May 242017 7 Responses

God Isn’t Just the Man Upstairs

Consider a quaint bakery on main street America. The shop owner does all she can to scrape together a living while doing what she loves. She serves her customers as though they were family. She lives just above her shop in a small apartment. It’s there that she can escape the demands of her store and find some time just for herself.

Her life is subtly divided between upstairs and downstairs, between her public life and private life.

Downstairs, laws apply. The government can demand she pay taxes on items sold, install a sprinkler system in case of fire, and make her store accessible for those with physical limitations. While she owns the space, it’s a place where the public is invited in. It’s a public place and she respects that.

Upstairs is more her space. While the government has a say, it’s limited. For the most part, she can do whatever she likes as long as it doesn’t bother others. Only those closest to her are invited in. It’s a private place and others must respect that. (For more on the upstairs/downstairs analogy, see Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth)

Question: in which place does God belong?

Why the World Puts Him Upstairs

The prevailing thought is that God belongs upstairs. An individual has a right to believe whatever they want to believe. Yet they should leave that belief in the kitchen. It shouldn’t have any impact on the public. Faith, according to most, is private and should remain that way.

Notice that society doesn’t say religion is wrong; it says it’s irrelevant. A religious perspective is not tolerated within public discourse. One should kindly acknowledge religion by verbally tipping their hat to the man upstairs, but they should put aside their faith in order to make public policy, have public conversations, and make decisions for the community. (See: Why We Don’t Need the Ten Commandments on the Wall)

Faith, according to most, is upstairs because it isn’t real. It’s a personal choice which is acceptable to have as long as you keep it to yourself.

Why the Church Puts Him Upstairs

Sadly, the church often agrees with society. Many church members will gladly agree that faith should remain in the private realm. While they understand that isn’t the Biblical teaching, they will happily cede this point.

As long as faith is viewed as something which should be upstairs, it is never debated. No one says, “your faith is wrong,” they just assume it’s private and doesn’t matter. Yet the moment faith comes downstairs into the public aspect of life, then it can (and should) be debated. To bring religion into the public square, one has to be able to give a defense for their beliefs. They have to explain contradictions, deal with inconsistencies, and face rebuttal.

The average church member would prefer to limit faith to the upstairs in order to keep hidden the fact that they don’t know the tenets of faith well enough to make a public defense. We agree to keep things private because we aren’t knowledgeable enough to talk about it in public. (See: 1 Peter 3:15)

The deal has been made–society and the church agree to keep faith in private. (See: The Most Confident Christians)

Jesus Demands the Whole House

While the church and society are happy with their deal, Jesus makes different demands. He reveals that God is not just the man upstairs. While faith very clearly has a private element–it’s a personal decision, God desires a personal relationship with each person, we pray in private, give in private, and must nourish a meaningful inner spiritual life. The Christian faith is also very public.

Christianity is a worldview. While it includes faith (every worldview makes faith claims), it’s making fact claims as well–that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. It seeks to explain the world–why bad things happen to good people, why good people do bad things, why even our best intentions can cause harm, etc. True Christianity isn’t afraid of public debate, scrutiny, or honest discussion. While the Bible would never call us to force our thinking on others, it also doesn’t expect us to privatize the faith. We would much rather have someone tell us we are wrong than to patronize us and say our faith is our own private choice which we should keep upstairs.

Jesus demands the whole house. He doesn’t just want you to follow him in private. The Christian faith isn’t just about your heart. He wants every aspect of your life to be committed to his way.

As followers of Jesus, this has three important applications:

1. We better recognize and reject what society teaches about religion–that it is meant to be separate from our public lives. If we aren’t careful, we will buy into the private/public divide without even realizing it. The commands of Christ are as much about your public life as your private one. Faith matters as much on Monday afternoon as Sunday morning. God cares as much about you forgiving your co-worker as he does about you receiving God’s divine forgiveness.

2. We must equip ourselves for public discourse. God doesn’t need us to defend him, but he does expect that we give a defense of him. As we grow in our understanding of how the Gospel applies to every aspect of life, we will be more prepared for dealing with faith in the downstairs aspect of life. We are called to love Jesus, not just with our heart, but also with our mind. While some are more gifted than others, every follower of Jesus has a responsibility to growth in knowledge and wisdom.

3. We must seek to know God in every aspect of our lives and to share his truth in love. Many examples of people attempting to bring the Gospel into the public square have not aligned with the very Gospel they were proclaiming. At the heart of the Gospel is Jesus, who washed the feet of his betrayer and died for the very ones killing him. Bringing faith into the public square isn’t a call for us to be jerks. Yet it is a call to be willing to be labeled as such by those who are confused at our actions. A Christian must be willing to be labeled too gracious by religious people and too judgmental by secular people. As we bring faith downstairs, we must do so with the same love and compassion which Jesus showed.

The Christian message is so simple that even a child can understand its basic premise, but it’s so complex that Christians should spend every day learning how it applies to every aspect of our lives and this world.

It’s cute to say it, but it simply isn’t true. God is not just the man upstairs. He’s the owner of the whole house.

7 Responses to God Isn’t Just the Man Upstairs
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