***SPOILERS for a long-standing Western Christmas tradition***
In the 1994 movie The Santa Clause, Laura and her second husband Neil are worried because their son Charlie not only believes in Santa, but believes his father Scott (played by Tim Allen) is Santa. The audience knows that, within the confines of this fictional world, Santa and the North Pole and elves and all the mythology is real, but this concerned couple doesn’t know that. Nor do they believe that Laura’s first husband Scott is Santa. As they see his habits and appearance change as Christmas approaches, they assume he’s trying to play into Charlie’s fantasy and take legal action to have Scott’s visitation rights terminated. In the waiting room while the judge and Charlie talk, Laura and Paul recount to each other the occasions when they stopped believing in Santa.
Around the same age her son is now, Laura desperately wanted a certain board game for Christmas. She received “dozens” of other presents on Christmas morning, but not the game she’d wanted. Neil, at the ripe age of three, stopped believing because he, too, didn’t receive a whistle that he’d wanted.
It’s a heart-felt scene, meant to allow the audience to step back into themselves long enough to relate to these parents who, despite playing the villains in this fiction, want to protect their son. They acknowledge that belief in Santa isn’t bad in itself, and Laura questions whether they’ve been too hasty in condemning Scott’s encouragement of Charlie’s belief. This conversation also sets up the final scene, when Scott, as Santa Claus, gives them each the gift that they stopped believing because of. He’s literally flying in his reindeer-drawn flying sleigh over their heads, after having spoken to them in the house a few minutes before, then parachutes down the game and the whistle to Laura and Neil, as well as other toys to other people in the crowd.
You’d think they’d have let go of this already. You’d think, as adults if not as children, they would have appreciated their other presents enough that the absence of one wouldn’t have mattered so much. True, Laura declares that Scott really is Santa in the previous scene, but there’s still a sense of Santa making things right by giving these gifts. And that infuriates me because we don’t have to receive everything we want in order to have a good relationship with our parents, friends, significant others, bosses, or anyone else. Why Santa?
You’d think Laura and Neil would have had more faith.
The first time I saw the movie, around age 7 or 8, I thought, “They stopped believing when they didn’t get one present they wanted? Where’s their faith. It’s one present out of dozens! It’s one year out of their whole lives!” And even as a child, I knew the same could be said of people’s belief in God.
Santa doesn’t have to get you every single thing you want in order for him to be everything that children believe he is: good, generous, kind, magical, real. But Santa does give children gifts. Good gifts, unless your people belong to the coal-giving persuasion of Western society. And God gives good gifts, too. There are the obvious ones like life and people to love and a planet that provides for our needs, but also ones like a breeze when you’re indescribably hot and a call from a friend when you’re ready to break apart and the awareness of a gorgeous sunset you would have otherwise missed. So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him (Matt 7:11, NLT).
God is not Santa. You don’t ask God for whatever you want and God provides, predictably and lavishly, risking your disbelief if God dares to deny you anything. God does not always provide what you want, and that doesn’t make God less good, less generous, less kind, less supernatural, or less real. Much like a parent not making you fried chicken every single day, even though it’s what you want more than anything else in the entire world, we often don’t want what we need or what would be good for us. And, sometimes, we just don’t get to have the good things we want even though it seems that everyone else does. When a storm comes, literally or figuratively, God has promised to be a parent and to be good to us, but we might still lose a loved one, a home, our health, our sense of security, and more.
This has happened before. It happened to Job. And God didn’t come right away to account for Job’s loss or to answer his questions. God didn’t even answer Job’s questions when God did come. Neither did Jesus appear to Thomas right away when Thomas expressed his famous doubt. Job waited an entire book. Thomas waited 8 days. And I think you’ll agree that these people experienced genuine, painful loss. Job lost his children, home, livelihood, and health. Thomas lost his friend and mentor, his lifestyle, his hope for the future and his country’s well-being.
Santa Claus’s ex-wife not getting the board game that she wanted at age 8, something she wanted more than the dozens of other presents she did get, that’s not genuine loss. That’s entitlement. That’s pettiness. That’s a small view of Santa. How little faith! How unsubstantial a belief if you can lose it so easily over something so slight.
It would be easy to shake my fist at people for not having more faith than Laura did in The Santa Claus, but life is not so easy. If you’ve survived on the planet long enough to read this, you’ve suffered. Your suffering is not insignificant. Your suffering isn’t dismissible just because it doesn’t look like someone else’s.
December holidays, when the world and everyone you encounter seems to be screaming at you to be happy, is a painful time for those who have lost. A person, a pet, a hope, a dream, a self of self, a livelihood, a home, an ability. Maybe it was recently. Maybe it was during this time of year. Maybe your loss just hits you differently when “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is stuck in your head and the trees have shaken off all their leaves and red bows on green boughs drape the doorways you must pass through.
If you had faith before your loss, I hope you kept it. I hope your view of God was big enough to include the possibility of pain. I hope you have never thought of God as a celestial Santa Claus, existing only to give you good things. I hope you don’t see God as a Krumpus, either. If you didn’t have faith in God before, I pray that you will search for God. The Bible assures us “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). Search for God, and God will draw near to you.
God is good, but God is also so much more than we are. God doesn’t give us all that we want. God doesn’t “only give us what we can handle.” God doesn’t reward the wealthy with wealth and punish the poor with poverty. God demands we help one another, protect one another, seek justice for one another. God offers hope to all who suffer. God is very good and God wants to give God’s children good gifts.
Remember, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3). By faith, by faith, by faith.
Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.