I started laughing when I first saw him enter with a group of people. He appeared to be a leftover from Halloween. My first thought, I kid you not, was that someone had entered the store dressed up as a Star Wars character. When I looked more closely, I actually thought he must be trying to look like Sasquatch. (Being from the Northwest, I know what he looks like–not remembering that I was in Liberia). So I said “Look!” My party said the person was the devil. They explained to me that he was that particular group’s devil. Then, they further told me, “Everyone has a devil.”
I was trying to comprehend this. Everyone has a devil? I asked for more clarification. “Are you talking culturally, spiritually, metaphorically (whatever that means in Monrovia)?” I was told that it was a little bit of all of those. Every group had their own devil whom they took seriously but not too seriously. This devil would show up at deaths, holidays, and other significant events. Each group’s devil was different but had some of the same qualities. At first, I reasoned that all of us have our own devils (thinking about those bad habits or places where we personally fall), but that was not the subject here. They were talking about a being, and I was thinking about a temptation.
You can guess what my next question was–”Does everyone have their own god?” Yes, I was told. People have different gods. Some see their god in the water. Others see their god in the sky. Some see their god in the same place as others. And others see god in their own place. This reasoning became more disturbing to me than the devil discussion. You get in trouble when you create your own devil. But I think you get in big trouble when you create your own god.
I was at a Bible study tonight. A Liberian read the text of 1 John 3:17 for group discussion. If you don’t remember it, this scripture says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” This passage totally reminded me of the Good Samaritan story. A couple of religious guys see a guy in need on the side of the road, and they just pass by him. I guess I thought of this because in Liberia there are always hordes of people standing on the side of the road and so many of them seem very needy. So do you just pass them by? And if you did, would the love of God be in you? Can you wrestle with this? I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. That’s not my point. I’m not trying to say anyone gets saved by their good deeds. But I really think the Bible is saying something pretty important here. So someone in the study today said that they passed by someone in need, and God told them not to help. Did He? Really? Or could you have just created your god just like nearly everyone else does? I understand failing to do what the Bible says in helping the poor. I understand there is forgiveness. I understand the fallacy of salvation by merit. But I can’t deal with changing the text or even worse changing God and what He says to justify my lack of compassion and mercy. My Liberian friend said, “We cannot write our own Bibles.” He is correct. And we cannot create our own god simply to excuse ourselves from helping a world that is hugely hurting just because it makes us uncomfortable or is not what we want to do. You don’t have “your God.” I don’t have “my God.” Or if we do, it is not really the Creator but the created. And if we do this, pretty soon our god will be so small that you will see him running around markets, and you will mistake him for Chewbacca.