God’s Just Not That Into You

One of the in-flight movies on the way back from England was He’s Just Not That Into You. This post will mention a couple of points made in the course of the movie, and so if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t want to know even things that happen in the first minute of a movie before seeing it, then consider this a SPOILER ALERT. Nevertheless, this post is not a movie review but a theological reflection on some analogies between popular approaches to religion and points made in the movie about human relationships.

The movie begins with a girl being pushed and called names by a boy in a playground. The girl’s mother explains to her that the boy must have done these things because he has a crush on her and likes her. This, it is suggested, is at the root of the attempt women sometimes make later in life to interpret a man’s apparent lack of romantic interest, meanness and various things as meaning something other that appears to be the case when the words or actions are taken at face value.

I found myself thinking about the ways in which we think in our youth (and often beyond our younger years) about God and our everyday experiences. If something happens to a religious believer that doesn’t immediately make sense in term of being cared for by a loving and all-powerful God, ways are found to explain away the apparent contradiction. God is just testing you or allowing you to be tested. Satan is trying to trip you up because you love God, and/or God loves you, so much. God is showing his great confidence in you because he won’t put you through anything you can’t handle.

Is there not a profound similarity to the ways we sometimes seek less obvious but more comforting explanations for the behavior of a significant other?

I propose the alternative explanation that “God just isn’t that into you” in a somewhat facetious, tongue-in-cheek manner. But in a sense that is what it can feel like when one goes from thinking of God as an anthropomorphic heavenly ‘significant other’ to acknowledging that the universe and/or God’s plan for it may well not revolve around you. The idea that God is not compelling people with important business to nonetheless get in their cars and leave so that you will find a parking spot can be as troubling as the realization that another person’s apparent lack of romantic is in fact what it appears to be, rather than merely an indication that the person hides his or her feelings well, or something else of that sort.

God, as depicted in the Bible and many other religious texts, doesn’t seem to hide his feelings. To echo a phrase from the movie, in most ancient religious thought ‘if a god wants to make a covenant with you, he’ll make that clear‘. The Bible does not depict a hidden God but a God who reveals himself and often brings swift judgment on the enemies of his chosen ones. Our time, on the other hand, is one in which it is possible to seriously doubt whether any sort of deity exists. But the movie’s message, like that of this blog entry, is not to deny that guys or gods exist, but to encourage us to think in a different, more mature manner about who or what they are and how to relate to them.

Of course, at this point the analogy breaks down, since the movie seems to be advising an honest recognition of how men and women relate to one another so as to find someone who is ‘into you’. When it comes to relating to God, however, the key is not only to recognize that the universe is not made so as to revolve around you or me (the ultimate Copernica paradigm shift), but also to recognize the pitfalls of applying the analogy of ‘personal relationship’ to God, and even more so of taking such a metaphor as a literal statement of fact.

What do you think? Have you had experiences which led you to conclude that there is no God, or that God should not be thought of in overly personal terms, or that “he’s just not that into you”?

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  • http://afeatheradrift.wordpress.com Sherry Peyton

    I haven't so much as had a personal experience as I have thought deeply about suffering. Frankly the only way I resolve an omnipotent God with suffering in the world is to define God in a way that disallows him to directly intervene. He intervenes through people who are deeply touched enough to allow God to work through them for good. So the surgeon miraculously saves the patient, because he is open to God's help in his work. It works for me at least. Otherwise I can't get why this one is saved in the tornado and not that one. I think it's a mature analysis, but of course the fundies say I'm heretical. I guess I'll know for sure when I die and so will they.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03194189686075222808 Ted Herrlich

    “I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” Albert Einstein, 1921

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Theologians like Christopher Wright (The God I Don't Understand) suggest that one explanation for why the Omni-Omni-Omni(tm) God could allow atrocities against the Canaanites is that His purpose required that Israel's settlement the land and eventually lead to the Messiah. The Canaanites were in the way.We sure don't want to think that our own misfortunes are part of God's plan but not in a good way – the house that is our life is merely in the way of that interstate that God is building to the Promise Land. So sorry … sign here!

