A couple of recent conversations suggest how hard it is to exorcize the quid pro quo god. Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning "something for something." The quid pro quo god is one who does something for us if we do something for him, and the one who refuses to do something for us, or even punishes us, if we fail to do something for him.

Put this way, it seems impossible that anyone in their right mind would believe in such a god. The rub, of course, is that none of us are in our right mind—that's one of the effects of sin. And one reason we're attracted to the quid pro quo god is that he's a god we can get our minds around. He makes sense. He seems reasonable and fair: We do our part, he does his, and all will be well.

The problem is our part, which we tend not to do well at all. And when repeated efforts at doing our part fail, we discover that the quid pro quo god turns out to be a demon. Naturally, we try to exorcise this demon without success.

For example, I received a moving e-mail from a reader who, though she recognizes how distorted her view of God is, cannot shake off the distortion. She says that she suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder; her obsession is a fear that every secular enjoyment is a sin and, she says, "unless I give them up, God will surely discipline me." By "secular enjoyment," she means things like listening to classical and country music, and collecting classic fashion magazines (Vogue, Harper's Bazaar).

Then she writes, "My husband passed away a few years ago and, to this day, I cannot get out of my head that God took him because I could not get rid of the above things. … You cannot imagine how I fear that perhaps God took the most important person in my life to discipline me ...

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In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is former editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
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