, that if we are going to get to know God, it is going to be a little more like getting to know a person than practicing voodoo. And I suppose that means we are going to have to get over this fear of intimacy, or whatever you want to call it, in order to have an ancient sort of faith shared by all the dead apostles.
And this makes me think of people who have tried to live there lives with formulas – House, Bones, etc. OK, these are TV examples but they survived more than one season. Why did the networks keep them on? Because of viewers. Because it was popular with the American TV-watching audience. And why did people tune in? I think it’s because at some level, didn’t we identify with the main character? With their desire to have life explained totally by formulas and science, by reasoning and logic?