Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loving the Unpopular Side of God

Lately, I've been conducting a bit of a social experiment. On this site and elsewhere I've been asking people what their favorite attribute of God is. I've yet to have anyone tell me that they just love God's justice and holy anger. But this came as no surprise.

It seems that we no longer like talking about the side of God that burnt whole civilizations to a crisp or killed even His children on the spot for their sin.

Since we don't want to come across as fire-and-brimstone extremists, we prefer to talk about love, mercy, grace and all those non-offensive attributes of God. However, there are many dangerous repercussions of this. I'll list two of them.

#1: It is an inaccurate portrayal of God. God is love. No one is denying that. Everything He does is saturated in pure, undefiled love. But God is also just. Therefore, everything that He does is also immersed in justice.

One of the most common forms of idolatry today is the worship of our favorite part of God. Look at one Mark Driscoll says on the subject,

Jesus is not a nice old man in a button-up cardigan sweater and loafers singing happy songs while loading everyone onto a trolley headed to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to meet King Friday like some Mr. Rogers clone. That god is the neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that wants to bless everyone, does not care what you call him/her/it/they, never gets angry, and would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. This mythical Sky Fairy is increasingly mistaken for Jesus, however, by many young pastors and Christians I have met who don’t want the gospel to be the offensive and foolish stumbling block that it is. So they remake Jesus in to a feathered-hair fairy in lavender tights and take the sword of Revelation out of his hand, replacing it with a daisy.
When Moses asked God to identify Himself, the Lord said that He was Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. I am that I am or I will be who I will be. God is who He is and it's not for us to start picking and choosing our favorite parts of Him. We can't hold to the God who feeds the five thousand and not to the God who destroyed the Canaanites and is coming back with a sword in His hand.

This is when people start accusing me of worshiping a mean, selfish God who just wants to strike everyone will lightning. Not so. I worship a God of both love and justice. I believe that to be the God of the Bible. Every just thing God does is sprinkled with love and every loving thing He does is sprinkled with justice. This is why Jesus had to die. Because sin has to be punished.

I love what John Piper has to say,

We are creatures, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything - not life or health or anything. He gives, He takes, and He does us no injustice...And besides being creatures with no claim on our Creator, we are sinners...All we deserve from Him is judgment. Therefore, every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is, for now, a free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment.
God doesn't owe us anything but wrath. The fact that you and I are still breathing right now is a testament to our Father's mercy. For some reason we think God owes us life and comfort and a free choice. But He doesn't. If He gave us what He owes us we'd all be in Hell right now.

For those who would argue that I'm still making God out to be a tyrant, let me first say that God has every right to be a tyrant. Shall the clay say to the Potter why have You made this way? God is our Creator and therefore our Owner. A painter has the right to poke holes in His own masterpiece.

But second, we must remember how we define right and wrong. We don't define who God is based on our own understandings of morality. We define morality based on who God is.

#2: It cheapens the rest of God's attributes. When we look at what God does and we think God is unloving, what are we saying? We're saying that God owes us love. But, if He owes us love, grace and mercy than those attributes are meaningless. When we start with love, God's justice looks cruel. But when we start with justice, God's love looks so much more amazing.

Likewise, when we begin to understand how worthless we are in the presence of an Almighty God, it should make us stand in awe of God's deep love. When we begin to see ourselves as sinful enemies of God who justly deserve death and Hell, the fact that God has offered us fellowship with Him is all the more incredible.

That is the desire for my own life. That I learn to love the unpopular side of God. The side that everyone else shoves under the rug. I want to claim that awesome, almighty Judge as my Daddy. Lightning bolts and all.


