God is Not Santa Claus

He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake.

The older I get and the longer I walk this road of faith, the more I realize how little I understand about God. The easy answers of my youth no longer suffice, and I now need to find better ones.

Like many Christians, I was unknowingly raised on the idea of God-as-Santa Claus:

God watched me at all times, keeping careful track of my conduct, deciding my reward or rejection. Stay on His good side and He’d bring tidings of great joy, but be placed on the wrong list and I’d be left with tears and sulphur when He came back.

Prayer became a daily, glorified Christmas List; an ever-growing petition for the stuff I wanted from the Big Man, and my job was to do enough to merit those things and to understand that my performance was the key to it all. Good kids got good things.

Like Santa, God was conditionally benevolent. He was prepared to be unfathomably generous with blessings—but I had to earn it. Yes, God had Grace to lavish on us, but we had to do enough to get Him to open His bag.

I no longer have peace with that God.

I no longer believe that God is an invisible, yet ever-present monitor, continually separating the Naughty or Nice and doling out favor or damnation accordingly; that my days are nothing more than a perpetual act of trying to deserve gifts of answered prayers and avoiding the penalty of being found not nice enough.

I think the idea of Santa that was always so disturbing, was that there could be some clearly defined line between Good and Bad girls and boys; that this world was a stark binary split of those who earned reward and those who merited cruelty. You couldn’t be found in both lists. That was where the cracks in that Christmas story began to show for me as a young boy. I knew that two distinct lists of the In and the Out didn’t match my experience of people. I knew it didn’t mesh with my understanding of myself.

I couldn’t imagine life as a pass-fail experience, with people’s worth being determined by the sum total of our every act.

And this is where my adult spiritual journey is meandering away from the kid’s stuff that I once accepted without thinking. I am seeking a better story; one that allows for the nuance and the grey that I find as I live in it. I’m looking for a religion that is as messy as the world around me.

Some will say that God should receive the same fate as Santa Claus, that a Divine Creator should be relegated to childhood myths that we outgrow once we learn to face the difficult paradoxes of this life. But I’m hopeful that there is a way to understand faith and God as an adult; one that doesn’t require perfection or grade performance and that doesn’t reduce Humanity to the Good and the Bad. I’ve seen what that idea does in the world, and how every dangerous it is.

I’m searching for a spirituality that doesn’t revolve around a bearded man with a big book, who’s watching my every move and needs me to get it right or be very disappointed when he returns. I’m praying for a God I don’t need to outgrow.

That’s what’s on my Christmas List this year.


58 thoughts on “God is Not Santa Claus

  1. John, I received the sweetest Christmas card this year. Was a pic of my great niece sitting in front of Santa, looking at the camera, whimpering and looking really uncertain. Santa, who was the finest looking one I’d ever seen, was standing behind her with his finger to his lips as if giving the sweetest “shhh”. And you know, that is a rather accurate image of God and me. I’m growing, teetering, falling, walking, striving, often distracted, but rejoicing. And He is Who He is. And I have faith He is Who He is. I ditched the wish list and now have a gratitude one. Merry Christmas to you and family!

    • Was that comment sarcastic? Sorry for being dense, but I’d really like to know. I think this is a very interesting premise that needs to be taken a few more steps….

    • We are surrounded by people that attribute every action be it positive or negative to a higher power. Asked recently how his sale year went one replied that if he had submitted more completely to him (that him) he would have had a better year financially. How are the kids? Blessed of course. How can someone else get a little bit of the blessing? Submit silly! What’s the steps for submission? A little foggy there… Maybe whisper in Santa gods ear with just the right incantation and bingo you’re in! Perform the right action and Shazam new job, cancer cure, kids college, well you get the point. The same group is confident the almighty loves the USA above all other nations! This is probably a surprise to “him” not to mention the 95% of Earth’s population not living here. In the meantime this same group has no problem destroying the earth, the source of all life. We’re not in a good spot

  2. I’ve also had to ditch the “believe in …” myth or you’re not going to have a share in the gifts. I’ve found God is always there trying to comfort and strengthen and support me — much as that beautiful picture of Santa Claus that Anonymous shared.
    Thank you, John, for being the voice of the Christ for me.
    Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Shalom!

