If the image of God described in my last post didn’t seem familiar, perhaps this quotation, from the advert for a certain brand of jeans shown before the movie, seems more like how your friends view their relationship to God:
Your life is your life. You are marvellous. The gods wait to delight in you.
This is a much more postmodern view, and I think possibly a more American than a British one. I say that because although the cultural boundaries are blurring all the time, there is still a much stronger sense in the USA that ‘you can do anything you want. You are amazing. The world is your oyster.’ Brits still retain a more self-effacing attitude, having lower expectations of themselves and of life.
However, this imagery is appealing on both sides of the Atlantic. The advert showed dozens of young, attractive, tanned, healthy, popular people having fun, living life to the full, and of course, wearing the requisite brand of denim clothing.
Yet it is not so much the message that ‘you are marvellous’ which struck me, as the result of that marvellousness: ‘the gods wait to delight in you’.
What an alluring thought – that God, or the gods, would delight in you! It is built on a Biblical truth:
The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
Yet of course, it utterly overturns that truth.
The recipient of worship and honour and praise in that verse from Psalms is God. The recipient of worship and honour and praise in the advert is you: the gods are waiting to marvel at how amazing you are, how beautiful, how accomplished, how popular.
It sounds wonderful; it puts you firmly in the driver’s seat; you are the centre of the universe.
And yet what happens when you stumble? When you’re alone on a miserable evening and start to doubt your own value? When someone criticises you, or rejects you, or you just come face to face with your own fallibility? What happens then? Will the gods continue to adore you?
And what about those who were never in the ‘in crowd’ in the first place? The misfits – the ugly, overweight, geeky people who don’t fit in no matter what jeans they buy – are not accepted by humans, why would the gods be interested in them?
This picture of God may seem more appealing than The Tree of Life’s perspective, but it turns out to be a hollow promise, which lets you down in the end.
The truth, it seems to me, is a combination of the two: the Lord delights in everyone – regardless of their looks, abilities or sartorial elegance – who continues to trust him (‘fear’ in this sense meaning a healthy respect for the power and awesomeness of God) even in the midst of trials and uncertainty.
Two very different experiences and expectations of God within the same cinematic excursion! Clearly whoever you think he is, God is still alive and well in Western consciousness.