An Alien View of God: Western Culture 1

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:9-11

A few years ago, we spent some time in the USA and Canada to attend our son’s wedding while seeing sights and visiting friends. It was my first time driving on the opposite side of the road. I would frequently get into the car on the wrong side and this was a reminder I was a visitor to a place that was far from familiar. Things we had taken for granted, like a simple walk in the forest, had a new dimension with the presence of bears. Although there was a superficial resemblance to home, it was not home.

Perhaps, like me, you are feeling increasingly like an “alien” or an “exile” in the western culture we are living in. Our society, initially having strong foundations in the Judeo/Christian ethic, is discarding Christ and many of the moral elements. It feels less and less like a place we are comfortable in. While we know following God’s moral purposes is beneficial even for the person who does not follow Christ, we have long passed the time when we can publicly gain any traction using the Bible as the authoritative justification. So, we can experience a sadness that our country is moving into a world with no moral boundaries and few fundamental principles. There is no sign that this trend will change any time soon. In addition, it is perhaps a shock to sense that Christians are increasingly regarded as immoral and intolerant. Some of the principles for living given focus to by Jesus are now being used selectively to condemn Christians. So how are we to cope; what will get us through?

The vision of a Christianised nation was unrealistically strong among Christians in the late 19th century during a period of revival but we have since clearly moved in the opposite direction. As we consider our feeling of discomfort in this changing and challenging culture, we can ask of ourselves what we think about God’s actions. It is easy to have some expectations of what God should be doing and then

to feel abandoned when the reality around us is different from our hopes. Are we critical or disappointed in His approach, are we more inclined to view God as uninvolved in the events around us (like the watchmaker image of God), or do we seek earnestly the presence of God accepting His sovereign choices while still pleading for His intervention?

As we locate ourselves more fully in God’s cosmic story, we will be better able to live in our current context. But we must recognise that our culture is assaulting our attitude to God. It is easy to adopt our culture’s view of God since it is bombarding us daily. Over the course of our own lives we have come under the saturating influence of this culture causing us to think and act in ways that make us more prone to having a negative and critical image of God. We can read of God’s character in the Scriptures and have experienced Him in many ways, but we can still be prone to having a view of God that is more cultural than Scriptural. We should allow the Scriptures to confront and transform these cultural views. At the same time, we can seek to identify the cultural forces that impinge on us and allow the Scriptures to address the impact of these on our perspective.

Be assured that there is nothing new in our current struggles. Our feeling of being aliens and exiles is the reality of our citizenship (1 Peter 2). But our culture has primed us to respond to these difficulties in ways that encourage the rejection of the active presence and goodness of God. Let us not be deceived by the pervading secular influence we are immersed in but allow the Scriptures to continue to fill our hearts and minds with the true nature of God. As we identify our feelings about the culture in which we live and our attitude towards God, please be encouraged to enter into an openness to God.

As the question “Where is Your God?” arises (Ps 42:3) can we respond with Ps 42:11:

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.  

While our home is yet to come in its fullness and we are living in a foreign land, can we use the experiences that make us feel like aliens and exiles to trigger our passion for God’s kingdom to come.

Question: As the current environment we are living in brings us challenges, can you express to God your feelings about Him? Is your attitude to the character of God being challenged in some way that need you to address? What Scripture do you need to meditate on to counter this challenge?
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