When the cardboard box kisses the concrete of our front porch, bubble-wrapped inside is something useful. A smart speaker with Alexa at which we can bark orders. A Ninja professional blender for smoothies, a best-selling self-help book to revolutionize our lives, a FURminator deShedding tool for our dogs.
Whatever’s inside the box is there for us to use. We get something from it. That’s why we shopped, read reviews, and clicked “Complete Purchase.” And, if we don’t like it, if it’s not useful, then we’ll kick it right back to the shipper.
In other words, online shopping is an intensely religious exercise.
We interact with Amazon like we interact with God.
What good is a Deity who isn’t useful? That, after all, is the purpose of religion, right? We need things and God is there to hand them over. Religion is basically utilitarian.
- My kids have the flu and I need God to heal them.
- I’m unemployed and heaven needs to give me a job.
- My marriage is sinking and the Lord needs to buoy it up.
The Almighty needs to make us happy, straighten out life’s crookedness, solve our problems.
In other words, if God expects us to trust him and love him and bend the knee before him, he’d better step up to the plate and get ‘er done.
If we’re going to be religious people, is it too much to expect for religion to be useful?
Yes. It is. But not for the reasons we might think.
God is use-less. Not because he can’t deliver. Not because he’s lacking what we need. He is use-less because he’s not a tool for us to wield. He’s not a divine object we can bend to our will. He’s not a great Santa in the clouds tossing down colorful packages to good boys and girls.
When it comes to giving us what we think we want, what we suppose we need, God is use-less. He will not be used. He will not be manipulated. He will not be utilized.
There is one thing he will do: God will recalibrate our hearts so that we realize, over time, that he is not an object from which we get things. Rather, he is The Thing. He and he alone, his very existence, his Being-ness, is why we believe in him, love him, adore him.
Every “thing” that God does give us is a little icon of himself. It’s not separate from him. Every breath is God. Every meal is God. Every healing is God. Every kiss is God. He has wrapped himself in “things” but the things are merely that—wrappings. He is giving us himself because he and he alone is what we are made to receive.
What do we need when we are sick? God.
What do we need when we are scared? God.
What do we need when our relationships fail? God.
He will come to us disguised in various ways. Wrapped in medicine. Hiding in a soothing touch. Concealed in a counselor’s words. But it’s him, clothed in these iconic things of the world, coming to us to give us the one thing needful: himself.
So much religion is all about us getting this or getting that. The God who comes to us in Jesus is all about giving us himself over and over. We get him. And, in so receiving him, we receive everything.
Jesus is not use-full but he is love-full. And love defies utility. Love is not about getting what I want but receiving the love of the beloved. And that love, the love made flesh in Jesus Christ, is pure gift for us. The kind of gift that is the Giver. The kind of God that is not use-full but full of everything we need and more.