The Christmas season was the greatest when I was growing up as a child: the giant Christmas tree at the mall, telling Santa what I wanted, and the weeks of anticipation to see if I received what I asked for on Christmas morning. Did you experience the Santa story and traditions growing up as a child too?
Rooted in the good news that Santa could give you what you wanted was a darker side to the story: He’s always watching, and he knows when you’ve been bad or good. And depending on your behavior, you might get punished with coal in your stocking on Christmas morning. I remember having so much fear when I was 7 or 8 years old because I knew I would receive coal on Christmas – because I was a bad kid.
I often wonder if the way I understood when I was a kid how Santa worked has shaped how I understand how God works today. If I’m good, then good things will happen to me. If I’m bad, then bad things will happen to me. And this is from someone, I’m told, who is out there somewhere, yet I have never actually seen myself.
As I connect with men across the country, many of whom have left the church over the years, I see a link between how they viewed Santa as a child and how they view God today. It seems most of their theology about God is rooted in being good or bad, which can be a stumbling block for some.
The Theology of Being Good
The Bible is very clear when it says that even when we try our best to be “good,” our acts of righteousness are like dirty rags. If God only blesses those who are good, that would mean there is a hierarchy based on good works. That sounds more like religion to me.
Many people believe deep down that because they are good, God owes them something good in return. Is that how the God of Christianity works? Many men have left the church because they were frustrated with God when life threw them a curveball after being “good” for many years.
The Theology of Being Bad
The message of Santa is that we will get punished if we are bad. There are many men who were also taught this view of God growing up. As a result, when something bad happens to them in life, they believe God is punishing them.
Many men have walked away from God because of this Santa Claus theology – you do bad things, and God will punish you for that. Although there is a negative impact on our lives because of this sinful world, God does not give us “coal” because we are bad.
It is true that our sin separates us from God, but the good news is that we are saved through the grace of God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. We are not saved by our works – whether or not we are good or bad.
Jesus was born a baby, lived among us and died for us while we were still his enemy. The cross of Jesus is our assurance that God has dealt with sin and evil in the world, and we can trust his goodness and love for us, until one day when all of that is finally gone. Because of that, even if we cannot understand our present hardships, we can trust God and what he’s done for us.
Has our childhood belief in how Santa works bred into us this understanding of how God works? Take a few minutes and think about this: Are your views of Santa and God extremely similar? If so, then I encourage you to get into the Christmas story of Jesus and remind yourself of what God sending his Son to earth really means.