Deprogramming God

I have been involved with an online discussion of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  In the most recent chapter we were discussing, Miller writes,

Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe.  By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder. … At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay.  And wonder is that feeling we get, when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow.  I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder. (Miller, pp. 205-206)

This got me thinking – am I, is the church, kind of taking the wonder out of God?

So much time and energy is put into programs and events, I wonder if we have turned an encounter with God into something you schedule.  Again and again in Scripture, the pivotal encounters with God come at the unexpected moments in the unexpected places:  Moses at a burning bush while watching sheep, Jacob wrestling with God while sleeping in the middle of nowhere, the woman coming to get water from the well, Elijah suddenly taken up into heaven.  I could go on and on.  In all of these events, I think that the unexpected nature of the encounter created a sense of awe and wonder that often led to praise, worship, and service.  This seems lost when I look at our bulletin every Sunday and see our “Schedule of Events” and our “Order of Service”. 

I agree with Miller:  I need wonder in my life, because that is where some of my truest worship of God comes from.  Is wonder possible in order, or do we need to deprogram a little bit (or a lot) to recapture the unexpected nature of an encounter with God?  Is this solely an issue of the individual believer, or does the church have some kind of role in all this?  As a pastor and fellow traveler, I ask the question and search for answers.

4 thoughts on “Deprogramming God

  1. Mark,
    I understand some of your direction with this. What about how we define “wonder”? I’ve never seen a burning bush, but how about an incredible sunset or a field of flowers? What about when you hear of a reconciled relationship?
    So is some of it our order, and is some of it how we search out and define the wonder of God? The questions you raise are valid, but how we define some of these issues will help to determine some of our answers.
    Just some meandering thoughts.


  2. I agree with Byron. There is precedence in our Christian tradition for an expansive understanding of “wonder”. Of course, there is Schleiermacher’s “feeling of absolute dependence”.
    H.E. Fosdick : “I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery, than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it all”
    Even Einstein comments on it: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”
    Our corporate worship can be stilted and repetitive, but certainly God is present in more places than that….or are we misunderstanding you ?

  3. Joel & Bryon, I totally agree with your ideas regarding how far and wide our experience of God’s wonder can reach. I guess my question is best stated: so where lies the church? Joel, your observation that “our corporate worship can be stilted and repetitive” perhaps touches on what I am struggling with – do we as the church do more to hinder the invidividual believer’s experience of God’s wonder rather than help? Does the “stilted and repetitive” have a role in how we experience the wonder of God, or does it squash the very experiences that drive us to worship? How does the individual believer’s experiences of God’s wonder drive the corporate worship of the church? Are we as churches and as leaders doing enough to assist our congregants in recognizing and experiencing God’s wonder in all its manifestations? Should we make room for congregants to express these experiences of wonder, and what would that look like? Does the regular life of the church reflect the reality of the mystery and wonder of God?
    I hope I am clarifying and not confusing the issue farther. Thanks, Joel and Bryon, for pushing me on this. I invite you and others to continue to do so!

  4. Mark,
    I want to chase this a little farther. I am being challenged by our youth minister right now to do some different things in our worship bulletin. I think that we do find ourselves tied down by the design of our worship experience. But I also think it has to do with our week by week conducting of worship.
    I think that over these past few years in my congregation we have become more open to the movement of the Spirit b/c we have tried to allow it more. There is still plenty of room for growth for us, but I think as I understand your response, you are concerned about how the church and its corporate worship design creates space or stifles it for the ordinary lay person to be moved by God during worship.
    Answering one of your questions – NO, I do not think the regular life of the church reflects the reality of the mystery and wonder of God. And b/c of this, I think we are missing out on a great potential that Christ has for His Church.
    Brain getting tired…so those are my thoughts for now.


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