The Danger of Our Goldilocks God
We don’t like discomfort. More than our dislike for discomfort, we don’t like our choices taken away. We want what we want and we certainly know that we don’t want anyone or anything coming against what we want. This is life. This is the nature of, well, our nature. We live our days with a tight grip, most of the time the tightest of grips, clutched around the things most dear to us. And truthfully, there’s only one thing underneath our death grip:
Said another way, personal pleasure.
Our “just right”.
It’s safe to say that a lot of times we are content as long as we are operating under our preferences. When we are living how we like, how we would choose, we’re cruising. We’re on autopilot in a vehicle fueled by the gasoline of our own desires and personal pleasure. Life is good. We got the windows down. Radio is playing. And of course the temperature is just right and the song on the radio is the song we would have chosen to listen to.
The Goldilocks God
Don’t fall under the assumption that the scenario described above is anything other than the Christian life. If anything, it’s more a description of the Christian life than anything else. We’ve fallen prey to the belief that God is so cosmically and unbelievably loving and gracious that what he wants for us is to be exactly who we are and who we want to be, not conforming more into who He is and who He wants us to be. We want the Christian life without friction. We want sanctification without sacrifice. We want holiness without moderation. We want the healing without any pain. Of course, God is still somewhere on the list of our preferences. At least in the top 3.
In her book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle explains that in our fast-pace digital age, the art of communication and the art of the conversation have fallen prey to what Turkle has coined The Goldilocks affect. Just like the little girl in the fable who wanted everything just right, we, too, don’t want our connection with friends and family to be too close or too far, we want it right where we want it. Sure it might change from time to time, but that’s the point of this phenomenon. Technology now allows us to keep the Goldilocks affect in operation 24/7. We can constantly keep people as close as we want them or as distant as we want them. Not too close. Not too far. Just right.
May our personal preferences become sour compared to the sweetness of Christ.
Sadly, Turkle’s Goldilocks affect doesn’t stop with technology. This is how we operate with God. We surely don’t want him too far, that wouldn’t be a good thing. But we certainly don’t want him too close, either, because that could be just as bad, if not worse. Or so it seems. For, if he gets too close, he might ask something of us that comes directly against our personal preference and our pleasure.
What do you mean I can’t buy whatever I want? What do you mean that “it’s not the best” that I binge watch Netflix? What do you mean I can’t spend my time however I choose? What do you mean my behavior seems prideful? So what?
We want Him, we just want Him at a distance where we still maintain control. We don’t want him having too much to say about the choices we make. We don’t want the tension that we know will ensue if he gets too close and becomes “too much” a part of our lives.
Healing Without Hurting
The beloved author and theologian C. S. Lewis depicts this reality beautifully in The Great Divorce. He tells of a man seeking to enter heaven, to see the King. But the man has a tiny lizard on his shoulder [the lizard analogous to the man’s sin]. The man, or ghost as Lewis describes him, tells a certain flaming spirit, an angel called The Burning One, that he must leave this place, for he knows that the lizard cannot stay. He admits, “[the lizard’s] stuff won’t do here.” The Burning One offers to take care of the lizard for the man, to make him quiet, to which the man agrees. But as The Burning One gets closer and closer in order to kill the lizard, which would allow the man to say, the man refuses and insists on the angel stopping.
Ghost: Oh – ah – look out! You’re burning me. Keep away.
The Burning One: Don’t you want him killed?
Ghost: You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.
The Burning One: It’s the only way.
The debate continues, the man insistent on keeping the lizard due to the painful cost and displeasure that would surely come from its removal.
Ghost: Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.
The Burning One: It is not so.
Ghost: Why, you’re hurting me now.
The Burning One: I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.
[. . .]
Ghost: I know it will kill me.
The Burning One: It won’t. But supposing it did?
Ghost: You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.
This is our lives on a daily basis. We want to see the King but we want to keep the lizard. For us, and the man in Lewis’ tale, having sin killed in our lives is not worth the agony involved to do so. So, we plead that God would just overlook it. And we don’t want him coming too close because he might burn us. We just want him to leave certain things alone, don’t we?
We bow up. We fight. We are on the defense. We are okay with all the methods he offers us for healing, except the ones that go directly into our wounds.
To want healing free from any pain or discomfort is to not want true healing.
Redefining Our “Just Right”
Instead of what we would choose in our sinful estimation, we must let God and His Word appropriate his proximity to us, which is awfully close and always turns out to be right for us and for our good. What we need is to redefine our just right. Our just right needs to be that God would do what he must to sever the parts of us that cannot be in his presence. Our just right needs to be that God’s holiness is maintained in our lives, not our sinfulness. Our just right must be for him to remove anything hurting us more by being present than the painful process of its removal. Displeasure isn’t something we run after, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best for us. Turkle comments in Reclaiming Conversation,
“But who said that a life without conflict, without being reminded of past mistakes, past pain, or one where you can avoid rubbing shoulders with troublesome people, is good?”
The great Puritans had much to say about fighting for personal holiness and fighting against the preservation of our sinful preferences. Richard Sibbes writes in The Bruised Reed:
“Let us lament our own perversity, and say: Lord, what a heart have I that needs all [this bruising], that none of this could be spared! We must lay siege to the hardness of our own hearts, and aggravate sin all we can.”
“Where most holiness is, there is most moderation.”
“Therefore, let us keep ourselves under [the work of bruising] till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.”
May our desire be for the Spirit to deal with our sin in the best and most complete way. May our personal preferences become sour compared to the sweetness of Christ. May we welcome whatever pain necessary to remove our sin.
Let’s understand that holding something back from God’s hand is firm proof that what we’re holding onto is the very thing we must let go. Let’s not believe that pain and friction and tension are bad things. Pruning and reproof are beautiful gifts that lead us in sanctification. Let us allow the Spirit to be the expert assassin that He is in order to lay siege to our sinful withholdings.
And let all glory be to Christ.
[Photo: Kyler Russell, @kyler.raymond]