We’ve all seen the drama performances – you know the ones – where Jesus is seen on one side of the stage and the poor human is on the other side of the stage, reaching and striving to get to Jesus, but all the distractions of life and temptations keep taking the human down. We see Jesus struggling to try to get closer to the human and as the music crescendos, Jesus finally wins and the person gets to Him, with all the demons and distractions of life dead and gone around them. This kind of drama performance is very powerful – but also very flawed.
Then there are the songs that refer to Jesus waiting for us to come spend time with Him, as if He’s this insecure Being waiting in the corner of our living room, longing for us to just pause and spend time with Him. And if we miss it, He’ll still be waiting there for us, hoping we’ll one day stop and come and meet with Him. And as we go out on our day, he’ll be waiting in that “old familiar place”, wanting to spend some time with us…and if our day goes badly it’s cuz we left Jesus at home and ran out the door.
“I really want to get closer to God…” We hear this phrase a lot. And songs or drama performances and other illustrations supports this mentality. This phrase, which summarizes the underlying message of some of these songs and dramas, is an example of Christianese. Christianese, according to the Urban Dictionary, is “A communicable language within the Christian subculture with words and phrases created, redefined, and / or patented that applies only to the Christian sphere of influence.” Christianese. Words or phrases used, usually by those who go to church or claim to follow God, that others don’t understand. Here’s an example given from the Urban Dictionary of what Christianese might sound like:
“Christian: Brother, I felt like I was really backsliding, so I crucified my old man and put on my new man, and now the fruit of the spirit is evident in my life!
Non-Christian: What the hell did you just say? You speakin’ Christianese?”
Christianese. I would argue that many times a “Christian” may not even understand what they are saying, and how the phrases used may be quite flawed when really analyzed. I believe the phrase “getting closer to God” is an example of Christianese, even among Christians.
First of all, don’t get me wrong: maybe these types of dramas, songs and other illustrations have opened our eyes to God in a way that we never have experienced. Maybe they have given us a glimpse of our condition if there was no God. But they also hint of a false concept that God is far away and I have to really overcome all this stuff in my life to finally “get close to God.” It’s as if the Sacred is off somewhere waiting for us to be enlightened that we need him, and show our proof that we want Him, and then He’ll fight for us, as long as we fight for Him. Really? Is that what God is like? Doesn’t that image actually give more power to me? Let me explain more.
It’s all about a name. Emmanuel. Emmanuel was the name given to Jesus. (See Matthew 1:23). And it means “God with us.”
God WITH us.
Not waiting for us. Not hoping we’ll “get closer.” (How can you get closer when you’re already with?) Not pulling some imaginary rope at the proverbial other end of the stage. God is WITH us. Emmanuel.
Which at first seems weird. Really? God is with us? God is WITH me? Right now? But I don’t see Him. I don’t feel Him. What about all the “bad” stuff I’ve done lately? I need to do something to get closer to Him. He’s disappointed in me. As soon as I overcome this one issue, then I’ll finally get closer to God… And the list could go on. At times I think we expect more from ourselves than we do from God.
And really, what does it really mean to “get closer to God” ? Just sit with that statement for a minute. “Get Closer to God.” There’s something wrong with it. The emphasis is placed on me. The action is placed on me. The phrase itself puts God in a place of inactive disappointment waiting for me to make my move.
But Emmanuel, God WITH me, God with you, God WITH us, is different. Suddenly, I am not fighting my battles alone. Suddenly I am not having to overcome an obstacle to get closer to God – God is WITH me overcoming the obstacles in my life. It’s about TOGETHER.
So some may say, “Yes but sin separates us from God and so we have to overcome these types of obstacles to get closer to God.” Part of that is true. But most of that is wrong. Does sin separate us from God? And if so, what is sin? And what exactly does the separating? (Perhaps these are more examples of Christianese 🙂 ) Let’s say that we were to agree that “sin separates us from God” – which makes Emmanuel that much more powerful because THAT’S WHY GOD HAD TO COME AND BE EMMANUEL TO US. We can’t overcome these obstacles on our own. If in fact sin separates us, and sin lives in me, I can’t stop sinning apart from a higher power, therefore I need Emmanuel – God with me – God in me. We need the power of WITH to make it happen.
In fact, I would say that because God’s name is Emmanuel – God with us – perhaps sin at its root is really being unaware of His name. Perhaps it’s the fact that I try to be my own emmanuel. Perhaps sin is me trying to get closer to God, when all along God is already right here, right now, right next to me, – in fact, right WITH me. And perhaps sin is the fact that I am blind to that truth. Which then results in behaviors that others might refer to as “sins” – and the greatest sin being self-righteousness and pride – when it’s just the natural result of me trying to do what only God can do, and is trying to do in me right now. Perhaps it’s time we stopped trying to be God and let God just BE with us and in us.
What if this became our prayer: “God, I know You are already here. Make us aware of Your presence. Open our eyes and our ears to see you and to hear you. Open our minds to your movements all around us. We acknowledge Your presence…” The emphasis is off of us, and on the Sacred. God is already here – and here is wherever you are. God WITH us – Emmanuel.
Going back to the drama illustration, what if the drama would like this: Jesus and the human are together. The obstacles of life and the temptations still arise and come to the human, but Jesus is right there with them, fighting their battles with them. The obstacles don’t always disappear, but the human is not alone. They are not trying to “get closer to God” because God is already with them and in them. Even when they are not aware of it. They are together on this journey called life. They are together through the ups and downs. Whether the human is aware of it or not, He’s still there, cuz it’s his name – Emmanuel – God with us.