Doctrine: God is the exact opposite of casual. If we expect Him to be personal then we cannot expect Him to be casual. If we want a personal relationship with Him then we cannot be casual either.
The origin of the word “friend” has it’s root meaning from Indo-European “to love.” And yet, where once the term friend truly meant someone close to us—whom we knew and loved; in modern times we now use the word friend casually; meaning loosely, without much thought or premeditation, relaxed, indefinite, and in a less meaningful sense. It means everything from acquaintance to someone remotely connected to us through other acquaintances—which person could not truly be categorized as a real friend (by actual definition).
I grew up in a world only barely impacted by the Internet, social media, and texting. Yet, now these three mediums for communication have literally become powerhouses changing the social, emotional, and psychological makeup of the entire world. Indeed, how we find, create, enter, and maintain relationships (whether romantic, family, or friend) has been drastically affected by the way we communicate socially, which is now primarily online, or through an electronic device. The nature of communication and relationships has changed and so also our proper perceptions of them.
In conjunction with these societal changes, our perception of what our relationship with God should be has also changed. And, in many cases, not for the better. The generation born in the 90s knows no other world than the one before us now. And, to them everyone is a “friend.” And, that casual assignment of such a powerful word has stretched to their expectations of God.
The whole world has become casual about so much, and so people now assume or expect God to be casual. He is NOT.
We preach that God is personal. That Christ is our friend. And people today suddenly assume that means He’s on Facebook—spiritually. They assume they can talk to God casually. They assume that He will answer casually. When they say, “God’s my friend,” they literally view Him as a casual FB buddy who follows their timeline and posts emoticons and silly comments.
People seem to believe that God is casual about communication. That He should respond immediately to all “texts,” and post status updates if He’s going to take a while to get back to us. People suddenly expect God to spill His guts “online” for the whole world to see because that’s what “friends” do. They expect God to post selfies and enjoy and repost innocent (if a bit crude) jokes. After all, it’s all in fun, right? God should be able to handle a little humor.
Now, I’m the first to claim God as my truest friend. He has been there for me when no one else could be. He is loyal. He is true. He tells me the truth about myself even when I might rather not hear it. He doesn’t beat around the bush. I know exactly what He expects out of our relationship. He’s never failed me. He hasn’t always explained everything, immediately; but to date, I can say confidently that He’s answered all my sincere, genuine questions. But even though He’s personal with me, I would certainly never label Him my buddy. Such a term is too casual for the kind of relationship, the kind of friendship I enjoy with God. And to label it so would diminish, rather than support, who He is to me.
God is not a casual pal. The word casual means: relaxed, unconcerned, laid back, acting without much thought or premeditation, acting without sufficient care or preparation, not regular or permanent, temporary, happening by chance, accidental, happening without formality of manner, informal…
God is the exact opposite of casual. He is deliberate, concerned, focused, acting only with thought and premeditation, acting with sufficient care and preparation, regular, permanent, fixed, acting by choice, purposeful, acts with formality of manner, formal… It is because He is NOT casual that He is able to be personal. A casual being cannot be personal because the very nature of “personal” is sacred, deep, and attaching. We cannot attach ourselves, ultimately, to people who are casual—they simply can’t be trusted.
If God were casual being then He could not be a personal God, and in fact, He would not be a God at all.
However, it is His lack of casualness and His incredible personal nature that often confuses and discourages the modern world from forging ties with Him. They want Him to care less and expect less. But, unfortunately, He cares perfectly and always has the highest expectations. And so, the modern generation struggles to come to know Him because they are unwilling to bend to His terms for a relationship. They want Him to be deep with them without them having to be deep in return.
Society, for all that it claims, is actually more impersonal than ever before. And God, cannot be impersonal. He is our Father. Thus, He refuses casual and impersonal relationships. For He wants only serious and personal relationships with His children. And, consequently, it is only that type of relationship that will enable us to come to know Him, become like Him, and live in His presence forever (St. John 17:3).
C.S Lewis has a brilliant quote in The Problem of Pain that perfectly describes the world today as regards their desire for a casual relationship with God. He says:
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that, God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
This year I took time out to watch the Face-to-Face with Elder Holland and President Eyring (which I highly recommend all of you watch by clicking on the link provided). I was merely interested, as any of us should be when two apostles of the Lord, Jesus Christ, take time out to have a candid conversation with the youth of the world, as to what they would talk about. So, I listened to it.
I didn’t realize it was going to last as long as it did. But, once I got rolling I didn’t want it to end. They said so many wonderful things. But, in response to a question from a girl who was struggling with her relationship with God, they said some of the most astounding things.
The girl was struggling to establish a back-and-forth dialogue with God. She was trying to talk to Him in her prayers and get immediate responses back, etc. I remember listening harder, because I was certain these two Christlike men would give us all the answer to this personal dialogue with the Almighty that we all fundamentally desire. And yet, their response was unlike anything I expected. They, instead of giving the recipe for “chatting with God” like we tend to expect these days, they both indicated the exact opposite.
I don’t remember their exact words (you really should go listen to it on your own). I only remember the distinct impression I got when President Eyring talked about when he prays he imagines himself approaching the throne of God. This image, of approaching God on a throne, hit me powerfully: GOD IS PERSONAL, BUT HE IS NOT CASUAL. I was then grateful for the two apostles’ reassurances that in all their experiences, they, neither of them, had ever had the privilege of having God, the Father, carry on a casual back-and-forth conversation with them. They reminded the youth, and me, that God is our Father, but He is also the Almighty God, Creator of worlds without end, and in no uncertain terms, Master of the Universe.
