And if he isn’t like Santa, don’t we kinda sorta wish he was?

Okay, I know this seems silly. Of course God isn’t Santa. Santa is a plus-sized guy dressed in red who spelunks chimneys. God, on the other hand, is the creator of everything. Including, one would assume, plus-sized chimney spelunkers.

But let’s be honest. Don’t we wish God was just a little bit more like Santa? It might even be in God’s best interest, given the ever-growing popularity of the man-in-red versus the steady cultural decline the Great I Am. Heck, we can’t even mention God at football games or town hall meetings anymore, whereas ol’ Santy is plastered on every billboard in America for at least two months of the year.

So what’s so great about Santa?

Ask any five year-old and they’ll tell you. Think of whatever you want. Write it down on a list. Send the list to Santa. And BANG! it shows up under the tree! Like Amazon, only without the need for a credit card!

Santa is who we wish God was, if we’re really, really honest. An old guy “up there” somewhere (heaven, North Pole, whatever) who exists to give us whatever we ask for. The Christmas list is our prayer list. The elves are traded for angels. Santa works through magic – God through miracles. Same difference.

So why can’t God fully embrace his inner Santa? Get with the program? Doesn’t he know how popular he would be if he just gave us whatever we asked for?? We go to the mall (church), sit on his lap (kneel, if your church is into that sort of thing), and “make our requests known.” But in terms of giving us what we want, God is highly unreliable. He just doesn’t get it. He could be Santa. He’d be a GREAT Santa. But he just won’t.

When we want God to be more Santa-like, however, we’re forgetting something really central to who Santa is and how he works.

Santa has a list.

Oh yeah. The one he makes, and then checks. Twice. Every kid in the world is on the list, with a score. A grade. It’s a pretty simple grade – just pass/fail. Naughty/nice. Nice kids get what they want. Naughty kids get squat. Coal. (Or, in some cultures, abduction and beating at the hands of Santa’s sidekick, “Black Peter.” But that’s a different story.)

We often forget about Santa’s grading system since it seldom comes up in the TV commercials that keep the Santa mythos alive. Santa just gives, gives, gives. Blenders. Toys. Mercedes Benz’s – though only to upper-class families in stylish homes. My personal favorite is the Mercedes commercial where “kids” on the nice list get white Mercedes sedans and those on the naughty list get identical sedans in black. Apparently German carmakers prefer a universalist Santa.

Go back to the holy scriptures, though … the Santa songs from elementary school and the Rankin-Bass animated holiday specials… and Santa has a list. Naughty kids get squat.

And, in fact, this is exactly how many people view God. Good people get what they want. Bad people get squat. If you’re a kid thinking about Santa, or an adult thinking about a Santa-shaped God, the next question is as obvious as it is likely to keep you up at night.

How good is “good enough?” Where’s the line?

When Americans are asked by pollsters if they think they are good enough to “go to heaven,” almost everyone says yes. When asked where that line is, the one that determines your eternal destination, the most common response is, “Just a little below me.” In other words, we’re ALL good enough for heaven, but just barely. We’re all struggling to keep our heads above the line.

I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure we can’t all be “just barely good enough” for heaven. What this really shows, I believe, is that none of us want to come right out and say, “I think I’m headed for hell,” but deep down we suspect that if there is a cutoff line for heaven, we’re close to not making it. It’s going to be a photo finish.

So we have to ask this obvious question about a Santa-shaped God: If there IS a line between naughty and nice, between heaven and hell, where is it? And how would Santa-God pick that line, exactly? On a scale of 1 to 10 … 1 being Hitler and 10 being Mother Teresa … how good do you need to be? 7.38? 8.04? So what if Santa-God picks 8.04 as the line? That’s great if you’re an 8.5, but what do you say to the poor schlub who clocks in at 8.039? Sorry dude? Should have thrown one more dollar into a Salvation Army bucket?

Once you look at it this way, something becomes painfully clear. There is no justice in an arbitrary line between heaven and hell. 8.04, 7.38, 6.225 … it doesn’t matter where you draw the line, it doesn’t make any sense. Any line is arbitrary, and an arbitrary line is unfair. Of course if we throw away the line entirely then either everyone goes to heaven (unrepentant Hitler included), or no one goes to heaven (Mother Teresa included). And THAT doesn’t seem just either.

So faced with this judicial challenge, the God of the Bible went in a different direction. He didn’t just threw away the line, he threw away the whole system and replaced it with something radically different. None of us are good enough.  That’s where it starts. Of course we’ve always suspected this, so God says, “Go ahead – say it out loud.”

And then he offers another way. Himself. His own goodness that is so good it makes Mother Teresa look like, well, Hitler. He offers us perfect goodness, and welcomes us into his kingdom with open arms. With goodness we couldn’t possibly earn.  So he earned it for us. Grace.

What we forget about Santa Claus and Santa-God while we’re longing for our Christmas ponies and Red Rider BB Guns is that both of these legalistic gatekeepers stand at the door to paradise with a yard stick, measuring us to see if we’re tall enough to ride the ride. And we ain’t. No matter how much we stretch – stand on tiptoes – even hop a little when Santa-God isn’t looking – we know we fall short. Down deep we know we’ve “earned” squat. Coal. And if we really want the God of the Bible to be more like Santa, that’s exactly what we’ll find in our stockings.

So you can keep Santa Claus – the guy with the list.

I’ll stick with the God of the Bible. As he really is. I may not wake up to a pony or a Red Rider BB Gun, but what I will wake up to, both in this life and the next, is much, much better.

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