Is God our Father, or is He Santa Claus?
An Advent reflection by Eric Hollas, OSB
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
1 December 2011
Saint John’s Abbey
Somewhere along the way not a few people confused the materialism we worship at Christmas with the generosity that we should expect from God. If you say the magic words, with heart-felt sincerity, then you can expect a miracle from God. And your miracle should include financial prosperity, professional success and personal happiness — all without any real sacrifice on your part. This is what the Japanese have called “gimme religion”, but in the American context I think of it as a conflation of God our Father with Santa Claus. Just ask, and you will receive.
But to believe that commitment to God will result automatically in material prosperity is a serious misreading of the scriptures. Today’s passage from Matthew (7: 21, 24-27) is a case in point. Jesus tells the parable of two builders who made very different choices on where to build their homes, with very different results. When the storms came, one stood firm, and one collapsed. But both had faced the same storms.
The critical point in the parable is that calling on God’s name will not bring us exemption from life’s challenges. Neither of the builders were spared the wrath of nature. But their respective actions brought drastically different results. And the same is true for us.
To wrap ourselves in the name of God and then sit and wait for the benefits is imprudent, and it is the foundation for a life of hypocrisy. It is a life in which we may fool others, but we mainly fool ourselves. And it’s so because we’ve used the name of the Lord to achieve power or wealth or influence — when in fact God offers none of that to those whom he loves.
For those who hear the word of God and act on it, then, there is no pass on experiencing the trials of life, nor does it offer an express lane to the best that the boutiques have to offer. Rather, those who hear the word of God and do it will have the assurance of “God with them.” There will still be storms, there will be challenges galore, and there will be tests of every sort. God does not promise to set those aside. But God does promise to help us rise to the occasion, to meet the challenges nobly, and to emerge as his beloved sons and daughters.