So I wrote my first novel. It’s about a Mormon missionary who goes insane on his mission. And in the interest of research, when Mormon missionaries would knock on my door, I’d invite them in, every time. It usually didn’t end well. Invariably, they’d bear their testimony heatedly and storm off in a huff, insisting I had a “spirit of contention!”
They were probably right.
Anyway, this one missionary sticks in my mind. I named my novel’s protagonist after him.
Let me set the scene. Things were getting dicey. You know me—push, push, push. Elephants in pre-Columbia America. The Book of Abraham papyrus. Joseph Smith’s wandering wangdoodle. All that. Every time I’d push, they’d bear their testimony. This corn-fed missionary clearly had spied my book shelf, heavy with “anti-Mormon” books and DVDs. He glared at it with resolute menace.
“You and your frickin’ videos!” He barked. “You have no concern for the things of God!”
Are you a fool?
Frickin’. That’s really harsh for a Mormon missionary. Usually, the closest they get to an F Bomb is flippin’. It was righteous indignation, I guess. His was the biblical view: The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” Fools aren’t just dumb. They’re evil. Morally fatuous, if you will—all because they won’t orbit their existence around God and are left with no recourse but self-centeredness. Stupid is as stupid does.
And I was one of them, in his mind: a frickin’ degenerate.
Little did he know. I was actually on a mission from God at the time. I was an Evangelical hell-bent on skewering Mormonism through my debut novel—every bit as zealous as himself. Joke was on him. I wasn’t godless. I was, I guess, god-ful. The difference was I was worshipping the right Jesus.
Joke was on me: I ended up losing my religion through the process of writing my novel. So it goes.
What’s the greatest commandment?
Still, though, I understand where he was coming from. I still have ready access to the religious worldview. In that worldview, unbelievers are fools, as noted above, morally crippled by their self-centeredness. Our salvation, as the corn-fed missionary believed, was in centering of lives on the Things of God. To be the humans God wants us to be we must focus on God.
That was Jesus’ view. Asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said it was To Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart And All Your Soul And All Your Might. The second most important commandment was to Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. The only reason we can’t serve others is we have our eyes on ourselves and off God. We can’t be good without God. Everything must be done for the Glory of God. The Bible refers to the good deeds of the ungodly as filthy rags, unclean because of their essential selfishness. If you’re not focusing on God, you’re left with no other recourse but to focus on yourself. Vanity of vanities!
Which circle best describes your life?
When I was in college, I joined Campus Crusade for Christ. As a member of that organization, I was expected to “witness,” which consisted of approaching students on campus and sharing the gospel. (Yes, I was a missionary, I guess.) Specifically, we would come up to unsuspecting people sunning on the lawn in the quad or eating lunch in the student union building and ask them, “Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?”
Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
“However,” we’d ask, “why is it that most people are not experiencing God’s plan for their life?” That led to . . .
Law 2: All of us sin and our sin has separated us from God.
“We were created to have fellowship with God,” we’d say, “but because of our stubborn self-will, we chose to go our own independent way and fellowship with God was broken.” That led to . . .
Law 3: Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. Through Him we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our life.
“However,” we’d say, ‘it’s not enough just to know these three principles,” leading to . . .
Law 4: We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.
“Receiving Christ involves turning to God from self and trusting Christ to come into our lives to forgive us and to make us what He wants us to be,” we’d say.
Then we would show them this diagram:
“Which circle best describes your life?” we’d ask. It was like asking somebody, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” No one wants to admit they’re selfish—and we were telling them the only alternative to selfishness was God-centeredness.
If they chose the Christ-directed circle, we’d lead them in The Sinner’s Prayer, the capstone of which is “Take control of the throne of my life and make me the kind of person You want me to be.”
In other words . . . we can’t be good without God, But what does that mean? How does one love God with one’s whole heart, practically speaking? How do you put Christ on the throne of your life on a daily basis? By reading the Bible? Please. You hear His voice? Call the folks from the Funny Farm. How can you focus on an invisible, silent being?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying God doesn’t exist. If you’ve raced to that conclusion, you’re mistaken. There is a thing called God that created space and time. He’s just not accessible.
Not to sell God short, but . . .
Religious folks cry, “Not true! God acts in my life.” Really? If you probe these religious folks about how God acts in their life you’ll find two things:
- First off, most of the acts of God in a believer’s life are perceived in hindsight. God really taught me something through that trial or I can see there was a purpose to it all now. And so on. If God does act in our life, we can’t recognize Him doing it, for the most part. It’s so incremental so as to imperceptible, like the continents sloughing off into the ocean.
- Secondly, when they can point to God acting in the present it’s always through humans. God really touched me with that song or God brought you into my life or God spoke through you.
So what can we learn from that? I think God’s intention is clear. He knows we can’t focus on Him, so he wants us to focus on each other. That’s the whole point—the point of life. The second commandment is actually the first commandment. Jesus was wrong. Turns out, the Things Of God are the Things Of Men.
I don’t want to sell God short. Nothing would exist without God. We owe God not just for our creation but for every second of our existence. As the Bible says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (There is truth in the Bible.) We only keep on keeping on because God holds reality together. In fact, He’s the only Necessary Thing. Nothing has to be. We’re certainly not necessary. The fact that there’s something rather than nothing is a clue that there is a Necessary Being to bring all this unnecessary stuff into being and hold it together.
But God is totally unnecessary in crucial one sense—when it comes to how we lead our lives. Let me be more plain: We Don’t Need God. We don’t need Him to be good. We don’t need Him to be selfless. God doesn’t act in our lives. He can’t act in our lives. That’s not the way things work.
So what good is God? Well, as I said, He holds reality together—no small matter, that—but, past that, we’re pretty much on our own. That’s why we need each other. That’s why a life focused on self is . . . foolish. Not because we’re not focusing on God. Rather, because we’re not focusing on others. Therein lies our salvation.