You know the cricket I’m talking about–he’s the spunky little hobo/insect who taught Pinocchio that “If you wish upon a star, your dreams will come true.” Which, according to my 7-year-old as we watched the movie, is “dumb.” (That’s my boy!!!) The reason I bring it up is that much of popular Christianity has been infected by the Jiminy Cricket worldview, and The Shack and I have a few things to say about that.
“Wishing upon a star” expresses the basic idea of MAGIC, the idea that we can directly affect the world around us by thinking certain thoughts or speaking certain words. That saying “abracadabra” releases certain energies hidden in the cosmos so that they will do our bidding. There is one form this takes in Christianity where, if you ask God for a million dollars and believe hard enough that God will actually give it to you, then God will give it to you. I’m not even going to dignify that one with a response.
But this magical thinking takes an even subtler form in broader Christian circles, where we’ve somehow come to think that faith changes God. That my act of having-faith changes God’s attitude and actions toward me. That when I believe that God loves me and embraces me, that is the moment when God begins to love and embrace me. That Jesus is not my Lord and Savior until I put my trust in him as my Lord and Savior.
Here’s the real deal: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Savior. He’s not waiting on your faith or my faith to be who he is. My faith makes a big difference in my life; without it I cannot know Papa or find rest for my soul. But as Martin Luther said, faith is like an eye. It doesn’t create what it sees; it just makes me aware of what was there all along.
So what is it that’s been there all along? Jesus, his Father, and their Spirit, loving us and embracing us into their shared life of love, joy and peace. The clearest depiction of this I ever saw was in that part of The Shack, when Mack is about to knock on the door, but before he can do it, Papa bursts out of the house and hugs him and showers him with affection. Mack hasn’t confessed or repented or believed or trusted or put his faith in anything yet. Those things DO happen later in the story, but they are the RESULT of Papa’s embrace, not the condition for it.
The good news is not a sales pitch; it’s NEWS, news that can be believed or disbelieved. And neither belief or unbelief changes the news; the only thing they affect is my awareness of what’s going on. My belief or unbelief changes one thing–ME. The gospel that Jesus is Lord and Savior is true, period. But it will not do me much good if I don’t believe it: “We also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4.2). Faith is not a work I perform, a work that is God’s condition for loving me. No. It’s grace. ALL of it.
Believing that Jesus has saved me does not cause him to save me. This isn’t magic. This isn’t a Disney movie. It’s reality. And in the real world, Jesus “is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4.10).