  3. Thank you John P. I look forward to your posts–reading them makes me think, evaluate and even celebrate depending on your subject. You have the courage to speak honestly, even when it questions traditional approaches to what it means to be a Christian. My wish is that you and your family have a wonderful Chritmas together.

  4. John, you are absolutely right—many of us were raised to believe in a Santa Claus God. But that notion of God shattered to pieces for me 5 years ago when my son was murdered. I had been good, I had been faithful, and somehow, I didn’t make the “reward list.” The main thing that I’d always prayed for—to keep my children safe, I didn’t get to have.

    So these days I am still searching for the real God. Having lost my understanding of God, I’m still trying to find Him in my mind, heart and soul.

    • Dear Jackie – I understand your comments clearly.
      I pray – strength, love and peace follow you where ever you travel. That others find strength through you as they seek their own answers to heal broken hearts and bodies. Peace.

    • No words can express the sorrow you have experienced. All I can offer is my shared hope that you begin to find the truth of all that is.

  5. Merry Christmas to all you fellow Christians out there. Happy Holidays to everyone else.

    To all you fundies out there:

    You better watch out,
    You better not cry,
    You better not pout,
    I’m telling you why:
    Donny “Yeshua” Donowitz is coming to town!

    He’s making a list,
    And checking it twice,
    Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
    Donny “Yeshua” Donowitz is coming to town!
    His baseball bat sees you when you’re sleeping,
    It knows when you’re awake.
    It knows when you’ve been bad or good,
    So be good for goodness sake!

    OH!…You better watch out, You better not cry
    You better not pout, I’m Telling you why.
    Donny “Yeshua” Donowitz is coming to town.

    His baseball bat sees you when you’re sleeping,
    It knows when you’re awake.
    It knows when you’ve been bad or good,
    So be good for goodness sake!

    Fundies. It’s not too late to ditch the all-pervasive fear and follow the real Jesus in 2017!!!!

  6. I don’t know how you do it. In the short time that I have known about you, you seem to tap into what is on my mind, or in my heart and spirit. I have been struggling with this type of God most of my adult life. I would stop trying to “be good” for periods of time because I knew that I was never going to measure up enough for God to bless me. All of this even though I had accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Then I would try to do, or say what people around me were doing in order fot God to bless me. I have a former colleague who told me that I wasn’t being blessed because I was not doing Matthew 6:33. I resented her for that and for how it seems that she thinks that all of her blessings are coming from “doing” that scripture. A seemingly strong marriage, two healthy, happy sons, beautiful home, thriving career, and a newly slimmed down figure. And here I am still obviously not being good enough for God to bless me. I have a marriage that I fervently hope ends in divorce early next year after a two and a half year separation. I have a wonderful, beautiful, daughter who has suffered with chronic illnesses since she was 16 months old. I am mad at God because she has lost most of her hair due to a protein deficiency. I don’t know what else I can do to earn God’s blessings over my life. I begin my 40th year in the wilderness next year. Prayerfully 2017 will be the year that God will give me the desire of my heart. I was 15 when I asked God for something very specific. Until then I will try my best to find joy in the blessings I do have…when I am not mad at Him.

    • Sunray(e), I’m sending my thoughts your way this morning. All I can offer your spirit is a quote that’s wise person directed me to-

      “This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
      Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

      Sometimes, when the questions and doubts are too overwhelming, the only thing I can do is believe in that. At least He sees that future.

      Peace to you-

      • And I can’t think of a person who would know more about that which she speaks than Corrie ten Boom. And if anyone tells you that “God will not give you more than you can handle,” don’t believe them. I have known clergy and very devout laypeople who have spent time yelling at God about what was happening in their lives or in situations they knew of. Don’t worry, God can handle it. Our life situations and experiences are only OUR life situations and experiences and we all handle them the best we can and know that God is NOT handing out rewards or punishments because of our actions but is there to help comfort, support, and perhaps, if we are listening or are able to listen in the midst of the chaos, God will show us God is present.

