By Dillon Schupp
My grandmother was an amazing woman. She wasn’t perfect- but I always loved spending time over at her house. Especially for the food. My gosh- the food!
There was one thing about her house, however, that used to really confuse me as a kid: it was cluttered. I’m not talking about a general sense of messiness that would characterize, say, my room as a kid.
No, I’m talking about there were boxes of stuff everywhere. Endless boxes stacked, in some cases, to the ceiling. Stuffed in all corners of the house. These boxes even filled the garage and most of another storage shed.
I finally asked my dad about it one day, and he told me this: Grandma grew up in the Great Depression. She knew what it was like to have absolutely nothing, and during that time she and her siblings learned not to throw away anything– because it could always be used for something.
And even though the Depression was decades in the rearview mirror, that behavior still stuck with her the rest of her life, resulting in the nearly endless stockpiling of stuff (even random Time magazines!) that, once stored, were never seen- or used- again.
You know what’s interesting?
The way my grandmother approached stockpiling things in the name of “I might need it one day” is often the same way many people in our region of the country approach God.
God in a box: out of sight, out of mind. But I might need Him one day.
In our region of the country, it’s still “the right thing to do” to say you believe in God. It’s still somewhat culturally acceptable to believe the Bible is God’s Word. It’s fairly rare in our area to find someone who will come right out and say that God doesn’t exist.
And yet that apparent belief in God in the lives of many, and perhaps most people, is as pointless as my grandmother’s stockpiling of random stuff.
Sure, there’s a general belief in God. There might even be a specific belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died on a cross and rose again to make a way for people to come back to God. There may be an acknowledgement that prayer is important- and that it needs to be put back in school, along with the Bible. And, of course, such a person will argue passionately about the truth of these things on social media- perhaps even on their way to (occasionally) church on Sunday.
But all that belief about God is often, at least functionally, put in a mental box out of sight and out of mind. How can you tell?
It has little to no impact on the way a person lives day-to-day.
It doesn’t change the way a person talks to or about people. It doesn’t change the way a person interacts with others. It doesn’t change a person’s habits or priorities. It doesn’t make a person more concerned about others ahead of their own interests.
But throw a crisis into that person’s life, and they go running to the “God box” in prayer. After all, this is exactly what they’ve kept God around for. He’s handy in a pinch.
There’s a problem with this kind of so-called “belief”: It’s not really belief. It’s superstition. Kind of like avoiding the number thirteen, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or going through the exact pre-game ritual before a ball game.
It might make you feel better; but it doesn’t really do anything for you. It’s practically useless.
Unfortunately, that’s what “belief in God” is for many- perhaps even most– people in our area of the country has become.
And that’s not even real belief.
Real Belief Changes You
A guy named James, who happened to be the brother of Jesus, was aware of this dynamic.
(As an aside: one of the greatest arguments for the truth of Christianity is Jesus brother believed Jesus was God. If you have a sibling, you’ll know how utterly crazy that is- and yet James argued for it, apparently convinced by seeing Jesus after Jesus rose from the dead.)
James would go on to write a letter to a group of Christians in the first century, and one of the most memorable lines he penned was this:
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17 NIV)
The point James was making is this: so called “faith”- or “belief”- that has no impact on a person’s life is useless. It’s dead.
Real faith (or belief), on the other hand, changes you. It changes how you think, how you act, how you relate to others. It changes your habits, your priorities, and how you go about your life. True belief isn’t God-in-a-box to be used if you need Him; true belief in God alters the entirety of your life and changes who you are.
That’s the kind of belief our world needs.
Our world has no need for people who claim to believe in God and yet live as if He doesn’t exist. All that produces is judgmental hypocrites who believe they are better than everyone else even though they live like everyone else.
No, our world needs people who have the kind of belief in God that has transformed them into loving, compassionate, gracious, kind, forgiving people; people who are serious about obeying God, loving other people, and reflecting those priorities in their lives.
That kind of faith is not just transformative for an individual- it’s attractive to others.
And it’s infinitely more helpful to our world than the kind of superstitious belief that has God stuck in a storage box somewhere just because you might use Him one day, because true belief in God is not something you use in a pinch; it’s a relationship with your Creator that rearranges your life and makes you helpful to others.