One time my friend Ryan and I were talking about God. In the middle of the conversation I told him I thought God was chasing after him. His response was instant and puzzling: “If God is trying to kill me, he missed his chance when I got in that car wreck at 18.”
I wasn’t trying to say that I thought God was chasing Ryan down for the purposes of exterminating him. I meant that God loved him and was eager to show him that love and was running after him. But Ryan’s answer reflected what I thought for most of my life too, “If God ever gets his hands on me, he is going to punish me and make my life miserable.”
My vision of God was of an angry, old man with powers beyond my understanding and punishment beyond my creativity. His favorite activities, beside Frisbee, were smiting people and striking people down where they stood for their transgressions. The only reason He wanted me near was so that I was close enough to hit with a big, holy hammer. He was forceful and ominous.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one that has thought this. The photo in this post is from a newspaper in France. The headline is “Think for yourself” and we can clearly see that a night-colored person representing God or religion is forcing the young woman to pray. There is condemnation and slavery and punishment captured in the faceless, dark shape that is controlling the scene. Looking at it, I can’t help but wonder, “How did we get here?”
How did the God who Isaiah 30 tells us “longs to be gracious to you” and “rises to show you compassion” turn into such an angry ogre? I think one of the ways is that we all too often paint him as mad. We go through the Bible with a deep red mad highlighter and select the verses that capture his fury best and then we quote them as proof of a furious God.
I was reminded of this recently when someone posted a comment on this site. The full comment is too long to address and will be the subject of a post on one of my other sites, but here is an excerpt:
I would be extremely afraid if I were you. Have not you read Numbers?? What happens when people start complaining of what Godly people are doing? God ..not man.. God… kills them. In fact, God caused a plaugue that killed over 14,000 complainers in a single day. They were complaining of meek Moses and Godly Aaron!! Are not you afraid of our God who does not change?
Before I talk about this comment, let me say that this person gave me some good advice. I took to heart what she said and actually tweaked the post I wrote because she was right, a few of the sentences were pretty jerky on second glance. Though I may have disagreed with her delivery method, there was some truth in her message. I think she did a great job of pointing out where I was being sensational and that’s honestly not good. It is a blessing to me when readers take the time to call me on something I’ve messed up. It’s the only way this site will get better. But, within her thoughts, was also the continuation of the idea that we serve a vengeful God.
The biggest challenge I have with the comment is that it completely nullifies the life and death of Jesus Christ. When we want to paint a picture of God as a brutal no holds barred cage fighter, we often have to downplay or as this person did, completely edit out Jesus. Did God kill all those Israelites in Numbers? Yes. Is anger one of the colors in His palette? Yes. Could you quote me a million verses where He powerfully expresses that anger? Yes. Have I done things that are worthy of me being killed? Yes. (I once wrote a post called “My 6 most smite worthy moments.) Does Christ radically change all of that? Yes.
You see, I don’t have to choose my words on this blog with the fear of a plague should I get them wrong. I don’t have to wonder if an incorrect sentence is going to get me killed instantly like the men and women in the desert. I will definitely be held accountable for what I do, and need to respect that with fear and trembling, but if I waited until I was “perfect” to write, there would never be a word on this site.
Am I afraid of our God who does not change? Yes, I fear the Lord, and I find it really difficult to try to capture who He is in such a flat medium as a blog. But more than that, I am in love with our God who does not change. The one that loved me enough to send His son to die for me. The one that longs for me. The one that upon seeing a prodigal like me decides to throw a party, instead of throwing punishment. The one that sent a high priest to intercede for me. The one that allows us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The last thing I’ll leave you with is that saying the word “love” is not the same thing as being love. One of the final sentences in the comment I was left by the person mentioned above was that her purpose was to “lovingly trying to warn you…” Anytime you raise the potential threat of a plague, wrapping up your comment with love doesn’t really soften the blow. If anything it seems like an example of saying “in Christian love” before you punch someone in the face.