Given what we have looked at in the previous two posts, I feel it necessary today to return to an old Michael Spencer post entitled “The Face of the Gracious God“. Go ahead and read it; it will set the tone for where I want to go today.
Religion #1 is a version of Christianity in which God is angry on a very fundamental level. Our disobedience has corrupted us and made us completely loathsome to Him, so much so that he wants to destroy us and then hold us in a state of eternal conscious torment, and would be perfectly righteous in doing so. Anything less than that is an act of supreme mercy on His part. Luckily for us, Jesus stepped in on our behalf and calmed God down and He decided (reluctantly) to be gracious to us. But don’t do anything to mess that up. Peace is fragile around here.
Religion #2 is a version of Christianity in which God is gracious and loving, more so than anyone could imagine. He is grieved and saddened that our disobedience has separated us from Him and enslaved us to a whole host of unsavory things, and is determined to repair the breach at all possible cost. Through Jesus, He shows us what kind of God He is and what His love looks like, and that He will stop at nothing–not even the most violent and horrific death imaginable–to restore the joy and love that should belong to the children of such a Father. True to His promises, He will bless all people and restore the world through Jesus. You can’t do anything to mess that up.
There are way too many people out there, especially in evangelicalism, who are attempting to sell you on Religion #1. John Piper’s prayer that I quoted in the previous post is an example of this par excellence. It arises out of a religion in which we have grievously offended an all-powerful God and deserve nothing but calamity and distress, that such distress comes directly from Him as His “wise and needed work”, and that the only proper response is one of abject submission before His just and sovereign power.
There are way too few people out there who are overwhelmed at the goodness of a gracious God. Evangelicals talk a great game about the grace and graciousness of God, but listen to us for any significant length of time and that good news soon gets buried under all the footnotes, codicils, and fine print that we have added to the Good News. Sure it’s all about grace, but what really moves the needle around here is perfect submission and obedience, believing all the right things and living it out under the direction and watchful eye of those leaders whom God has appointed to instruct you in His truth and who will give an accounting of you before Him.
The Nashville Statement is an example of this par excellence. It is an attempt to take the blessing which God intends to pour out on all people and say that a certain class of people are excluded until and unless they conform themselves to our standard of belief. Slacktivist goes so far as to call it an “ugly ingratitude”, and I am with him 100 percent. It reeks of an ingratitude for the grace which God has so lavishly showered upon us, to the point of attempting to exclude gay Christians and their supporters until and unless they come around to our way of seeing things. It is just like the servant in Jesus’ parable who was forgiven a massive debt and then went off and imprisoned a fellow servant who owed him a mere pittance.
The reality is that in Jesus we discover just how good and gracious our God really is. We see him reaching out to all but especially to those who were excluded by the religious and cultural system of the day. We see him scandalizing all the religious power brokers through his free acceptance of and association with those whom they considered unclean. We see him repeatedly assuring his followers that when they see him they are looking at the Father.
Would that we could have a faith that begins not with the sovereignty or the power of God but with the love of God. Would that we could look to Jesus and see him as the true picture of what God is really like.
Confession time: I find myself drawn way too often to the God of Religion #1. When things are tough, I find it way too easy to imagine that God has brought these things upon me because He is fundamentally angry and I am disappointing to Him on a fundamental level, that the way I did not take is the way God wanted me to take but I was too stubborn and hellbent on my own way to see it, that I deserve nothing better than this distress, and that my only proper response is to submit and prostrate myself before His just and sovereign power and let it do its wise and needed work in my life.
I need help to believe–to move past the level of knowing and on to actual lived, heartfelt belief–that the Jesus we read about in the Gospels is the truth of who God really is and how He really feels toward us, and that this love is truly for all people, including me.