  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    James, I'd imagine you're going to get some very interesting responses to this one.I was driving home from King's Island on May 14, 1988, and went through Carrollton, Kentucky about 45 minutes before a drunk driver heading the wrong way on Interstate 71 crashed into a church bus full of teens and chaperones, killing 27 of them and injuring another 34. I didn't know what happened until the next morning when my mother told me I should thank God I wasn't involved. In the aftermath, numerous print and broadcast media reported survivors of the crash thanking God for sparing them, and even had some families of the deceased thanking God for the fact that their kids had lost consciousness from the smoke before they burned to death. It seemed like nothing so much as desperate attempts to rationalize a tragedy to me.Some years later, I had to watch a friend bury his infant while people attempted to console him and his wife by telling them that it was God's plan, and I had another friend go through a late term miscarriage not long after that, where she had convinced herself that the miscarriage of her son was God's punishment for wanting a girl. I cannot reconcile a God that allows individual tragedies like that to happen with a God that particularly cares who someone sleeps with or whether someone sleeps in on a Sunday morning. Rationalizations like "God works in mysterious ways" seem designed more as excuses than explanations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01300256018441903185 Keika

    For years I had a habit of praising God by facing a horizon filled with stars, ocean waves or mountains high with outstretched hands taking in the whole scene while saying, “How much do I love you, Father? From this hand, to that hand, that much!” The effect this rhetorical question had on me was to make me feel that my praise was worthy enough to get God’s attention. But I never heard back from Him. Until one day while I was out on a lonely stretch of beach meditating. God nonchalantly spoke these words into my ear: “How much do I love you, Keith? (Long pause.) Let me think about it.” As I rose up from the sand, I began laughing uncontrollably and harder than I ever had laughed before. I laughed till I cried, understanding with my heart that God had laid a seriously funny joke on me. Do you see the humor here and the revelation also? If God has to think about something, that means that there are ‘time lapses’ in things withinhis control and even outside of his control. I might not drive my car onto the street 10 secondssooner because I hesitated back at home, looking for my wallet. Had I found my wallet andnot added that 10-second delay to my exit…I might have intercepted the boy on the bicycle coming into the street from behind a parked truck. Instead he crosses the street, 10 secondsbefore I arrive down the block. God has shown me time and time again, that we are on our own on this tiny little planet.His love is supernaturally all around us and our Spirits are touched constantly by it. It is God’s intelligence and wisdom that we are separated from in the natural world. And this meanswe must struggle to survive. Feel sad for the evil person who has lost his Soul and celebrate the passing of a good person whose Soul we will be united with in heaven. For those who doubt, the joke really is on you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    James — I loved this. Thanks.Sherry — your bit about the surgeon reminds me of Philip Clayton's work, which James has reviewed. Particularly it reminds me of his thoughts here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04246759042346557558 Liane

    Wonderful post. WONDERFUL! My understanding of all things spiritual remains a work-in-progress following my loss of belief in God as 'anthropomorphic heavenly significant other'. The turning point for me came at a moment when I was trying to be utterly, wholly and completely abandoned to God in the mystical sense of the word – I lived my life with him at the emotional centre and had reached the point of being content to remain single forever as long as I had HIM. (I was a 40-something divorcee with two wonderful kids). Then one day, in the depths of aloneness and misery about something, I reached out to him from a place of deep emotional need. I wanted my 'significant other' to be there for me. I quoted scriptures, I wept, I buried my nose in the carpet and felt as if I was being turned inside out with desire for comfort, for just a touch from God, for some tiny indication that he was there and that he cared, that I mattered to him. Silence. Cold, stony silence. And this after months and months of struggling to draw closer to him – I had begun to believe that there must be something very badly wrong with me that despite my intense longing for God, I never experienced him the way all my evangelical christian friends did. Some of them had that whole shaking, laughing, crying thing … God 'spoke' to them regularly … but I, who desired him so deeply .. got nothing at all. So when God, the alleged lover of my soul, ignored me in my moment of deepest need, it was one of the last nails in the coffin of my loss of faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    "Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?" – C. S. Lewis, A Grief ObservedElleann,I don't know how Lewis got from this back to Faith but it is one of the most profound expressions of the experience you went through that I have encountered.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Another instance perceived abandonment that has been in the news is that of Mother Teresa:"As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." — Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04246759042346557558 Liane

    Scott: Thanks for both these quotes! I remember reading an article at the time of the release of the Mother Theresa book, and of being astounded that someone with her reputation for abandonment to God and to saintliness could have continued to maintain her public image and her work in the face of such private doubt and despair. As I thought more about her (and about me, and others I know) I came to understand that our individual understanding, practice and need of spiritual things is directly related to our societal, cultural, familial, academic and emotional backgrounds. Which raised interesting questions about what 'truth' is when it comes to all things spiritual ….However. For me, this was the point when my emotional need for and my belief in God smashed into the wall of my (lack of) experience of his presense and it was then that I began to allow myself to think outside of the tiny evangelical christian box I'd been in for over 30 years – I started to use my brain and that was the beginning of a journey that is now four years old … 😉