Sunday, July 29, 2007

Your God Is Too Small

There has been discussion over at Dr. Sanity’s and Stephen Bainbridge’s sites about stories of good and evil, sacrifice, and courage. This was sparked off by the latest Harry Potter book, of course, but the conversations ranged more freely than that.

I have long been a fan of tales of good and evil, and one of the attractions is that they often highlight the need for courage and for sacrifice, which strikes me as more realistic than much else that is out there. But something in my current reading brought me up short, and I wonder if there is something else missing in much narrative art, whether in books or on screen.

I am rereading J.B.Phillips Your God Is Too Small, with an eye to using the first half of it as a possible adult Sunday School class. Most cultures have stories which seek to uplift and inspire their hearers. They give instruction how to deal with hardship: be wary, be brave, be clever, be loyal, and you will succeed. You will succeed. We don't like stories where people do the right thing and it doesn't work out. We accept that there may be setbacks and sacrifices, but we expect that good actions will eventually bring good to their doers.

I wonder if this creates American Christians who are more easily discouraged. Few of us expect God to fix things immediately, like a genie on call, but we fully expect that if we do the right things it will all work out eventually. We expect it to work in foreign policy as well. The conservative version is if we rescue people, they will like us; liberals prefer if we give people things they will like us. Maybe not.

Having children provides good counterweight to this myth. Perhaps as we have fewer children, we will believe the myth more strongly as our society develops.

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