Let’s get right to the point. Christian life is a process and a journey to love and get to know God. Take a look at the apostles: at the beginning, none of them knew for sure just who Christ was.
Little by little, thanks to the Lord’s loving pedagogy, Jesus revealed the plenitude of his divinity. But in order for that to happen, the apostles went through a series of different approaches, feelings and ideas about Jesus, based on their own expectations, anxieties, fears, dreams, blunders, hopes, and so on.
Doesn’t the same thing happen to us? Certainly, everything is clear in the Catechism—some would say—, and it is true. But reality and the actual experience of living a Christian life isn’t always so clear.
All of us, day by day, get to know and love the Lord more and more, and in one sense our comprehension grows. But our growth is rarely a strictly linear, straightforward process. Sometimes it feels trapped and condemned to stagnation. Other days it takes great leaps forward, only to hit a roadblock and we get frustrated just a few moments later.
Other days we feel like we just need to start all over again. We needn’t fear any of these experiences. This is just the way we are and God loves us all the same. But we must be wary of the fact that on this journey there lies a subtle temptation: the temptation of ignoring the Living God, and instead – many times inadvertently – to create our own custom-made god.
We create a plastic idol that responds to our inner wounds, and in doing so we end up obstructing our relationship with the God of Life. Again, we needn’t be afraid. Sometimes, God patiently bears these pitiful competitors because they are the only path—even if sometimes it is a rocky one— through which we can experience the nostalgia that will open our hearts to the True God’s love.
Now, I want to describe some of these possible “gods with a lower-case g” that could appear in our Christian life. I myself, looking back in my life, can say that I have had a relationship with four out of these five “gods”, but I don’t necessarily regret it.
I believe that unmasking them and knowing the reasons why they appeared in my life helped me much to love and get to know God better. Nonetheless, it is important to identify them and escape from them as soon as possible. They are bad companions and advisers that the devil often uses to distract and to lead people away from the true, living God.
Here we go 😉
1.The god of good people
He is a difficult god to deal with. When we feel good, everything goes well with him, but when things get complicated, when sin appears in our lives, this petty king gets extremely offended and demands—if he is in a good mood— penances and sacrifices to repair the wrong committed.
Those who believe in him face a harsh dilemma: to accept the tough experience of never being sufficient for the god they love, or to block this frustration with the dangerous fantasy of not recognizing themselves as sinners.
The former, overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, sooner or later becomes sick of it and gives up; the latter, by means of rationalizations and excuses, have built a world of fantasy where the criticism of other people’s defects and sins are the drug that allows them to feel temporarily calmed and justified.
None of these experiences produce peace in the heart of the believer. This god is a constant source of inner breakdown.
2. The god of the philosophers
He is a wise and very demanding god. What matters to him is that his followers understand him, know his story, admire his dogmas, and have an orthodox theology; all according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church of course.
The followers of this donnish divinity have heard much about god, but they have never talked with God. Their speeches are correct, even beautiful, but insipid, as if they were being read, not lived. And this is exactly what has happened, because these men have converted the tabernacle of prayer into an occasion for learning, not for loving.
They believe they love god because they know about him, but no matter how sophisticated human logic is, it is not enough to measure the magnificence of God.
This is when our good students get frustrated… it is difficult for them to understand that the best method to study Love, is love itself; and they get uncomfortable because they discover that they are not willing to change if it implies the need to renounce the certainties that knowledge has given them. They believed they were studying the infinity and omnipotence of God, but, in reality, they only knew the dwarf god that their pretentious intelligence had created.
3. The god of the astronomers
This god is as beautiful as the moon. His followers contemplate him with admiration and respect, especially at night, perhaps with a sincere prayer before sleep, but after that his presence in their daily lives is merely decorative.
And it is not that these faithful men do not believe in him. It is not that they do not know that he incarnated and gave his life to redeem us from sin. They also know about the moon and have the certainty that some gravitational factors that allow life on Earth depend on her. That is not the problem.
The point is that the god of the astronomers does not come down, he does not become concrete, nor does he get involved in the lives of others, and his mysteries belong to the past.
These believers are a very particular and sad race: they believe they have been redeemed, but they do not live as redeemed people; they believe they are loved, but they do not feel loved; they believe that the Eucharist is the body of the Living God, but in practice, he is dead.
