Christians can come across as self-absorbed. I’m certainly capable of that. We seem to easily forget the people around us, theologizing life’s occurrences into something more than they are. You can hear it every day: “I got stuck in a traffic jam today for three hours. I just looked to heaven and said, ‘Lord, I know I’m here for a reason – what are you trying to teach me through this?’” Or this one: “The lady in the check-out line in front of me took forever! I just prayed under my breath: God, I know you’re trying to teach me patience through this.”
Though some of you scholars out there may be interested in the absorption of the Hellenistic concept of paideia into our Christian understanding of natural theology’s use of secondary causes, the larger issue here is our inability as Americanized Christians to look past our own predicament. We forget that there are others in the same traffic jam or check-out line experiencing the same inconvenience as us. For some reason we feel that placing those other people (many of whom may be Christians as well) in a divinely-inspired traffic jam so we can have a little extra “quiet time” is appropriate. But in all honesty, it takes megalomania to a new level.
It reminds me of a song by Rufus Wainwright, an exceedingly talented musician. In “Pretty Things” Rufus sings “everything’s a sign of my astrology.” In other words, life’s occurrences mean little more to me that how they directly affect my circumstances. Different way of putting it – but the same result. We see “signs” in life as God’s intervention to teach us about something God wants us to improve. Now, if you see life’s positive blessings as God’s work, people will crucify you as a “prosperity gospel” pundit. But as long as you see God’s interactions as negative commentary on a pathetic spiritual life, that’s considered okay. But that’s just as unbalanced. God doesn’t cause traffic jams to promote humility. Neither does God cause good situations for Christians at the expense of others around them.
The place in American culture you can see this most often is in interviews with sports figures. Cross-reference Oral Hershiser’s mid-80s comments that his Christianity makes him a better pitcher or Reggie White giving glory to God for winning the Super Bowl. The latest example of this is Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. Psychological motivation? Sure. Accurate view of God’s actions in the world? Hardly. Amazing athletes, crummy theology. But what concerns me more is the number of seasoned Christians falling into the same trap. You are certainly welcome to live in that paradigm – you’ll be surrounded by a host of evangelicals who feel the same way. But to those watching you who live outside that self-confirming view of life, you’re bound to look self-absorbed by seeing everything as a “sign of your astrology.”