  1. "[S]inful enemies of God who justly deserve death and Hell"? Yours was a very thoughtful essay on the subject, Josh, but I am at a loss to find anything said by Jesus that supports such a harsh, anthropomorphic view of God. I would argue... that such a concept of God as little more than a jealous, tyrannical tribal leader is quintessentially Semitic and "Old Testament", and is completely at odds with the Word of God spoken by Jesus in, for example, the Beatitudes or John. Indeed, the God that Jesus portrayed as his Father is the God described in Psalm 103: "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love", who will "not always chide", nor "keep his anger forever", who "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor "requite us according to our iniquities, for as the heavens are high above the Earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove out transgressions from us; as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him." There is a tendency to deal with the question of "theodicy" (Why do bad things happen to the innocent, or to good people?) by resorting to a vision of God that is unduly harsh, instead of recognizing that God is neither Santa Claus, who always gives us everything we want, nor Supercop, who always protects the innocent and punishes the wicked. "[W]e see through a glass darkly," and should above all refrain from certainty about His purposes just because He so often seems, TO US in our limited ability to understand, indifferent or absent. In my view, Jesus died because he expressly rejected the childish Semitic notion that God loves the Jews only and hates all others, and that worldly success and standing is a sign of God's favor. He died because he boldly told the Philistines that they had gotten it almost completely wrong, that they were as guilty in the eyes of God as their enemies, and that those for whom they had the most contempt were in fact the most favored in God's eyes. He really got under their thin skins when, in Matthew 23, he told them they were accursed for all time (as history proves) because they rejected Him. In my view, He died to show Mankind that death of one's soul is far worse than the death of one's body, and that there is nothing to fear in even the most horrible of deaths so long as one remains worthy of God's infinite Mercy. Most Jews could not get their heads around that idea, and still can't.

  2. I did not mean to subtract from God's love or mercy at all. I agree with everything you just said. Likewise, I believe that God would have us to live a life characterized by the love of God. However, I believe that God's love is so much dee...per when we view it in light of the fact that He would be perfectly just in destroying all us. But He didn't. That's where His love comes in. However, I do have a problem with a view of God which ignores all sin and justice. Every culture has taken issue with at least one of God's attributes. Like you said, the Jews couldn't accept a God who would love all nations. The Greeks didn't understand a God that would humble Himself to the point of death. Our culture doesn't like justice very much. However, in Acts 10, Peter calls Jesus the Judge of the living and the dead. At the end of this age Jesus will come back with a sword. If God is not just than there is no basic for grace and mercy. If mercy is something God owes us than it isn't mercy. If God owes us justice but withholds His wrath, than He is indeed infinitely merciful. I don't believe that God is this cruel deity just waiting for an excuse to strike us all with lightning. I do believe, however, that we're all broken His perfect law and He, in His rightful office of Judge, has every right to condemn us. The fact that He hasn't is a testament to His love. To me, God is love, mercy and grace. But all that means nothing unless He is also just and holy.

  3. Romans 5:8-10
    But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were... reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

  4. Wow josh, I'm floored and flattered. Floored because God has certainly led you through His Word and I can tell that you have a hunger for TRUTH. Not many people our age do. I appreciate your boldness and humility to blog about it. =)
    Flattered because your link led me back to my blog lol. =) I always need reminders of the things I learned.

    To Anonymus-- I'd like to say that God has no bad attributes. God doesn't have an attribute that He's ashamed of, or would like to be rid of.
    Hence, attributes such as His wrath and justice should be considered glorious. He uses them to to glorify Himself, to proclaim His power and might.

  5. Thanks Autumn! I needed that word of encouragement :-). I feel like I haven't talked to you in forever! How have you been?

  6. It certainly has been forever hasn't it? Looks like we've joined the ranks of adulthood, jobs dictate our schedules now. =P That being said, I'm keeping busy with work. =) I'm actually still in tumbling too, I'm one of the heads of the studio. I have TeenPact to thank for that. Servant leadership has never been more helpful. =) God has been good, I'm so blessed right now. How about yourself?

  7. Hi Josh! I am a facebook friend of your mom. I just want to tell you how amazing this post is - and so true to the WORD! It makes all the difference when we turn the question around. Isn't his mercy incredible!!

    You are an honor to your parents and to your God! Keep pursuing and communicating truth!!

  8. Thank you, ma'am. I really appreciate that :-).