My church is currently in a series on the Psalms and what it means to have a heart for God and it has been a really lovely few weeks. This morning our pastor talked about cultivating a taste for God and he brought up the difference between being a God connoisseur and being a God expert.
When we think of connoisseurs, we normally think of pretentious wine drinkers talking about tannins and oak flavor and all that business. But Jonathan pointed out that being a connoisseur of something is really just about studying something for the purpose of enjoying it more. Experts study something so that they can know more – it’s about collecting information and seeing all the parts of something and having the greatest understanding of the topic. Connoisseurs, on the other hand, use study as a way to heighten their experience and increase their enjoyment of the thing they are studying.
I really like this analogy; it’s one that makes sense to me as someone who grew up in a church that greatly valued doctrine and theology and knowledge, but was honestly a bit lacking in other areas. Also, as someone who loves learning and collecting facts, it can be very easy for me to fall into the trap of becoming a God expert while missing out on the joy of being a God connoisseur.
On the way home from church, I started thinking about how far we might be able to take that analogy.
(I like pushing analogies to their breaking point; what can I say? I’m an English teacher. I know it’s weird, but go with me.)
I began to think about why people don’t become connoisseurs. If we know that learning more about wine or music or art or baseball will increase our enjoyment of those things, why don’t we do that?
One obvious reason is time. We don’t always want to put in the time (and often money) that it requires to become a connoisseur. But I think there are some other reasons as well that led me to some interesting thoughts about what it means to be a God connoisseur.
One of the best things about being a connoisseur is getting to hang out with other connoisseurs who love the thing you love, but experts and gatekeepers can make the idea of becoming a connoisseur seem less appealing. These are the people who are more concerned with making sure you’re enjoying the thing the right way than they are with sharing in the joy with you. They will tell you that a “real” connoisseur couldn’t possibly enjoy pop music or merlot or whatever. They have so many rules and requirements that you begin to wonder if they actually enjoy the thing they say they enjoy. Being a connoisseur often means increasing the amount of contact you have with these experts and gatekeepers, which can not only put a damper on the connoisseur’s enjoyment (it’s hard to enjoy your glass of wine when you’re surrounded by people arguing about whether or not you should be enjoying that particular glass), but can often be a deterrent to someone who is just beginning to be interested.
We see this in the church. Instead of being God connoisseurs who want to share our enjoyment of Him with those around us, we become God experts and gatekeepers. We insist there is one right way to enjoy God (our way, of course) and create checklists of rules that everyone must submit to in order to really say that they are a Christian. We become experts who just shout ideas at each other instead of connoisseurs who want to hear about each other’s experiences. And we do this so much that we can begin to wonder whether it’s really worth it after all, and people look at us from the outside and begin to wonder if we even enjoy this God we are spending so much time arguing about (hint: it is worth it – I’m getting there).
Another thing that I think can keep us from wanting to become connoisseurs is that it can seem a bit like a double-edged sword. Sure, being a wine connoisseur increases your enjoyment of good wine, but it might also mean that you no longer really enjoy the $5 wine you used to pick up at the grocery store. As you learn more about something, the differences between good and great become more obvious, and you might feel like you can no longer enjoy the things that are just good. The highs are higher, but the lows are lower. I know nothing about ballet, so every ballet I see looks beautiful, but someone who has studied ballet will notice all the flaws and this might limit their enjoyment.
I don’t necessarily think this loss of enjoyment has to be true with things like ballet and art and music, but I’m much more interested in what this means when we stretch the God connoisseur analogy to this place. Because the truth is that there will always be good wine and bad wine, good movies and bad movies, good baseball and bad baseball, the one true God and the idols we attempt to put in His place. As our enjoyment of God increases, it is only our enjoyment of lesser gods that decreases.
At first, that can sound similar to the “become a Christian and give up everything you like” schtick so many of us have heard so many times, but because God is the creator and the Giver of all good gifts, that’s not actually how it ends up working. You don’t have to burn your secular music or never see an R-rated movie or live a life of asceticism.
The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy nature because we will see Him in it. The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy stories because we will see Him in them. The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy science and music and baseball and good food because we will see Him in those things.
And since we ourselves are made in the image of God, the more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy our fellow human beings because we will see God in them.
We do not have to fear that becoming a God connoisseur will mean missing out on any good thing, because He is the best thing and every good and perfect thing comes from Him. What a beautiful truth to live in.