For God’s sake, someone talk to them about Providence or about Grace! Talk to them about the saints, who radiate God’s love for the world, or talk to them about the sacraments as a real and effective encounter with Christ.
Remind them that because of the Cross, our lives have been transformed, that now we are children of God, and that God is concretely present in the reality of our daily lives, in the tears and the smiles, in the frustrations and in the moments of joy, and not in the abstract, in the cold, the future, or in a simple reminiscence.
Maybe if we tell them all this, one of them may decide to put down the telescope and will try to believe in the God of Life. But do not be surprised if none of them does it, because a “telescope faith” is not always the fruit of ignorance; many times it is a conscious decision taken by those who are afraid that their closeness to God may interrupt the rhythm they have set for their lives.
Who knows if their fears are well-founded, maybe God just wanted to get closer to kiss them on the forehead and take away that painful sensation of abandonment that overwhelms them. We will never know. C’est la vie.
4. The god of mystics
This god produces a mixture of pleasure and pride in his followers. Those who follow him, at first, experience the warmth and closeness of the Living God, but then, marveled more by the sentimental experience than the encounter with the Lord, sacrifice the son to save the calf.
That is right, these men pray, and how they pray and talk about God! They can even be charitable men, but their religious activity is centered on themselves, in the pride and sensual pleasure they experience.
But as happens with all idols, this paltry and mean Dionysian god is not capable of fulfilling the sincere hunger of communion that the hearts of his followers demand. For this reason, those who believe in this divinity feel the constant necessity of showing off and talking to others about the longitude and depth of their spiritual lives.
It is a desperate but effective mechanism. The affection and the applause momentarily revive the pleasant sensations while, at the same time, demand the staging of the mystic role over and over again. Sadly, those who do not break this vicious cycle pay a very high price. The proclaimed sainthood overwhelms them and the heart, filled with more air than love, swells until it blows up in pieces. Oh, how the Church suffers when this happens!
5. The god of dramatic people
This god is always sad and sorrowful as it contemplates the sins of men. He feels a sort of sick pleasure reminding his followers about their betrayals, hypocrisies, and wickedness. He exaggerates everything in order to victimize himself, and accumulate prayers, chaplets, promises, and fervent repentance prayers.
There is no trace left of his omnipotence; sin seems to be stronger than him. That’s why his followers always take the initiative: they are afraid and feel obliged to double their efforts in the fight against sin. But they stumble, their good intentions last only a few days or weeks until they fall into the same mistakes.
And the stingy divinity they worship celebrates because no one remembers him during their headstrong combat. The god of dramatic people’s name is only pronounced when his followers savor guilt, and necessity of forgiveness —fundamentally psychological— appears, so they can re-start this miserable vicious cycle again.
Dramatic people and their weepy god—who is a projection of themselves, of course. face an urgent challenge: to stop the use and abuse of the sacrament of reconciliation for their own psychological games.
Now, if I finish the article at this point, someone would probably ask me: “so, which is the True God?” the easy answer would be: “…Jesus, the God presented in the Gospels,” but I will try to answer in a different way, according to the metaphor Jesus himself used:
The God of Lost Sheep
This God’s sheep get lost. He calls himself a Good Shepherd, but does not know how to control them or oblige them to do what he wants. He, carelessly, leaves the door to the sheep pen open, and justifies himself saying that it is love, not bars, nor punishment, that defines the limits. Has anyone seen such a progressive shepherd before?!
Now, of course,—because we must be fair—this God loves his sheep and calls them one by one by name. This is why when he is missing one, he immediately notices and gets ready to cross any road in order to find it.
Isn’t this God strange? He does not lock his sheep in or tie them to the pen and, nonetheless, when they get lost, he transforms himself into a hunting dog that sniffs every corner of the Earth until He finds them. He is capable of leaving the 99 in the wilderness to find the treacherous sheep!
And no matter what the weather is, the God of lost sheep never goes back nor stops His search. He shares His sheep’s name with the winds so they can whisper to it that the shepherd is looking for it; He leaves signs of His presence throughout the roads for the sheep so it can remember how much He loves it. He fights the wolves and their fury because the God of lost sheep is able to give it all, even His life, for them.
And no matter what their state is, when this Divine Shepherd finds a sheep, He never reproaches it; He is so happy for having found it that He forgets everything, calls it by name, and carries it on His shoulders back to the flock. This is the God of the Christians.