100% That Snitch
“The LORD’s eyes watch over every person’s path, observing all their ways.” -Proverbs 5:21
“LORD, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.” Psalm 139:1-3
“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…” – J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, 1934
Many Christians the world over find the greatest comfort in that we are known by God. The Creator of the Universe is not unconcerned and disconnected, but is indeed watching over and caring for every member of creation. The ultimate sign of that care and compassion is the Incarnation of Jesus, God with us.
When I was a closeted Christian teenager, I was so desperate to please God and everyone in the church. I distinctly remember seeing a white poster with teal letters with the following quote: “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” Or some variation of that (it’s attributed to a bunch of different public figures, so I’m not sure who actually said it first.). I associated that quote with this sex talk given at a youth ministry event one night where this woman shamed all us teenagers for having any sexual thoughts or even the mildest of romantic encounters, because God is always watching, like a surveillance camera that surprises you and catches you in all your sins in real time. Suddenly, I associated the quality of my character, not with my love for God or my positive actions and good works in the world, but my character was constantly tainted and permanently stained because when no one was watching, I was a teenager developing sexually and (GASP) attracted to other guys!
I know I’m not the only one who has struggled existentially with the belief that God was not simply watching my every moment, but JUDGING my every moment. Maybe you were influenced to believe this by reading one of those popular cartoon gospel tracts called “This Is Your Life,” where when you meet God at death, you have to rewatch literally every moment of your life before God and be judged for all the minutia of ways you messed up. Maybe this is just your understanding of the nature of God: a sadistic voyeur who enjoys gotcha moments, catching us in the act of sin so that he can build up all the reasons you should rot in hell. But unlike Santa, no amount of good behavior could ever earn you presents at Christmas…I mean, eternal salvation.
I know that this is not the arc of the biblical story, and yet it seems to be a very common understanding of how God works. God doesn’t watch our every move in order to catch us and punish us. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and so God watches over each one because of a deep love for God’s creation. The Incarnation of Christ, the death and resurrection, are the guarantee that God’s love goes to the greatest of lengths to include everyone into the loving welcome of the Divine. John Wesley taught that God’s grace was free IN all and free FOR all, that there is no one who exists without some spark of the Holy Spirit alive in their hearts, beckoning to accept God’s love for them and join in partnership in God’s plan to cover the world in love. I genuinely believe that this is a fundamentally different starting point than believing that God is against us, counting up our sins to prove why we belong in Hell. And I think that this different starting point makes for a huge difference in how we view ourselves, how we view God, and how we exist in the world.
God is concerned with sin: especially the sin of taking advantage of or abusing others (especially the marginalized). God is concerned with the sin of idolatry, placing our full trust in something less than God’s love. This is because God’s intention is for each person to experience the full worth of their dignity in restored relationships with God, neighbor and creation. God is watching because God is partnering with us to bring forth that blessing into the world. God is watching because God has genuine concern for your physical and spiritual well-being. God is watching because God is Love.
Okay, so this has become an incredibly long commentary for a very silly three-panel comic. I realize if you’re not familiar with Elf on the Shelf culture this comic may be lost on you. But I hope you have a blessed week of Advent. I’d like to close with a poem by Bishop Oscar Romero:
This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be – the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.
Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
**you that feel you are nothing in history**:
“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year, you that are tortured:
God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you,
and, like Mary, he incarnates that thought in his womb.