After getting a little side tracked for a few posts, I am getting back to my series on the nature of God. In the last post on this topic I spoke about the angry God who has a very low opinion about humanity. Today I want to look at the polar opposite view where grace gets distorted and God tends to look the other way when we do bad things. This "loving God" has forced a rethink in many people's theology. In the last decade or so there has been a significant increase in voices who have concluded that things like hell and the depictions of God that we see in the Old Testament are inconsistent with the God that Jesus revealed to us in the New. Some have gone so far as to reject the idea of there being any sort of lasting consequences in the afterlife while others openly question the 39 books of the bible as well.
I do believe that the questions being asked today, regarding the topics mentioned above, are good and necessary. There are certainly many misconceptions that are widely held on topics relating to judgement and punishment. I myself see things on these topics differently than I did a few years ago as well so it is not the questions but rather some of the conclusions that are being reached that I sometimes find alarming. I had a funny thought the other day while I was reading an article about hell. It struck me that those who adhere to the Universal Redemption theory are actually very similar to Calvinists in the sense that free will is rendered meaningless if everyone ends up in heaven and “love wins”. Likewise, those who hold to the eternal conscience torment interpretation of scripture could be considered Universalists in a sense because they ultimately believe that everybody inherits eternal life (with the difference being that eternity gets lived out in two different locations for believers and unbelievers).
But before I wander off topic, behind this view of God that I am addressing, I believe lays a false definition of love. And it is important that we address it because what people believe about God will get passed down and put on others through the life of individuals and churches. Where the church once preached and emphasized holiness, today large parts of it are boasting of its inclusiveness to all kinds of people. I am not suggesting that church is not a place for broken people or that we should alienate ourselves from others but rather my concern is for what is being validated as being okay in the lives of believers. Should we be surprised that divorce, sexual immorality, gossip and slander are just as common in the church as they are out in the world if we no longer judge those within or exercise church discipline? I would argue that a God (and a church) that does not judge, rebuke or discipline does not love people but rather is being neglectful, much like a parent who does not step in when his child misbehaves or goes off the tracks. Looking at Jesus we have often limited our understanding to those three years of his life highlighted in the four Gospels, but what about the red letters in Revelation? While I do not buy the tattooed fighter out for blood picture of Jesus that certain people have tried to paint, I do look at some of what is said in John’s letter to the seven churches in the province of Asia, particularly from chapter two, and I realize just how serious Jesus is about sin. Take verses 21-23 for example as spoken to the church in Thyatira:-
I have given her (Jezebel) time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
Many of today’s churches argue that nobody is perfect and we are all at different stages in our personal journeys. While it is true that we all have our dirty spots and that we tend to highlight the sins that other people struggle with rather than our own, we should still make a distinction between those within the church who are actively pursuing righteousness and those who are simply unrepentant. A little leaven leavens the whole lump so it says. Perhaps the problem stems from a gospel message that only highlights Christ as saviour but is silent on Christ as Lord. We want forgiveness without the inconvenience of picking up our own crosses. In dying and being raised again Jesus conquered sin and death and those who have been crucified and raised with him are freed from sins grip.
Being conscious that our old man was put to death on the cross with him, so that the body of sin might be put away, and we might no longer be servants to sin. Because he who is dead is free from sin. - Romans 6:6-7
While the hard and angry God's followers tend to be judgemental, proud and arrogant, my concern is that the followers of the soft God will bear the wrong kinds of fruit if they ignore scriptures like 1 Peter 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 7:1. The next time that I tackle this topic I will attempt to explain my personal view of God and how I reconcile the seemingly different pictures of God in the Old and New Testaments. I have not spent much time or energy in attempting to disprove the views I have addressed thus far but rather, in presenting my own interpretation, I hope to make a case for a better reading of scripture; I do believe that one can hold on to the Old Testament and still believe Jesus was serious about loving one's enemies and that the Father was too. Until next time...
To read the related posts in this series, look at the links below.
Is non violence always an option?
Have we made God too nice?
Sinners in the hands of an angry God?