    • Sunray, I was recently looking up what Jesus promised us if we left behind mothers, fathers, and other family members for his sake, and the promise included MANY mothers, fathers, etc. -AND TRIBULATIONS! I am very suspicious of Christians who think they are “blessed” so easily. Scripturally, a serene, comfortable life is likelier to mean you are not doing enough, and are not trusted enough to be asked to do more. In reality, nothing is ever that simple. Each of us is dealt with individually, where we are. I can promise you God will never mind you being angry with him.

    • Sunray,
      You cannot “earn” God’s blessing. None of us can. We will never, ever be good enough. That’s why Jesus came – to be good enough. To take our place, pay the price for our sins and to open the door to eternity for us. Why doesn’t God bless some of us while others seem to have everything? We may never know in this life. We are a fallen people and as such we brought evil into the world and we have to live with it. We do not know what the “perfect” person deals with. We do not know what pain they hide behind the cheery exterior. Don’t forget, Jesus said that those who had it all already have their reward. So maybe that perfect person is in pain or maybe they’re so busy enjoying their reward they’ve forgotten about those who need their help now. My Dad was an Anglican priest and one of the best men I’ve ever known. But my clothes came from the rummage sale and my presents were often refurbished from other people’s trash. Because God was never about money. God was never about success. God was – and is – about love. And that we had. Dad would bring home anybody – and I mean – anybody – for dinner or a sandwich. And mom would feed them. If you have love, you indeed have it all and have been blessed. You have a daughter to love. She may have problems but she is alive and you have her. Some of us have no one. Have a holy and Blessed Christmastide. May God help you find him in 2017.

      • Liz… thanks for sharing that. very moving.

        When Job’s wife said to him, …’enough with your integrity already! –why don’t you just curse God & die?”

        Job answers her, ‘… What? Should I accept all of God’s blessings but not the adversity?”

        Curiously, after he said that, Satan never bothered him again. Hmmm.

  7. I don’t believe in a god who knows when sparrows fall and numbers the hairs on our heads, rewards us for faith in him or for approved behavior and punishes for transgressions. Mostly, I believe in a god who made the universe, saw something special in one group of not-yet-apes on this planet and steered us toward humanity because he loved us, then sat back to watch what we would do. I hope there is an afterlife, and I hope everybody gets to go there.

    As for the horrible things that happen to good people and the fact that evil people too often prosper, I don’t think that these things are the will of god, but accidents of the universe. I agree with a character from Babylon 5:

    Marcus Cole: I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

    I believe in doing the best you can to be an honorable person, doing as much good and as little harm to other people and the planet as you can. I don’t know where that leaves me with regard to religion, but it defines my purpose in life, and makes me a better person than I might otherwise be. That will have to do.

  8. Pingback: God is Not Santa Claus – FairAndUNbalanced.com

  9. John, I find you to be an amazing philosopher and a brilliant beautiful writer. Someone commented earlier the gift you have of tapping into what one is feeling and believing. I feel the same.
    Having been raised “Church of Christ” and dabbled into many different religions to find the truth has been challenging, but realized, there lies the paradox. I believe because I choose to believe there are lessons to be learned. When I vere off the path I believe I’ve been chosen to journey; miracles take place to get me back on track. This is what’s right for me, and what comforts me. I try not to think too hard with regards to punishment, as I believe in a loving God. I focus and concentrate on being the best person I can be…Accepting and appreciating my flaws.
    One of my all time favorite songs, especially at Christmas time is Amy Grants version of “Grown up Christmas List”. Her version of that particular song, IS what my grown up list consist.
    God knows I’m not perfect…I don’t have to be. But I do try to be the best person I can be. This also means treating anyone and everyone with respect. It may be my delusion, but it’s how I believe.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings and wisdom.

