I saw god today, tucked away in a small shrine with steel bars. The bars where there to protect him- from people – mostly from vandals and thieves. This particular shrine was for Ganesha, but I’ve seen the same thing with other gods. Shrines to Shiva or Krishna or Rama can be found all over India, often with bars and locks to protect them.

When I saw this for the first time it struck me as odd, yet somehow familiar. I have seen this done back home in the US as well. We lock God away behind bars of worship and service and fear. We do it to protect him from people – not just vandals and thieves, but people who might otherwise take His righteousness and holiness for granted. For surely a God who is perfect, powerful and all sufficient should not be cheapened by relationships such as friendship, right?

And the confusing part is that all of those things are true. Just like those bars really do protect Ganesha and Shiva from thieves and vandals, God really is holy and righteous. He is all sufficient and does not need any of us. His holiness is so great that we cannot even comprehend it and our only response when confronted with it is worship.

But God knew that his perfection stood in the way of us having a relationship with him. Mankind’s fall in the garden didn’t surprise him. That is why Paul mentions in Ephesians 1 that God made a plan even before the foundation of the world. God doesn’t want just our worship or our service. If that were all He wanted he could have made us like the angels. He wanted us to have a relationship with Him. And that is why He came – to break down the barriers, to make us righteous and accepted in his sight through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Paul made it clear that it was not by our works of righteousness, but according to His mercy. And if this is true, why all the bars ? Why do we lock a relationship with God away only to be unlocked by attending meetings or conforming to our local expectations?

This is the good news of the gospel – Immanuel – God among us. If you feel safer following rituals and traditions that is fine, but don’t miss what God really wants – a direct relationship with you.