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Mi Deo es Su Deo

by Tim O'Hearn

“How Great is Our God.” “Our God, He is Alive.” Songs like these are great and important songs. However, I sometimes wonder if referring to Our God might not be a subtle way of avoiding personalizing God. When we change “Be With Me Lord,” to “be with us,” it always seems to lessen the lesson of the song. Being with us as a congregation is good, but once we separate from the assembly does that relieve God of the necessity of being with each person? Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but I would much rather God be with me, and all the other me’s of the congregation, than with us only as a church. When God is the God of the aggregate it becomes easy to think that he cares for us as a whole, but doesn’t, or doesn’t have to, care for me as an individual.

I once knew a preacher who had what he later recognized as a bad habit. When someone would ask for the prayers of the congregation about a problem, he would pray for that person, but then pray for the entire congregation because they might be facing similar problems. If a person admitted to a need for stronger faith, he would say that we all need stronger faith. One day a counselor pointed out something to him that he had never considered. By attributing this person’s needs to the whole congregation he was trivializing that person. The individual is made to feel like their problem is not as important, because it is not their problem but the congregation’s. The preacher was saying, unintentionally, that their big concern was not really important enough to merit mentioning; that their individual problems were of less concern to God than the concerns of the collective church.

Sometimes we get the same feeling when we sing about “our” God. He cares about the church, but anything on a personal level is less important. This is not how God works. The collective church is important only because it is made up of saved individuals. God cares for the church because he cares for me.

“Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.” (Mic 7:7) David recognized that God was not just the God of Israel. “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust.” (Ps 18:2)

The “collectivization” of God creates another problem. As long as he is ours and not mine, I don’t have to worry about him on a personal level.

In America, a large segment of society has substituted belonging for being loved. I can belong to a dozen blogs and chat rooms and feel like I have value, in spite of the impersonal nature of the contact. I can belong to lodges and chambers of commerce and feel that I am part of something. In the same way I can sit in the assembly of the church and do nothing and feel that I am part of God’s body. So what if I slip out the back before the end of the closing prayer, so nobody knows I was even there. I am part of that church. Since God saved the church, I must be saved just because my name is in a church directory.

We are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) If we don’t meet God’s expectations in this regard, is he obligated to accept us just because of our occasional attendance at an assembly? Jesus seemed to think otherwise. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with acknowledging that God is “our” God. When we do so, though, we must make sure that we are truly part of the collective group, rather than deceiving ourselves.

If my God is your God, then he is our God, but on an individual level. He is the one who will judge each of us. He no longer is seen as a God who cares about his church, but not the people in it. His care for the church is seen, as it truly is, as a care because of the people in it.