Generally, when we seek to appease someone, we turn them into an idol. One of the misconceptions we have about idols is the assumption that we love our idols. And we love some of them, I’m sure. The love of money is a common one. But the other common denominator in idolatry is fear. Proverbs says Appease an angry man and you will do it again. How common is it for us to get caught up in a cycle of appeasement?
I think it starts in childhood in many families. If the child transgresses (a not uncommon occurrence) and parents get angry, that child quickly learns how to turn the wrath by some act of appeasement. My kids learned pretty quickly that cleaning could placate my anger. But what a dangerous precedent to set up!
After all, appeasement can masquerade as restitution, but it is actually a cowardly manipulation that is encouraged by the parent.
Here is what these scenarios often look like. Dad comes home and there are bikes in the driveway…again. He can’t park his car without moving them. He moves them and parks his car, all the while nursing a sense of injustice. He goes into the house and the miscreants are playing a video game, completely oblivious to the hard day he has put in. For their benefit, no less! So he yells at them, makes them turn off the game, turns on the news and is generally unapproachable.
The kids, knowing they are in disgrace, bring up all of their accomplishments at the dinner table. One got an A on a test; another was commended by his or her coach. They know full well that Dad likes his kids to accomplish things. It makes him feel like he is doing something right as a parent. And if they can jolly him up a little, they may escape further punishment. They are a little afraid of him, and they also really need his approval to feel ok about themselves. After all, leaving one’s bike on the driveway is suddenly enough to cut off the love supply.
How to handle this lovingly? Imagine this scenario. Dad parks on the street and comes into the house. He says, “Kids, your bikes are in my way again. It really irritates to come home and not be able to park. I need you to put down your video games and move them so I can park. By the way, no video games for the rest of the evening.” They get up, not afraid of him, but they respect him. They move the bikes. He parks. The incident is over. Rebuke is received without the love connection being broken.
For me, I learned appeasement somewhat as a child. However, it got cemented in my first marriage. I was the supplicant trying to appease an angry god every day. That my first husband was an idol did not occur to me until I was married to my wonderful second husband. Early on into my second marriage, I realized that in a very basic way, I had never been married in anything but a legal sense, so little did I understand how a man and woman are called to love each other.
I quickly reverted to a supplicant role. I tried to prevent anger in every way I could. After all, I was used to serving an angry idol. One evening, he came home after a week-long trip. I gave him dinner and prepared to leave him alone. After all, that is what I thought men wanted. I grew up thinking that men could only tolerate hanging out with women for little bits of time and nothing in my first marriage contradicted that.
Spencer put his dinner on the table and just looked at me with such hurt. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to spend time with him. My humble worshipper act made no sense to him. It was then that I realized that his desire was not to be served but to be loved. He wanted to just be with me, his companion for life.
Need I tell you how that translated into my relationship with God? We project so many of our family systems onto God that have nothing to do with him. We revert to pure paganism in our relationship with God when we see Him as needing appeasement to keep Him from rejecting us. For that it what the ancient idols required; constant appeasement to stave off their anger which appeared like storms, illness, crop blight, and plagues.
I remember trying to come to terms with God. I figured He was ticked at me. So I thought I would just fess up and take whatever punishment He wanted to dole out. I had tried to appease Him with good behavior. I tried to appease Him by staying in an abusive marriage, going to church, praying, listening only to Christian music… The list goes on.
Now I grew up in a Lutheran church school. If nothing else, Lutherans know how to preach grace. But intellectual knowledge of the concept of grace will never override the experience of judgment. Grace must be experienced to be believed.
I wrote out a list of all the sins I felt guilty about. I was 29 at the time and so had a tidy little list. I wrote them all out, every single one I could think of and said to God, “Here they are.” I didn’t even apologize because it didn’t occur to me that He would just forgive. I mean, I preached forgiveness all day long but never had I experienced it. In my life, transgressions were brought up regularly, analyzed, criticized, and given a good dose of shame. I really just wanted some sort of punishment that would let me feel free.
I did not get a punishment that day. In fact, for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of Love. God didn’t speak. He just loved. I knew that my sins were forgotten. And that was the day that God stopped being my idol and started being the lover of my soul and my Father.
Bill Johnson says that God is in a good mood. I love that because my youngest versions of God show up as somewhat kind, a little distant, and a little disapproving. My youngest versions of God thought I could do a lot better. My real God, not the idol I have sometimes made Him be, thinks I’m pretty great. And when I mess up, His response shows up in a sense of conviction that says I don’t want to do that anymore. Not because I am going to be in trouble. Not because He will cut off the love supply. But because I don’t want to miss out on any moment of my relationship with Him. And because I love others as well as myself and want them to join in the love too.
If you read one book that shows you God’s love, it should be this one. I will never be the same after reading it.
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