C.S. Lewis said, “There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was ‘the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.’
A variation on that theme is that God is the ‘sort of person’ who sneaks around waiting for you to do something wrong, marks it down in a schoolmaster’s book and condemns you as not making the grade. You are in trouble again, a constant failure despite your best efforts.
Nothing does us or God a greater disservice than our having the wrong idea about who He is. It is also true that in nothing would Satan take greater delight than confusing us about the nature of God, making us fearful of Him, believing that we are condemned before Him for our inadequacies.
Certainly to be mortal is to be painfully aware that we are flawed. It is even worse, however, to know we are flawed, and then believe God takes constant and disappointed note of it.
To live with the mental construct that God is always over our shoulder shaking his head in dismay at our weaknesses makes life and spirituality a burden. That false idea makes us want to run from God, heads bowed with a sense of our terrible unworthiness.
Or it invites us to be perfectionists, constantly measuring our performance to see if it is good enough. Have I done enough? Have I measured up? Have I achieved? Are my children turning out? We may believe that we are constantly on the line with the Lord, in an exhausting race to prove ourselves against impossible standards.
It is clear that being “on the line” with someone does not promote a safe, and trusting relationship. That is just as true if we feel “on the line” with God.
Overwhelmed, self-condemnation and a sense of failure follow. Those of us who think that we can do it all, control it all to work out just right, and turn in a perfect performance are bound for disappointment.
Nobody mortal can do it all. Nobody gets to control all things or other people so that everything turns out as we dream. Nobody, however hard they try, turns in a perfect performance.
When we think that God is our constantly displeased judge, taking notes about our weaknesses with a frown, we inevitably become dismayed.
We may think, “I am trying so hard to never, never measure up,” and then feel angry toward the One we think we can never please. We may have a sense of injustice toward Him to try so hard and always seem to miss the mark.
Trying to please this impossible Father, we have imagined, brings other negative consequences, as well. If we always have an eye on our performance, we become self-absorbed. With all the world of possibilities, with all the needs of those around us, with all the beauty of the earth, with the true God, Himself, waiting for our focus, we may spend and waste our mental energy, instead, measuring ourselves.
We cannot have an eye single to His glory, if instead our eyes are mainly focused on our miserable inadequacies.
If we take hard our mistakes in judgment, our misunderstandings, our inability to be what we suppose we should be, then we will often be in turmoil.
A different kind of temptation that comes with this false concept of God is to pretend that we are better than we are, hoping that neither ourselves nor anybody else will notice our weaknesses. The pretense is that we can run hard enough or obey enough rules to mask the holes we have inside. We’re afraid to be honest about our failings with this mean God we think is ready to reject us.
Of course, it is easy to think that we, ourselves, don’t have this false concept of God, that this is not a confusion that we fall into. No, no, we understand that He is loving and plenteous in mercy. Yet, if only sometimes, when we are not in our “right mind”, when there is a shadow in our thinking, we feel on the line with God, it may affect our love for Him and our sense of safety in His care.
One Sunday during the sacrament, I asked in prayer if the Lord would reveal to me what was my weakness of greatest concern to Him. Many possibilities ran through my mind, as I am painfully aware of my shortcomings. It was one of those moments of pure revelation. I knew it and I knew God knew it. It was clear and surprising. He told me that I was unkind and judgmental toward myself. That was my weakness of greatest concern to Him. That was too often what damned my progress and daunted my days.
If we are trying to follow the Lord, and still hear a condemning voice in our heads—it is not the Lord’s. Life is tough enough without that voice of condemnation pointing to our failures. Does that voice of condemnation encourage us, make us feel better? It doesn’t, in fact, it discourages us. We may feel like we are running in a race we can never win.
We know who wants to make us feel condemned and small, and it is not our loving Father. It is the voice of the enemy of our soul.
When we have those moments of strongly feeling the Spirit of God, it is never accompanied by a feeling of condemnation. We feel loved and warmed and encouraged. Even when the Lord is showing us our weaknesses and urging us to turn our face from sin, it is with love and hope and an invitation to partake of the gift of the atonement. He encourages us to press forward on this journey back to Him with hope. He encircles us in the robes of his righteousness. He offers us His strengthening arm. He invites us to give Him our burdens so that we might travel lightly.
During the life of Christ, a shaken woman, taken in the very act of adultery, was thrown before Him at the temple, by those who utterly condemned her. The Lord did not join those disdaining voices, and the men slunk away, pricked by their consciences, when He said that he without sin could cast the first stone.
Then, He must have looked around at the now vacant plaza, and asked, “ Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
“She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8: 10,11) The JST adds this remarkable epilogue to her story: “And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”
The Lord is not one for us to shrink from because we think He is on our case, ever displeased with our performance. He did not give us commandments to set up difficult unattainable standards. Instead, they are the pattern of happiness. In our journey to overcome ourselves and follow that pattern, we are invited to walk in His love, lean on His arm, and be encouraged by His care.
He has told us to fear not, that He has overcome the world.
We are invited to drop our self-consciousness and sense that we are ever displeasing and short of the mark, and instead submit ourselves, trusting that He loves us. When he says, “I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work,” we can assume that He really can do His own work, which is to bring His children, who are willing, to Him.
To think we are always on the line and failing with a God who has a critical eye on us, is to badly misunderstand the very nature of this Father whose very essence is patience and tenderness.