  10. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Galatians 2:20 NLT

    • Now isn’t that just so precious—like Honey-Baked Ham and fragrant boughs. My Uncle James, a preacher in the Pentecostal Church of God of Prophecy, thought a lot like you do. One memorable Saturday, my Uncle James became absolutely convinced that he was totally sinless in this life. One of my favorite verses is I John 1:8, where John writes to people who already are Christians in the true 1st century way:

      “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

      Christ does live in you, but what the Apostle Paul refers to as the “old man” still lives in you too and does battle with God—often winning. You should have said: In God’s viewshed, when He looks at me, He chooses to see nothing else in me but the old self crucified and the Holy Spirit of Christ living in me in the place of my old self.”

      Answer Courtesy of the new American Fundie Correction Service (AFCS).

    • Now isn’t that just so precious—like Honey-Baked Ham and fragrant boughs. My Uncle James, a preacher in the Pentecostal Church of God of Prophecy, thought a lot like you do. One memorable Saturday, my Uncle James became absolutely convinced that he was totally sinless in this life. One of my favorite verses is I John 1:8, where John writes to people who already are Christians in the true 1st century way:

      “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

      Christ does live in you, but what the Apostle Paul refers to as the “old man” still lives in you too and does battle with God—often winning. You should have said: “In God’s viewshed, when He looks at me, He chooses to see nothing else in me but the old self crucified and the Holy Spirit of Christ living in me in the place of my old self.”

      Answer Courtesy of the new American Fundie Correction Service (AFCS).

      • I see your primed and ready to be sarcastic and ugly for the new year, Charles. I feel about that scripture quite differently. I’m a UMC member, just like you. Same take on many a issue. I personally don’t know why that person wrote that verse using that version. I don’t care. I like it. And I like what it means to me. I hang my “old self” up there daily; and it’s difficult. There’s a lot left that needs to be made new in me. And I love the Lord and the Spirit. Give me a break with the sarcasm.

        • I like that verse too.

          Actually, the “Honey-Baked Ham” and “fragrant boughs” is an inside joke thing in my family at Christmas time—-just like the old lady expression “now isn’t that just so precious.” A number of years ago, I was returning from a meeting while driving west on 4-lane Kingston Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was one day before Christmas Eve, and I hit this awful traffic jam that was close to a mile long. I thought it must surely be a huge traffic accident. I snailed along with both lanes blocked for a long while, and then the inside lane opened up after a while. As I drove on down the pike, I noticed that the stopped drivers in the right-hand lane were almost all incredibly old people—and thought that was really odd. As I drove on further, the long line ended at a Honey-Baked Ham Store. All of that 1 mile traffic slowed to a stop in the right lane was old people sitting in line to pick up their honey-baked hams—and not a cop anywhere in sight to control the matter at hand. As a result of that, we have come to associate honey-baked hams with old age in our family . One of my family members, who jokingly calls me “the meanest man in the world” because of my comedic tendencies (which no one ever sees here) asked me what else old women with quavering old people voices might appreciate at Christmas time just as much as honey-baked hams. I thought for a split second and said in an old woman’s quavering voice: “Fragrant boughs.” Uncontrollable laughter broke out.

          What would you like to see me do other than being ugly and sarcastic to equally ugly and sarcastic fundies in the coming new year 2017?

          Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!!!!

              • No one takes me seriously when I am nice to fundies—learned that years ago the hard way—-even the fundies sit up and listen when I am tough with them—and how do you know that Jesus has not called me to be tough with them like Jesus was in Matthew 23? And with their hero Trump taking office, they are going to be out to devour people like they have been on this blog ever since the election. People like me and you two guys rolling over and playing dead since 1970 is how the fundies got the foothold they have now. They want people like you and me to roll over and play dead. They desperately need people like you and me to roll over and play dead. At least one of you two lovely folks is gay. Do you want me to refrain from a healthy FU as they push you through the camp doors marked Arbeit Macht Frie—or would you rather have me fighting for your life wit the last cell of energy in my body and mind?

                Give it some thought—much love and and Happy New Year to both of you.

