Comedian Bill Cosby recalls how he grew up with a stern father. But that same man was transformed into a marshmallow each time the grandchildren paid a visit.
As a father, the old man never gave young Bill Cosby so much as fifty cents for candy. Now, as a grandfather, he was suddenly diving into his thick wallet, peeling off fives, tens and twenties and handing them to his grandchildren.
Fathers and grandfathers play different roles in children’s lives.
The job of a father is to mold his children’s character. A good father is loving but strict. He sets rules and enforces them. He cares for his children without indulging them.
The job of a grandfather is to love his grandchildren unconditionally. A good grandfather is a bit indulgent. (I’ve heard it said that becoming a grandparent is your reward for going through the hell of raising teenagers.)
As I observe modern Christians interacting with the church, it’s becoming clear that this generation looks to God as a grandfather rather than a father.
Many of today’s Christians believe in a God whose top priority is making his children happy. A God who lets them do as they please. A God who winks when they’re disobedient. A God who looks down from heaven – and chuckles.
This is why we love Jesus but hate the church. The Jesus of popular imagination doesn’t judge me – he hugs me. He comforts me. Makes me feel special. And conveniently, he happens to agree with me on everything.
Church, on the other hand, has all these rules and standards of behavior. It’s judgmental. It dares to tell people they’re doing wrong. God would never do that.
I recently spoke to a woman in her twenties who had given up on church. I asked her why. “I’ve tried several churches, but I keep hearing things I disagree with,” she said. “This one pastor kept saying things that really offended me.”
I asked her if she thought he was preaching heresy. “No, he just came to some conclusions that made me very uncomfortable. I just didn’t agree with his preaching.”To this I replied, “I go to church hoping to be offended. Jesus constantly offended people – to the point where they ganged up and killed him. If you’re not offended at church, then you haven’t heard from Jesus.”
To my surprise, she was not offended by my blunt answer. In fact, she was fascinated by it. “I’ve never thought of Jesus in that way,” she said.
This woman was raised in church. Describes herself as born again. Attended a Christian university and sings lead in a Christian band. Yet she pulls the plug on any church as soon as she hears something she disagrees with.
Apparently, in this woman’s theology, she is the fixed point around which the universe revolves. As long as her church makes sense to her and doesn’t make her uncomfortable, it’s worthy of her devotion.
So how about you? Do you and God disagree on anything? When you hear a sermon or read an inspirational book that challenges something you believe (or do), how do you react? Do you explode in anger? Do you take to the Internet to vent your spleen? Do you slink out the back door of the church, never to be seen again?
I’m not saying we should sit idly by while the basic truths of scripture are denied or twisted.
However, if we’ll only listen to that which we already believe, how are we to be changed? If we will only tolerate a God that coddles but never challenges us, how are we to be molded into something greater than our puny minds could imagine?
Grandfathers are great at loving – but the hard work of character formation is usually handled by fathers. Many adolescents hate their fathers for this – yet as these young people mature they come to appreciate the unflinching love dad provided.
Steadfast, unyielding love is getting harder and harder to find in society – and it’s quickly disappearing in the church as well. And we wonder why men find church so boring and irrelevant to their lives? Men enjoy being indulged by their grandfathers – but they long for the boundaries that a father provides.