We spend a great deal of time writing about the love of God on this blog and I find it interesting how many people find that mystifying. To them God is wrathful, revengeful, an exacting judge ready to zap them for the smallest of infractions.
How have we come to see God this way? Why do we see the Father as mean and Jesus as loving and good. Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:7 In John 10:30 Jesus simply declares, “I and my Father are one.” If you know Jesus then you have met the Father.
I know, some of you are going to point to the Old Testament and unwind on how God demanded the destruction of the Canaanites and gave rules like an eye for an eye. But actually, when we read deeper into the history of Israel, we find that an eye for an eye was a rule of compensation for people that were hurt needlessly such as slaves. If you injured someone intentionally then you were going to pay compensation equivalent for the severity of the injury.
In the Old Testament God is much more than a caricature of an angry old man mad at the world. Moses once asked God, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” Now notice God’s response, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name.” Exodus 33:19 In Isaiah God appeals to Israel “come now let us reason together.” (1:18a)
Just a few verses before God reminds Israel He is not interested in all their ritualistic offerings and sacrifices because they had forgotten the meaning behind them and had turned them into rituals. What He desired from the people was for them to, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:16-17 Does that sound like God is out to nail your hide to the woodshed door?
John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and in these three verses we have the only place in the New Testament where God is readily defined. One of the reasons we have had so much trouble believing God loves us with the same capacity as Jesus is because of the atonement.
For over a thousand years we have taught that God’s wrath was so great against sin that He poured all His wrath upon Jesus so that we could be spared being on the receiving end of that wrath. My friend Sandy started me thinking about this and maybe there is more to the atonement than appeasing an angry God through blood sacrifice.
No one is denying the substitutionary death of Jesus for sin at the cross; that is a given. What some writers are putting forth is the idea that Jesus death wasn’t primarily about Jesus taking the full brunt of God’s anger, but instead manifested the love of God for us. These writers, theologians, and thinkers believe that the major reason for the crucifixion was to manifest God’s love for us by offering His only Son as our substitute for sin. God wasn’t angry, but instead pouring out love.
Furthermore these writers believe that the cross was the central event in the overthrow of Satan and his kingdom. It was here that Satan was totally destroyed and the Kingdom of God manifested. As I’ve been reading about this view there are good arguments for all sides in the debate, but the one thing that most scholars agree on is that it is time Christians stopped seeing God as angry and vengeful.
I asked some friends about this over the last number of days and I was surprised that each one never believed God was angry and the cross was appeasing His anger. They simply assumed that the cross event was an outpouring of love by the Father for humanity.
Too many of us were raised under teachings that did not always show God as loving and kind and merciful and compassionate. We were often left with the impression that God was stern but Jesus was nice. Maybe we are beginning to break out of that mold and experience God in the same light as we understand Jesus.
The world sees Christianity as spoilsports who are anti-everything. We are known for being against just about everything our culture embraces. Maybe it is time we started showing our neighbours and friends what we are for; compassion, love, kindness, forgiveness, peace, caring, and joy. When our hearts become on fire for Jesus, they are on fire for God the Father, and when we allow that love to live in us and through us we are actually revealing the Father to the world.
It wouldn’t be my blog if I did not have a rant in here somewhere so here it is. The reason so much of our evangelism fails is because we are scratching where it doesn’t itch. For years Christian apologists have believed that if we just get the information out, people will respond on an intellectual level to the truth they are presented. But, that premise isn’t so because so many people are now predisposed to not believe in things they aren’t interested in. Christianity has to beat against the negativity and indifference that most people have about religion as a whole.
We live in a post-Christian age where the majority of young people do not have the shared Christian heritage that many of us were brought up on. Years ago, while in University studying “Romanticism in American Literature,” I was amazed at how many fellow students had no clue about the allusions writers made concerning the Bible. The professor would mention people like Job and Cain and Abel and students would sit glossy eyed without a clue to what he was referring.
Today those students are parents and their children probably have children and the result is that we have youth that are generations separated from knowing about the love of God. Our evangelism, if we can use that word, needs to start with love. If a nineteen year old has grown up three generations removed from a Biblical background and has studied all her short life in schools and Universities that reject God, then why would she be interested in God?
Presenting an angry God who is out to get her for her sins is not the answer, but showing God in the true light of Scripture as loving and compassionate may well be the opening that will open her heart and mind to grace.
God is love. Amen!