While God is love we must also respect the type of being He is and how He is capable of being Love. One does not become all-loving by being casual in any way. Thus, though God is personal with us, and we should be ourselves when we approach Him, we should not be casual in our conversations with Him nor should we expect Him to be casual with us or to be satisfied with a casual relationship.
After listening to President Eyring’s comments, I remember thinking I almost wanted to laugh. Why had I, or this girl, ever expected God to be casual when His very station requires that He be the exact opposite? Why would any of us imagine that we, in our limited mortal station, could converse—as if with a Facebook friend—with the Almighty God. I hadn’t even realized that I had been harboring that incorrect ideal, and yet after hearing this Face-to-Face, it occurred to me that in many ways I had been attempting to formulate an idea of God and prayer that was far more casual than it should be. It has changed me and my prayers for good. They will never be the same, and I can tell you that they are far better than they have ever been.
Now, lest anyone think I’m trying to present God as a being we can’t approach, let me clarify. God is our Father. He wants us to come before Him and we desire it (whether we recognize it or not). But, how we approach Him and how we expect to converse with Him is not casual, nor should we ever treat it as such. Because if we consider our supplications and applications to Him as casual (relaxed, unconcerned, laid back, acting without much thought or premeditation, acting without sufficient care or preparation, not regular or permanent, temporary, happening by chance, accidental, happening without formality of manner, informal…) then how can we expect Him to take such conversation or applications seriously? Do we take them seriously?
In order for us to have a relationship with God we must take that relationship seriously.
Yes, we can be ourselves. But, we need to be respectful. Yes, we can talk to Him about everything. But, we need to take those conversations seriously. Yes, we can pray anywhere. But, when we pray, we need to focus on that prayer and care about it. It shouldn’t be a passing thought that we toss into the air and hope God catches it.
I don’t take seriously the sentence someone yells to me in the wind as they drive by in a car with their radio blazing and horn honking. Do you? I don’t take seriously a sentence my husband says to me if he’s saying it half-heartedly while he’s surfing the Internet. Would you? Do we expect the God of the Universe, and our Eternal Father, to take seriously casual conversation that neither increases our relationship with Him nor shows a sincere desire to listen to what He might actually have to say to us? Or, do we ask and ask and ask Him for guidance and help, but expect His instructions to allow us to remain casual in our observance of His commandments?
God has everything we want IF we are willing to take Him, His plan, and His communications with us seriously. That means we listen with the intent to obey and we ask with the intent to bend our will to His, not the other way around.
God, our Father, spends every moment of His eternity trying to help us become like Him (Moses 1:39). He has offered up His Only Begotten Son, willingly, that we might each, individually, have the chance to choose to become like Him and spend eternity with Him, working by His side to exalt others. Thus, He takes His relationship with us so seriously that He doesn’t waste time with casual conversation. What good to Him is ‘shooting the breeze?’ What serious love, mercy, grace, repentance, and eternal progression we are willing to receive, He offers to us in whatever doses we are willing to receive them when we approach Him deliberately and purposefully. If we approach Him not at all, He reminds us of His love and expectations through others.
So, it does us no good to insist that God get to know us on our casual, relaxed terms. It does us no good to try to force the God of the Universe to “chill out” and simply let us do as we want, and when we feel like it we’ll try to do a few of the things He asks. To do so is to ask Him to love us less, which He cannot do, for His love is perfect. And His perfect love requires that He never desist in offering us all that He has on His terms, which are the only terms upon which His powers and glory can be received.
I have spent years trying to get to know God better. I didn’t always know that I was doing it. I was just trying to keep commandments, get answers to hard questions, and try to understand how He worked. And, in consequence of my deliberate, purposeful, determined efforts, I was surprised to find out that I was getting to know Him. Far be it from me to claim that I understand God. I don’t think that’s possible. But, as much as I am able, I am learning who He is, how He works, and how to learn more and more about Him. It has brought so much light and understanding into my life that I weep to see so many so oblivious to Him and His outstretched hands. They simply mentally bat those eternal hands aside because they don’t want to take seriously the conditions necessary to grab hold.
I cry in my head, “I know Him! He loves you! Please take some time to get to know Him! The answers to everything come in time…I know, I’ve tested it. Please try it! You’ll be so much happier!” Sometimes I cry it in my blogs…like this one…
But, for most, God is still—in their minds—a casual acquaintance; a distant friend on social media connected to them distantly through other family and friends. They ignore most of His “posts.” They view Him as external and unknowable. They have no desire to know Him—yet. And, yet, He waits and waits and waits and waits for them. “Come unto me,” He says in a very personal, deliberate, and loving manner.
So, if you find you are struggling in your relationship and prayers to God, perhaps it may help you to consider that while He is personal, He is not casual. And, perhaps the more seriously you take your relationship with Him the more quickly you’ll find that it blossoms and grows into something not unlike what Christ offered to the woman at the well; the kind of relationship that will sustain you through all others, because it’s the only relationship with the power you need. You can’t get it anywhere else. Not from children, friends, from a romantic relationship, and not even from a treasured spouse. Those relationships generate power only as they are approached through your relationship with God.
As C.S. Lewis said (Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 3:
…What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they…could…invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside of God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
The reason why this can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back to misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and run a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.
As long as we expect God to be casual we will fail to find a truly satisfying and fulfilling personal relationship with Him. This lack of a personal relationship with God will prevent us from finding ultimate peace and happiness in our lives. We need that personal relationship with Him to thrive, not just survive. But, in order to do that, we have to get out of this casual mind set. We have to become serious about God and choose Him deliberately (as He has chosen and loved us), not casually—as we seem determined to do.