Turning the Page

When God is like a Drill Sergeant

March 18, 2021

For many, God can be like a drill sergeant, demanding and harsh, but that is a flawed understanding of God. When we look closely at the diamond, we can see other facets.

If you follow the rules and commands, then everything will be ok. Step out of line and watch out.

I’ve talked with many people about their understanding of what God is like, and after much discussion, we often hone the description down to being one of God being like a Drill Sergeant.

It’s a heart description; it’s how they feel about God. They may have an intellectual knowledge of God being love and compassion etc., but when you get down to a metaphor to describe God, it’s something akin to being like a drill sergeant.

That drill sergeant is going to push you. Shouting at you until you get it perfectly right. There are rules, and you need to keep them.

A drill sergeant is going to break down any personal disobedience in you until you become a machine. They issue a command, and you follow with absolute automation. The army swivels on a single command.

When I was a child, I was taught songs with titles such as ‘I’m in the Lord’s army’ and hymns such as ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’

All very military orientated. Orderly, displaying God as a commander in chief.

When God is both commander in chief and drill sergeant, then you better follow the rules. No room for humanity or compassion.

Your parents, your church

Probably the most dominant influencing factors on our earliest beliefs about God come from our parental figures. Stern fathers and mothers. Punishment for breaking the rules.

Black and white. You’re in, or you’re out.

Then Church (read organized religion) comes with its set of dogmas and rules on living a ‘godly life.  We like certainty and direction, so we listen to the preacher and the Sunday school teacher warning us about the perils of stepping out of rank.

I remember from childhood days seeing pictures of people being thrown into Hell’s fires and multi-horned beasts. Some highly creative artists had drawn Revelation’s book into a weekly digest useful for scaring small children!

We’re all looking for someone.

I suppose we are all looking for someone to tell us what to do.

We all want someone to give us the command of what to do next. Do I pivot right, left, stand to attention, or be at ease.

Certainty, please, not a mystery.

In our hearts, maybe, we are looking for a Drill sergeant—a kind one.

And that is the real need: kindness and compassion.

Someone who will say

‘I see you’re struggling with the push-ups. Here, let me do them with you. And if you can’t do them, I will do them perfectly on your behalf.

Actually, I already have done them, but I know that doing the push-ups will help you grow in my likeness.

Let’s do them together at a grace/ pace you can handle.’

Every effort you make to try and impress the Drill Sergeant God is rather laughable.

He’s already done it for you on your behalf and in perfect formation. No more medals to be earned or brownie points to be gained.

It’s all about love and grace now.

Facets of a diamond

A metaphor that helps me understand what God is like is that of a beautifully cut diamond.

It has many facets or edges cut to give a face for light to both bounce off and penetrate and radiate out of.

Every facet has a different quality, but it is all part of the same diamond. It’s a part of a whole.

Yes, there is an element of God being like a drill sergeant, but if that is all that has captured our attention, then we are missing the whole beauty of the diamond.

I want to enjoy the whole diamond: every facet, every face. I don’t want to be enchanted and mesmerized by only one. Give me the whole of the diamond.

Yes, there are spiritual disciplines that can help my formation, but if the discipline becomes the object of worship, I have truly lost the alluring power and delight of God’s beauty.

Maybe another facet of God is that of a lover alluring us to be with them.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14

No drill sergeant there, but another diamond facet of expression.

Where you focus

On our country roads here in New Zealand are signs with a motorcyclist going around a corner. The words on the sign say, ‘Where you focus, you will go.’ It’s a warning about being distracted.

Perhaps with a lifetime focus on God being like a drill sergeant, it has taken you away from knowing a God of compassion and love. It becomes a relationship of doing the right thing instead of discovering a new enchanting facet.

What would it be like to stop and shift your focus for a moment?

Begin to at a heart level, become open to the possibility of other facets of God’s nature shining light and life into your soul.

Quotes to consider

  • If your religion does not transform your consciousness to one of compassion, it is more a part of the problem than any solution. Richard Rohr.  Immortal Diamond: The search for our true self
  • God’s method is neither to merely issue commands from the general’s tent (do what’s right) nor to improve the functioning of diseased organs (fix what’s wrong). Instead he becomes so intimately a part of us that we want to resist whatever he doesn’t like and release the good things he has aroused within us. LarryCrabb. Connecting.
  • God no longer stands in front of us, drill-sergeant style, barking orders. He is now inside us, whispering with attractive authority that it’s time to hit the deck and do fifty push-ups. And now we want to do it, not because the activity itself is fun, but because it fits our nature (we’re soldiers) and we enjoy pleasing our commander (we love him). Larry Crabb. Connecting
  • Groups tend to emphasize accountability when they don’t know how to relate. Better behavior through exhortation isn’t the solution, though it sometimes is part of it. Larry Crabb Connecting

Questions to answer

  1. What is a dominant image or facet that defines what God is like to you?
  2. How much have parental figures and organized religious experiences contributed to your understanding of what God is like?
  3. What does your heart most need to hear right now?

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash

 

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