"My soul thirsts for God." - Psalm 42:2
There is a hymn that has us say, "There are sweet, sweet expressions on each face, and I know they feel the presence of the Lord." I remember singing this stanza one Sunday morning and looking up to see distraught faces, anxious faces, longing faces. There were some sweet expressions. But others were distracted and uncertain. Who is to say that God wasn't causing those looks, and that self-satisfaction or gluttony weren't causing the sweet ones?
First, we project "the best" human attributes onto heaven and mistake the resulting fantasy for God. Then, we assume faith must correspond to an impossible state of happiness. Relating to a perfectly sweet Lord must bring sweet, sweet expressions to each face, right? If I'm not feeling good in worship I must be doing church wrong.
Meanwhile, the truth is that God isn't an amalgamation of humanity's highest virtues. We don't experience God as unrelenting goodness. We experience God as embrace and abandonment, the slice and the stitches at the exact same time.
Let's tear down the idol of happy religiosity. Let's get real. Relating to a complex, fearsome, absent, suffering, joyous, omnipresent, dying, death-defying, thunderous, weeping, intense God isn't always sweet.
Faith is like water on parched lips. And it is also sheer, unanswered longing. Pretending otherwise only drives us further away from God.
Come to us God. We need you so badly. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.