With a four- and a one- year old in my house, I do a fair amount of assembling plastic toys. In my experience there are two types of people when it comes to putting together toys or furniture: There are those who just get started and only look at the instructions as they go, and there are those who pick up the instructions first and go step by step. I am the latter. I don’t have enough mechanical sense to put something together on intuition. So I want instructions. I want the precise way to put it together because I know I will screw it up otherwise. The instructions make me feel safe.
I think there are times when we want the Bible or God’s will to be this way. We assume the exact step by step instructions will be given if we flip to the right page on the Bible. Or we assume God’s will is going to float into our lap with a parachute, wrapped in butcher paper. Unfortunately neither of these actually happen.
But even more unfortunate is that we often talk about the Bible or God’s will like they are instruction manuals. We assume if we just follow the right rules, and make the right decisions based on God’s will we will always have the outcomes we want. If I am good enough and do what God tells me, then I will get whatever I want out of life. We seek the safety of an instruction manual, are unwilling to take risks, and then often don’t know what to do when life doesn’t turn out our way.
We often approach this week’s Gospel passage that way as well. If I just bug God enough and don’t screw up, God will give me what I want. Quid pro quo – I do the right things and say the right prayers, God blesses me.
But God does not promise this. When Jesus says to ask, seek, and knock he says what we will receive is God. He doesn’t promise safety or stability. He doesn’t promise wealth or success. He promises God. When you seek God with all that you have, you will find God.
This isn’t a very hopeful promise if we have an instruction manual kind of God. If I have an instruction manual God then I need to have it all figured out, know all the right formulas, do all the right things. Getting it right is how I ask, seek, and knock. The hope is that if I do enough for God, God might do something for me. I can gain God’s attention by how righteous I am.
This is how gods function. But the entire Old Testament is filled with page after page of God trying to make sure God’s people know God does not function like other gods. God wants us to have a better vision of what a God looks like.
So in this passage, Jesus actually connects the promise of God’s presence to a particular view of God. Before he promises the presence of God, he makes sure we know what kind of a God we are getting. We have a loving parent God who wants good things for God’s children. As we see in Hosea, this goodness and mercy is not based upon how well we get it right or if we believe the right things. This is a God who is good and loving and wants what is best for God’s children.
This is why theology is so important. Our view of God matters.
If we believe God is a quick to smite, judgmental, rule-keeping, instruction manual God, we will become those kinds of people. When we see Christians who are railing on people who are “sinners” and evil, or are more concerned for correct doctrine than the are how they treat people, they have an instruction manual God. God expects you to have your stuff together, so I do too.
This is a bad view of God. We have a loving and good God who is for us. This God’s love is not contingent on performance. This God pursues us with all of God’s being. This God doesn’t give up. This God is worried about the kind of life God wants FOR us, not the kind of life God wants FROM us. This God is deeply invested in our choices, but does the best work when we fall short.
Our theology matters. When we have a view of a good God who is relentlessly pursuing us, then the promise of God’s presence is an amazing gift. When we have a picture of a God just waiting for us to screw up and throw lightning bolts, the promise of presence is scary. In that case, I would rather try to have it all figured out so I could get what I want.
So take some time this week to simply rest in a better view of God. Rest in the presence of a God who is for you and relentlessly pursues you.