There is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Nashville people claim offers the most delicious sushi in town. The place is so small it only fits two, four person tables and if both are occupied, don’t count on getting in for at least an hour.
The owner of the restaurant is a very unhappy man. However, people aren’t there for the friendly, southern service, they are there for the mouth watering sushi. The process of waiting and ordering your food is an experience in itself. If you’re not ready with your order the second the owner asks, he’ll skip you. If you ask for substitutes, he’ll ask you to leave. And don’t even think about leaving a tip. You have just essentially slapped him in the face.
You’re sort of at his mercy when you’re there. Once you walk through the doors into his restaurant, you’re making an unspoken agreement that you are about to eat the cheapest, most amazing sushi of your life, but in exchange, you’re not going to have a warm, fuzzy conversation with the owner about your hopes and dreams.
One time I brought my friend Courtney to the restaurant. Courtney spent a few years living in San Francisco and I wanted to prove to her Nashville could compete with her high sushi expectations. Everything that could go wrong went wrong during our visit. First, we told him we needed more time to decide what we wanted to order. Strike one. Second, we said our meal was ‘for here’ and not ‘to go.’ Strike two. Then, we tried to pay before we ate. Strike three. Lastly, we overpaid, tried to leave a tip and was asked never to come during his lunch hour again because we completely wasted his valuable time.
A lot of people see God this way – as an angry, restaurant owner who serves incredible, free grace to his customers. People line-up in hopes to make the cut into heaven, but live in fear of His unpredictable wrath. But it’s all too good to be true. This offer of eternal life comes with a catch, a set of unspoken rules you must follow in order to gain admittance. He’s terrifying if you cross Him, and even if you don’t, He’s cold and distant. Do what He says, don’t make eye contact and maybe you can live (eat) in peace.
Recently, a friend of mine told me she hates God and she couldn’t possibly fathom why at my age, I was still “into that God stuff.” I spent the entire weekend with her and endured all her backhanded remarks. I listened as she told me all the things that were wrong with God and how I probably wouldn’t date any of her friends she wanted to set me up with because I think I’m better than them. At one point during the weekend we walked by a cross and she asked me if I needed to stop and take a picture of it.
“Why do you hate God so much?” I asked her.
“Why should I love someone who has never done anything good for me?” she snapped back.
“I’m not saying you should, I was just wondering why.”
My friend started telling me about what it was like growing up in her family and how she felt forced to go to church as a child. She said she was never given the option to choose God, but merely told she HAD to believe in Him or else she would go to hell.
This is why I started thinking God needs a new publicist. There are a lot of people just like my friend who have come to hate God because of Christians like me. I don’t blame them in the least. When they look at Christians and the church, all they see is a greedy marketing team, sleazy advertisements, poor sponsorships and inconsistent messaging. None of these things even come close to God’s character or show who He really is.
A lot of people hate God because of the bad publicity people give Him but it doesn’t seem fair. If the publicist of an actor got arrested for drunk driving, nobody would assume the actor agreed with people driving under the influence. If the CEO of a firm was caught embezzling money, nobody would assume one of the company’s clients supported his/her decision to break the law. Yet when it comes to God, many people find it difficult to distinguish between His voice and His publicist’s.
I think about the owner of this sushi restaurant and how despite his reputation of being inappropriately rude, people still come by every day to order his famous sushi. They know in advance that they may be yelled at, embarrassed or lectured, but to them, it’s all worth it because when a product is that good, it speaks for itself.
God is a lot different and better than this restaurant owner. He isn’t rude or impatient. Instead, He loves every single person unconditionally and in every circumstance. You don’t have to be a regular customer or follow a certain protocol, He just asks that you come as you are.
The unfortunate reality is, in this lifetime, God will always be misrepresented. There will always be someone putting words and ideas into His mouth and there will always be people who project the hurts afflicted by others onto Him. I used to think God must spend a lot of time figuring out ways to redeem Himself; but I’ve realized that’s the beautiful thing about Truth and Love – it can speak for itself.