The Imitation of Christ…(not)

Since I am not greatly bothered by movies that are “dark,” I happen to like a movie called The Game, starring Michael Douglas. In this movie, a mysterious business establishment provides their clients with carefully-staged situations that push them to their personal limits. It’s called “The Game,” and it freaks Douglas out. It’s like they know everything he is going to do before he does it. Before the game begins, they study their clients so thoroughly that they can predict with astounding accuracy what they will do under any imaginable circumstance. In a sense, they can control every detail of his or her life for a time, but without ever actually tampering with their ability to choose what they will.

Phillip Yancey once said that a master chess player can determine the outcome of a match by knowing his opponent so well that he can anticipate his next move. Yancey suggests that this may help explain how a God who is technically “supposed to” avoid tampering with our free wills could make all things work according to His will anyway. He’s smart enough to know exactly what we would do in any situation, and therefore can lead us where He will without actually “making” us do anything.

Of course, the whole “foreknowledge” thing is just a human idea anyway, since time means little to a God who is both Alpha and Omega. He could just as well be working backwards from the end. All of our causal relationships (that’s causal, not casual) presuppose time. This thing happens first, so then this thing happens next. But what if you lived life backwards, like Merlin on The Sword in the Stone? You’d get mixed up about what “causes” what after all.

But I suppose, to some degree, God’s timelessness helps us understand how He can do what he does. If you’ve ever seen Groundhog Day, you may remember the scene where Phil can tell Rita everything about everyone in Punxsutawney.

Rita: Is this some kind of trick?

Phil: Maybe the real God uses tricks. Maybe He’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, He knows everything.

I love it. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. And it’s not dark. Phil uses his knowledge of people to accomplish just about everything he can imagine. That’s a powerful position to be in.

But we’ve got more than a God who can just predict our every move. We have a God who comes to indwell us. Like my wife who has a little someone indwelling her right now 🙂 (Carter #4) Over time it gets difficult to say what’s happening because she wants it and what’s happening because the baby wants it. The two are mixed together for a time so that whatever happens to one happens to the other. She’s not just being “indwelt;” their lives are joined together. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Now for my C.S. Lewis quote of the day:

You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together…. But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it.

It won’t stop us from trying to explain it though. As Norman Grubb used to say, we’ve got God within and without. That pretty much puts Him on the throne.

And it should caution us against trying too hard to figure out whether our actions are our own or God’s. In the end, they both look the same. They even feel the same most of the time. About the only difference is that Life results from His activity in and through us. If Life comes out of what we did, you can bet He was hiding in there somewhere.

With all due respect to Thomas a Kempis, never mind the imitation of Christ. This is better than that… It’s Christ’s imitation of you.


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6 Responses to “The Imitation of Christ…(not)”

  1. J. Samuel Thomas Says:

    Very, very good!


    Christ as us!

    Personally, it does me no good to sit around trying to figure out if I am doing the “God Thing” or not.

    Perhaps the best thing to do is just live, knowing that Christ is our life.

  2. Jasmin Says:

    Congrats about the baby! I so wish I were there and then April and I could be pregnant together.

    And I didn’t know you loved Groundhog Day too…I think that’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

  3. Jeremy Uriz Says:

    Hey, great movie from David Fincher who directed that classic brawler “Fight Club”.

    And yeah, Groundhog Day holds up incredibly well over time. Jenn and I watched it a few months ago.

    And Johnny, what if just living we find ourselves thinking about the very things we should not be? Of course, I’m playing devils advocate here…

    Neil, once again, congrats to you and April.

  4. J. Samuel Thomas Says:


    Two of my favorite movies as well.

    Must be a “thinking outside the box/ anti-establishment” thing.

    Jeremy, looks like you missed my point.

    I said “…just live, KNOWING THAT CHRIST IS OUR LIFE”.

    Huge difference.

    Neil, I echo the congratulations shared here!

  5. konti Says:

    Congratulations to you and your wife about your baby.

    Very good post!

    As for the imitation, I have always wondered why Paul said: “Be imitators of Christ”

  6. Neil Says:

    Hi Konti!

    Good point about imitating Christ. I know it’s a legitimate idea. The problem is that when some folks talk about this imitation, they mean something that I don’t mean.

    For them, Christ is “up there” watching us to see how well we can try to do the same kinds of things that He did “down here.” The separation is what I don’t like. Me doing my best to try to be “like God.”

    The irony is that He does intend us to be like Him. But not in the way that we naturally set out to do it.

    Thanks for the note!

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