There are more similarities with pornography to your relationship of God than you might think. Before you dismiss that statement, I hope you consider one important truth with me for a moment. The people of God use pornography. A lot. But even this is not shocking to most of us anymore, especially after a quick moral inventory.
C.S. Lewis explained our obsession with sex about as simply as I have read or heard. He said that if there were a culture passing around pictures of a roasted hog, a sizzling fillet, or a tasty cr¸me brule in secret satisfaction, you would have to conclude that they have not properly understood food. There is something really devilish and twisted guiding folks who are willing to settle for fantasies over the real thing.
Does this sound too familiar to you, as it does me?
The particular similarity between pornography and our relationship to God is our absurd and devilish willingness to settle for fantasy over reality, however difficult it may be to set our hands on. What do I mean to say? I will again defer to an expert to make my mind known.
Martin Luther, whose work heavily influenced Bonhoeffer (and many before and since!), wrote long ago, "There is therefore a distinction between when God is there and when he is there for you."
There is a difference between an abstracted deity and one that acts for his people. There is a difference between the existence of God and such a God being on the side of his people. There is a difference between the fact that God is, and that God is for you. There is a difference between God being love and God being in love with you. There is a difference between God being good and God doing good for you.
But are we not content so often to stay with half the truth? Yes, God holds all life in his hand, but no I am not convinced he holds my life in his hand. Yes, I know God loves but no, I am not convinced that God loves me. Yes, I know God is a God of grace, but no, I do not think he would be gracious to me.
And just like that, with a turn of phrase, we have traded the God of the bible for an empty abstraction. We have traded Reality for fantasy.
Is this not exactly what we do when we escape into the world of empty fantasy known as pornography? We have traded real relationship for foolish momentary satisfaction. It may be true that there is a person in a photograph, on a website, or a webcam, but there will never be relationship with this person. We may be conscious of their existence but they can never help us. They will never be, in the proper sense, there for us.
Is this not the slithery nature of sin, which all that is good is distorted into a terrible mutation, and inevitably will turn upon its subject?
Instead of experiencing all the characteristics, smiles, frowns, sadness, happiness, and oddities of another, we will convince ourselves that it is better to use them for our own pleasure. They exist for us as any other mechanical device would exist. We care for the people in images as we would a car or a computer, whose value is completely limited to its usefulness.
The images can never help us become more real men or women. They will only drive us further into the shadowlands as we waste away under our self-imposed burden.
Again, this is so much like our relationship with God, right? We conceptualize God, we are aware that he is real and he made the grass and trees and stuff, but he will exist for us in the same sense as the men and women behind the pictures. And so we use God to achieve our own ends- that is, until we realize he will not play by our rules. We will call God obsolete like a decade-old computer. We will look to trade him in like a broken-down car.
In just the same sense as porn has led us away from being real men and women, our abstracted fantasy God will drive us into the shadowlands till we feel our own existence fading away like the evening sun.
But what if you suddenly had an encounter not just with the God that is, but with the God that is for you? What if, all of a sudden, you heard him not telling mankind as a whole, but just you, to lay down your burdens at his feet? What if you could hear him telling you and you alone that all things work together for your good because he loves you?
What you would have then is a relationship. What you would have then is hope. What you would have then is a friend not just with the God that is good but with the God that is good to you.
One more word about the similarities between pornography and our relationship with God: reality can be much more difficult than fantasy. That is why we settle for fantasy so often. Porn, just like the abstracted God, provides an immediate gratification. I can demand of God that he change my circumstances and feel as if I am finished with my "prayers" for the day, but would my whole life not be characterized by prayer if I recognized that God is not just "there" but there for me?
Relationships are messy. They take courage to venture into time and again. We have tried to become insulated from pain by using God and those made in his image, but this is nothing more than cowardice.
The good news is that there is a mediator, a go-between. There is One who has already cut the path through the forest of humanity to the place God dwells.
Because of Jesus, we need never doubt that God is for us.