FOR 50 YEARS, cartoonist Charles Schulz gave us pictures of ourselves wrapped in a smile. One of the last strips I clipped from our Sunday paper showed Snoopy the dog sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter, writing about his life. He titled his story . . .
The Dog Who Never Did Anything
Snoopy remembers it this way, “You stay home now,” they said, “and be a good dog.”
So he stayed home and was a good dog.
Then he decided to be even a better dog. So he barked at everyone who went by. And he even chased the neighbor’s cats.
“What’s happened to you?” they said. “You used to be such a good dog.”
So he stopped barking and chasing cats, and everyone said, “You’re a good dog.”
The moral, as Snoopy typed it, is “Don’t do anything and you’ll be a good dog.”
As I turned the smile around in my mind, I noticed a quirk of the English language. Snoopy and God have something in common. They are related not only by alphabet (dog and god), but by what “creatures in the middle” expect of them. The idea intrigued me enough to try another version.
The God Who Never Did Anything
“You give me what I want now,” they said, “and be a good God.”
So He gave them what they wanted and He was a good God.
Then He decided to be an even better God.
He started knocking over the furniture of other gods, and He used pain to help people in ways they could not understand.
“What’s happened to You?” they said.
“You used to be such a good God.”
So He stopped knocking over the furniture of other gods, and He stopped using pain in ways that were beyond people’s ability to understand.
And everyone said, “You’re a good God.”
The moral, as angels might see it, “Stop acting like God and people will think You’re good.”
The God We Want
Many of us imagine God as we want Him to be. To our wishes we add expectation. We expect Him to encourage us when we are afraid, to comfort us when we’re hurt, to forgive us when we fail, and to give us what we think we need when we think we need it.
Yet, along the way, we keep stumbling into the awareness that the King of Heaven is more apt to come to us in His own style, time, and mystery. He is seldom as we imagine Him to be. He is more like the God who reveals Himself in the pages of His own history.
There He comes to us in the unexpected surprises of joy, in the unwanted nights of our misery, and in the solitary sounds of our own loneliness. He comes to us in the unexpected joys of Adam, in the numbed grief of Eve, in the inconsolable tears of the childless Hannah, in the murderous anger of Moses, and in the madness of a powerful Nebuchadnezzar.
But me? Until He responds, I’d rather have it my way. In the moments of my dissatisfaction, I don’t want to have to wait for what I want. I want it now. Now. I’ll pray. I’ll pay. I’ll bargain. I’ll crawl on my knees. But I want God to prove that He is good—right now.
The God Who Has Been Good
Even in our “maturity” we can be like 2- and 3-year-olds pulling at the pant leg of heaven. Our Father isn’t surprised. He knows how to raise physical, emotional, and spiritual toddlers. He knows how to run with us in our youth, and how to walk with us at 74, 84, and 94.
And for those who go further, He is still there, hearing once again our whimpers in the night, and reaching down with the affection of an adoring mother who carefully lifts her children from their crib to herself.
No, He has not always been the kind of parent we wanted Him to be. Yes, He has been good on His terms rather than on ours. He has not answered our prayers in the way we asked. Seldom has He allowed anything to play out according to our own expectations or childish demands. Yet His determination to lead us in the paths of His own choosing is what has made Him so good.
The God Who Will Be Good
The promise of tomorrow comes with the wrinkled snapshots of yesterday. Even though our memories are not as sharp as we’d like them to be, and even though the happy times are mixed with regret, our albums contain memories of a God who keeps reminding us that He is better than our expectations. He is better than our demands. He is better than anything this life has to offer.
If He allowed a relationship to be lost, He stayed with us to remind us that we weren’t made for one another as much as we were made for Him. As our bodies give way to time, they become painful reminders that we were not made for these bodies. We were made for the One who said from the top of a thundering, burning mountain—to a people huddled in the middle of a life-threatening wilderness—“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
This is the God who, because He is good, refuses to “stay home and do nothing.”
Father, thank You for a man named Charles Schulz who brought us elements of truth amid our smiles. Thank You for being God on Your terms rather than ours. May Your name be hallowed as we wait on You. May Your kingdom be reflected in our patience. May Your will be done in our disappointments. Please, give us this day our daily bread.