Santology, Part 2 – Who has the power? (Omnipotent?)

This is part 2 of a discussion on the sacred and secular struggle many Christian households face during Christmas.  My goal isn’t to condemn secular traditions; rather, to ensure we are thinking about the impact some of our secular traditions have on our spiritual lives.

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Christmas is a time to reflect on how God reveals Himself to us.  While we understand that to be true, it is somewhat beyond our understanding of how God operates.  In fact, Christians wouldn’t argue that God is omnipotent (meaning all-powerful); however, we often allow secular Christmas (Santa, Elf on the Shelf…etc) to hold aspects of power without thinking of the potential impact it may have on our spiritual Christmas (Jesus).  While the issues are usually subtle, the impact is often great.

Our all-powerful (omnipotent) God.

Sometimes we misunderstand the tension between ability and willingness. God is fully able to do anything, but not always willing to do what we want Him to do.  God’s goal is to mould and shape us by the experiences in our lives.  To explain this, James wrote:

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.[i]

God uses his ultimate ability in this way, because he loves us.  God is our heavenly Father who, even though we don’t understand most of the time, disciplines us so that we can grow and mature.  With that said, our choice to either ignore God or embrace God will either end with a real consequence or real reward respectively.

16 For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[ii]

Out of love, however, God doesn’t wish any of us to be lost forever.  In fact, both 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9, both point to the fact that God’s desire is for all of us to be saved. This of course brings us back to God’s omnipotent power – God is able to save all of us, but, out of love and desire for us to mature, gives us the freedom of choice.

So, what does this mean for our understanding of God’s power and Christmas?

Three things we should understand about God’s omnipotent loving power:

  1. God always can, but not always will;
  2. God loves us in a way that helps us; and,
  3. God’s consequences and rewards are real.

Most of us understand these three spiritual realities; however, when Christmas approaches, we sometimes forget that these spiritual realities are sometimes trumped (or at least downplayed) by Santa and/or Elf on the Shelf.

The “Knotty or Nice List”

Depending on where you go in the world, the consequences of being on the knotty list are different. In our North American context, any child who is “bad” should expect to receive coal Christmas morning.  Some may argue the meaning of receiving such an item, but the general understanding is: if you’re bad, you’ll be on the knotty list, won’t receive the toy you asked for, and instead receive coal.

The Elf on the Shelve has a similar power, in that, if a child is bad, the elf will report to Santa and thus giving the threat of “toy letdown”.

Do we allow Santa to have godly power?

At first, you might laugh at that question! I did!  Over the past few years, I’ve thought about some of the implications, but my attention was seriously turned toward the topic when I saw the movie “Santa Buddies” where kids actually pray to Santa. Have a look:

We may quickly dismiss this as something we don’t do; however, there are some serious threats of a potential negative impact on Christian households.

From what I can see, there are two (2) main issues surrounding this topic:

  1. We give Santa the ability to determine good and bad and resulting consequence or reward.

By focusing our attention on this, Santa becomes the provider and punisher.  If kids are misbehaving, why don’t we focus on the fact that God is always watching (not just during Christmas) and wants what’s best for us, because He loves us.  To me, that’s a message worth focusing on!  That’s a message of hope; much better than “no toys” or “you’ll get coal!”

  1. The “Empty Threat”

Let’s be honest for a minute.  If a child misbehaves to the point of threatening, “you’ll get no gifts on Christmas…”, we all know the threat is as empty as your wallet!  At the end of day, the gifts remain.  The only thing we teach our kids is that consequences aren’t real.

So, what’s the potential impact on our Spiritual lives?

While I know there are many other factors at play other than Santa, a secular focus during Christmas, doesn’t help in combating against these three (3) things:

  1. If God doesn’t, I must have been bad (have sin);
  2. If I experience bad things, God doesn’t love me; and,
  3. It doesn’t matter if I’m bad; consequences are empty.

 

When the real truth could be as far from these three concepts as possible, we need to make sure we focus on the right things during Christmas. We can have fun without giving God’s authority to Santa.  If we do give over that authority, we really take the risk of encouraging these three backward ideas.

What are my options?

As I’ve said before, I am not trying to condemn secular Christmas!  By writing about these issues, I want to make sure we are thinking about the potential impact on our spiritual lives so we focus on the most important things.

Focus more attention on what you want to see.

If you want to use the Elf on the Shelve, maybe you can have a look at the “The Kind Little Elf“.  Instead on using the Elf in terms of a behaviour tool, the Elf encourages acts of kindness throughout the Christmas season.

Reserve godly characteristics for God.

Why do we point to Santa, when God is more powerful?  Have fun with Santa, and when times of behaviour and/or need come into play, make sure to point to God.  When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend named Mary.  I was the first child, so my imagination took over.  There was no issue with having an imaginary friend.  In fact, creativity and play are encouraged among kids for development.  The problem came in, however, when I used my imaginary friend to hide my parents car keys when we were visiting a friend.  I didn’t know where the keys were, because Mary had hid them.  Long story short, my father asked me to ask Mary to get the keys (in the father-like serious tone no kid can ignore)!  The fact is, using imagination isn’t the problem.  The problem is when our imagination trumps or goes against important truths.  Parents have the responsibility of working through that tension.

Your turn! Have you ever noticed Santa was allowed some godly attributes?  What have you done as a parent/grand-parent/friend to counteract this issue?

Click here for PART 1


[i] James 1:2-4, ESV.

[ii] John 3:16-17, ESV.

Andrew lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with his wife, Deidre, and two children (Rae and Pierson), where he is the Lead Pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church. He is a graduate of both Memorial University (BBA) and Tyndale Seminary (MTS). His passion is to help people become true disciples of Jesus.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Christina

    I have to say- I enjoy reading your blog posts. Really gives me pause and some different things to think about. Thank-you!

    • Glad the blog is helpful for you! My goal is it encourage conversation, so thanks for joining in!

  • Christina

    My children have never known “santa”. When they were younger and asked where the gifts came from we simply told them “the spirit of Christmas” enables them to have these gifts. When questions came with public school, I asked them to figure it out based on what they already knew about the world. Their response was that “deer can’t fly” and that “no man could fly around the world to all the children in one night” etc. So we went from there.
    Outside of santa we most certainly celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ- but everything they learn and do at Christmas is based in truth- not in a lie (as pretty as that one is). They even know about the ambiguities regarding Dec. 25th as Christ’s birthday- but we celebrate because the birth of Christ is worth celebrating, no matter what time of year! We give gifts because Christ is about love and giving, caring and sharing. My biggest issue with santa, outside of it being blatently misleading, is that how would one explain why their well behaved child get less than the misbehaving child down the street, and how good and bad is tied to family finances, or why does santa not go to Jewish or Muslim children, or severely poor families? I never wanted to tie my childrens behavior to physical rewards (naughty and nice list) – I want them to be the best they can be because they love and want to follow Christ – not because they love gifts. Of course like every child- they still enjoy ripping open their neatly wrapped packages on Christmas morning and mom and dad enjoy the show! 🙂

    • Some good points…and you’re right, it’s a “nice” lie, but still a lie. Something to have fun with, but not something to protect. Thanks for sharing!

      • Christina

        I was raised believing in Santa so I am not completely adverse to it – I just didn’t want it for my family because of my convictions. I do think it is a personal decision how each Christian wants to handle it- it is not an easy decision. I like how you said “it is not something to protect”- I think you are right. If parents want to play this “game”- they certainly have to be careful with exactly how far thet will let it go and at what point they will reveal the truth. Veggie Tales does a nice job at addressing the story of Santa and St. Nicholas.