                • Charles. Really. You know I appreciate the work you do. I have told you I do. And you’ve stated I “made sense” and “brought joy”. But how did you get from someone posting Galatians 2:20 in NLT version no less, to this point? There was nothing threatening about that exchange. And here you butted in, being condecending and sarcastic and using my innocuous comment for your platform. I don’t need you or Kathy to stand up for me to fundies or homophobes or anyone else. Thank you very much. I keep searching this ___ blog for something positive and bless the few that provide it. I think I’m elevated enough to hear what JP intends but for the most part, far too many people just want to get off to their own opinions and voices. And it’s a real downer. I really need to drop this. Sounds like a good resolution to me. Happy New Year.

  11. Amen! Thank you for writing this. I always thought I was the only one who had to recover from a Santa Claus understanding of God. I am so relieved this wasn’t just the result of my own feeble mind but a broader cultural construct. I am so grateful to have matured to an understanding that God is love and it is our human duty to accept it and pass it on. Sadly, too many still go for the reward and punishment version, not realizing that it is man, not God, that bears the responsibility for most unhappinesses in our broken world.

  12. I have just read your marvelous ‘open letter to Hillary’, and it brought tears to my eyes! What a wonderful tribute to a fantastic woman–I sincerely hope she reads it and knows that millions and millions feel exactly as you have expressed them. Thank you.

  13. For the first two years, our daughter attended a church school run by the local Episcopalian church. One Christmas someone at the school sent home a note to parents (maybe the principal, maybe the priest), telling us not to let our very young children believe in Santa Claus.

    The rationale was that kids believe in a literal Santa Claus when they’re very little, and then grow up to find he doesn’t really exist. They might think it’s the same with God. They might believe in God when they’re young–a God anthropomorphized to resemble a mature adult of their own race and culture. They might grow up to think that God, like Santa, is a mere fantasy..

    I wrote back to the school, saying that when children are very little they believe Santa Claus is a literal person, a vigorous old guy with white hair and white beard. As they grow older they make a transition to understand that Santa Claus is not a person but a spirit. Santa Claus is love, giving, sharing, being thankful, being close to friends and family, etc.

    God is the same way. Michelangelo depicted him as a vigorous, muscular elderly man with a white beard and white hair. Young children believe in God as a literal person like the one painted by Michelangelo. As they get older they begin to realize that God is not a literal old man like Santa Claus in the mall or like the figure painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but that God is the spirit of love, forgiveness, brotherhood, etc.

    I never heard back from the school.

    • It surprises me that an Episcopal church would do that, but you had a great response to it. Santa Claus was frowned on in exactly the same way at the highly conservative Southern Baptist Convention church I was a member of for three years—one of many reasons I left that church behind in a cloud of dust. I do not recall meeting or conversing with a single person in my long life who rejected Jesus because of Santa Claus, and American Christians would do well to remember that Santa Claus is an Americanized caricature of the European Saint Nicholas, a real saint in the ancient church, that European Christians have traditionally associated with Christmas. At his very root, Santa Claus is a religious symbol of generosity.

  14. God is not Santa Claus—and neither is the Trump regime. One of Trump’s appointees will soon be targeting the life savings of American senior citizens. Are you an older person? Here is the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Jesus at work in YOUR LIFE through Donald Trump and his new HHS cabinet appointee. Just click on the following safe link to my blog:


    • Who is the appointee?
      Dr. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Atlanta’s affluent northern suburbs, was one of the first lawmakers to draft a full replacement for the Affordable Care Act. His proposal would take health care in a fundamentally different direction, away from mandated coverage and care and toward a free-market approach, with fewer consumer protections and more freedoms for doctors.

      Do your own research – generalizations, accusations and adolescent labels are insulting to anyone capable of thinking for themselves.

      The NY Times has a primer for those interested.

      • I read your article—and right here in your article is the very thing my article was directly addressing. Here is the quote in your article:

        “And under the legislation, it would be easier for doctors to enter into private contracts with Medicare beneficiaries. Such contracts allow physicians to opt out of Medicare’s strictures and charge more than the amounts normally allowed.”

        Read your own damned articles with a careful eye – and avoid making generalizations, accusations, and adolescent labels that are insulting to anyone who has actually learned to read—and by the way A-hole. I do academic research, writing, and publication for a living and have done so for 42 years. Do you do research, writing, and publication for a living? If not, what do you do? I feel sure everyone here would like to know.

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