“The love of God is just emanating off of you, man… You are just a witness to God’s love, in the name of Jesus…”
The guy took his hand off my chest, and awkward silence ensued.
“What’s your name?” I asked, hoping to kill the awkwardness. As much as I love it on The Office, I – like every other human being – really don’t enjoy awkwardness very much.
“Sean. Yours?” He replied.
“Chris. Can I help you with anything, Sean?” I said. (Can you feel the awkwardness of my words, even as I type them?)
This was an actual scene that happened in the office that I work in, just a few days ago. I was up in our front lobby (I work at a conservative, Evangelical university), when a student came up to me and started spouting off quasi-spiritual nonsense about what God was doing and would do in my life.
I’m even further ashamed to admit that this is the type of Christianity that I participated in as a teenager, albeit for a short period for time. In my later teen years (c. 2006-2008), I was very influenced by the up-and-coming charismatic Christian movements (Jesus Culture, et. al.). This didn’t happen directly, since I didn’t listen to many sermons or read many theological books at the time. Most of it was musically- and group-induced (i.e., my thinking about God largely came from listening to Jesus Culture’s first couple of albums and talking about God with a particular group of friends). I had a group of friends in my town that were pursuing gifts of the Spirit in response to some perceived spiritual dryness they felt at their churches. I can explicitly recall several events I participated in that sought after a felt “move of God.” One of these events was called “treasure hunting.”
“Treasure hunting” is a term used for a planned event where a group of Christians deliberately comes together to seek after specific visions and prophecies from God in order to bless and/or pray for specific people. In particular, our group came together to pray for about an hour ahead of time. We got out notebooks and pens, spent time in contemplative prayer as a group (occasionally someone would speak out a vision or something they felt was important) and wrote down images that popped into our minds that we felt were important. This could range from colors and shapes to numbers or specific words. When we were done, we all got in our cars and drove to the local Wal-Mart and the common town area. At this point, we basically sought out people that might have corresponded with the images/words given to us by God. If we happened to encounter someone whom we felt corresponded with our previously received images, then we were supposed to talk to them about Jesus, pray for them, or ask for physical healing. Then, the goal was to move on to the next person, until we felt like our task was completed.
Now, theological issues aside (especially considering I hardly view God as a God who works in this way anymore), the most irksome part of this type of theological thinking, to me, is the way it disassociates the people involved in the process. The guy that came into our office a few days ago was not interested in building any kind of relationship with me. I suspect that he desired (maybe sub-consciously) to make himself out to be a sort of spiritual guru. He had a “word from God” for me that he wanted me to accept, despite the fact that I didn’t even know his name. The same can be said for my “treasure hunting” experience. Though I only did it once, I feel ashamed to even think about it now. I wanted to show people I had some kind of quasi-gnostic, divinely-inspired knowledge about their lives.
What I didn’t want was to get to know them. I didn’t want to hear their story for its own sake. They weren’t people to me, they were projects.
I suspect the same was true for me and Sean a few days ago.
To be honest, the most significant aspect of theology for me lately has been focus on community and authentic relationships. I may enjoy writing/speaking/thinking about theological issues, but those pale in comparison to my desire for open, honest, legitimate relationships with people. When we view God as some kind of magical deity that only gives knowledge to the few that earnestly seek that knowledge in a specific way, relationships become secondary to our desire for the next divine “encounter” we might experience.