The Church as Policeman

Fred Smith takes a hard look at faulty thinking about the nature of God.

By Fred Smith

I was playing golf with the head of a financial company. Out of the blue he asked me, "Do you think God will take away my money because I'm not active in a church?" "What makes you think he will?" I asked.

"My family tells me he will."

They're using religion to police him.

This goes on all the time. I was listening to the tape of a Christian friend's funeral. The minister said, "Jesus got lonesome in heaven and took Chuck home to be with him."

How is that widow supposed to feel toward such a capricious Lord? I thought to myself. If Jesus wasn't with Chuck all the time, then Chuck isn't with Jesus now!

I was speaking at a political meeting in our state capital, and after the meeting, at the very last, an attractive young man walked up and said, "Fred, do you have anything to tell my wife who has just lost a two-year-old son?" He paused and then added, "Do you think it was due to my early sins?"

I don't know who had put that idea in his head, but I wrote both of them a long letter about the nature of God as I saw it—a God who doesn't carry out grudges against unsuspecting children. They were greatly relieved.

It's also dishonest to use religion to police people positively. Look at some of our money-raising schemes. I see no evidence that if you give God $100, he'll give you $200 back. Yet whole groups of Christians promote this idea. I laughingly tell some with this approach to send me the $1 and they can keep the $2 that God will send.

I know a successful Christian businesswoman who had the idea God ran her business. When I saw her beginning to get sloppy in her management, I felt I needed to tell her the business had succeeded because she was an exceptional person, and she'd better keep her hands on. If she "let God run it" alone, she'd go broke.

Christian organizations write letters asking for money, usually claiming that it's obvious God is blessing their efforts because of the good results. That's not obvious. That's putting God on a very short leash. He's bigger than last month's statistics.

Ask many wealthy Christians about their favorite scripture verses. Generally, you'll hear verses that promise blessings; their Christianity is a reward system. What they're doing is humanizing God according to current standards of success. They are seeing the "good cop" view of God.

I was speaking one night at a polo club to a group of very affluent people. One woman, dripping with diamonds, came up afterward to tell about her hobby: the stock market. "Fred, it's just so wonderful to watch God work. The other night about 3:00 A.M. God woke me up and told me to buy Johnson & Johnson at 35." (This was during the Tylenol problem.) "Fred, do you know it's now at 50?"

I'm sure there are atheists and general materialists of all types who bought at 35 and enjoyed selling at 50. The truth is, stock trading is her hobby, and she's very knowledgeable. Like a lot of other people, she somehow sensed that the poisonings were not J&J's fault and the price would rebound quickly. But in her mind, she is convinced God has a golden ticker tape up in heaven and is paying very close attention to it to bless his people…particularly the already rich.

One day we will see fully and recognize the sheer ridiculousness of playing the "good cop — bad cop" game with God. Our machinations and manipulations will be clearly seen for the childishness that they are. We have a great opportunity to practice right thinking before eternity.