Thursday, October 27, 2005

"the true heart of the Bible's message is 'I love you'"

Recieved this in a e-mailout this week...

"One of the truly bizarre things about Christianity is the way we humans see the message through tinted spectacles. And not always rose-tinted, either.

The Bible seems to say contradictory things. (I know I'm going to raise a few eyebrows here, but bear with me for a while.) One of the most frequently repeated phrases talks of God's "steadfast love and tender mercy". Yet in other places it refers to God's "fierce anger", sometimes directed towards nations who were abusing his own people, sometimes directed to his own people themselves. How can we square "fierce anger" with "steadfast love"?

Part of an answer begins with the Bible's insistence that there is a fundamental unity at the heart of things. The Lord your God is One. So if God's people experience painful times then God must lie behind that experience; there is (as a famous politician used to say) no alternative. So painful experiences like that were attributed to God's "fierce anger". It didn't really fit the picture they had of God's steadfast love and tender mercy. The "fierce anger" was the anomaly they found hard to fit into their system. It bugged them so much they lost sight of the "steadfast love".

At the beginning of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul unpacks this a bit further. He's talking about sin, and in the course of his conversation he mentions of list of things that, today, might provoke lurid headlines in the tabloid press -- or even in Spark! Many of us would say in response "there's the heart of the problem; if people stopped behaving like that everything would be fine." But Paul makes it clear that lifestyles like this are the consequence, not the cause, of the problem. God is saying, in effect: "OK, I've given you the choice. If you really want a life that has no space for me, that's fine, go ahead, you shall have your heart's desire. But don't be surprised if things don't turn out quite the way you thought they would."

And all this happens because of our habit of looking at God through spectacles that see only God's "fierce anger" and not God's "steadfast love". So we despise the fiercely angry God, and don't see the God of steadfast love. Remember, the message God wants you to hear is "I love you", not because he's kidding you and the real agenda is "fierce anger", but because that truly is God's nature.

If you think God's fierce anger is getting at you, or even the idea of God's fierce anger, then remember the true heart of the Bible's message is "I love you".

Blessings,

**** ***** (Methodist Chaplain)"
Erm, helpful to address a conflict that is sometimes observed beween God's wrath and love.... however I think the chaplain finds the wrong solution...

Like it or not, God is wrathful - he hates sin, and he hates sharing his glory with anyone else. Yesterday Ed and I were studying Ezekiel 35-36, God will not let the nations magnify themselves over him.... God will act for his own glory. He is jealously angry for his own name. Our problem is our deep lack of zeal for God's name. A really big problem for us, one that puts us on the wrong side of God.

Yes, undoubtedly God loves. But before he loves us, he loves his own name. And his love for his name, and for us are clear to see. Not by sweeping his wrath under the carpet, but at the Cross of Christ, the centre of all our theology, all our faith... the place where God's love, wrath and righteouessness are most revealed, the place where wrath and mercy meet...

Elsewhere on the same theme as the chaplain, but bringing truth rather than denying it, Phil Johnson brings us more of Spurgeon.... no punishment required?. Helping us to see that Messrs Chalke et al, are certainly out of line with baptist history, and out of line with scripture.

19 comments:

  1. The problem is, how on earth do you make worshipping such a God appealing to the vast majority of people? Why should we put God's anger, wrath and jealousness first? The only atrribute the bible declares God to in fact be is love - God IS love. God is never described as wrath, anger, hate, jealousness. He may be described as having such things (which are certaintly not wrong in their right place,though humans tend to mess them up 99.9% of the time) but I believe the bible shows that God's love is his primary motivation. Otherwise the cross becomes not an act of love, but an act of selfish greed for more glory.

    Maybe I can make myself moer clear If I go and think and have a read, then I will to blog something.

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  2. Hatchris:

    You said: The only atrribute the bible declares God to in fact be is love - God IS love

    Apart from Holy Holy Holy IS the Lord God Almighty. Which I think is the issue. God IS love, God IS holy. Are we really able to say, human as we are which trumps the other?

    As for making God appealing - well, therein lies a whole kettle of fish. Maybe more later.

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  3. Why worship a God who stands by and lets evil happen cuz he loves us too much to discipline us? Why worship a God who warns people of judgement (as Jesus did) when in reality there is no judgement cuz "God just loves us"? Why worship a God who kills an inoccent man who he apparently loves?

    "Otherwise the cross becomes not an act of love, but an act of selfish greed for more glory."
    And what's wrong with God being selfish...He's God. And why are you creating a choice between love and God's selfishness? Do you not selfishly love your girlfriend?

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  4. "Apart from Holy Holy Holy IS the Lord God Almighty. Which I think is the issue"

    Well, OK apart from holy....isn't that obvious? :-p. I still think of love as the central theme, as the unamed chaplain said.

    " Do you not selfishly love your girlfriend?"

    I hope not! I hope I love for both our sakes, not a selfish urge but one of mutual benefit to ourselves and others. How can God's love be sacrifical AND selfish at the same time?

    I never said that God doesn't discipline us, or judge us.

    " Why worship a God who kills an inoccent man who he apparently loves?"

    Are you referring to the crucifixion? (The answer to that would be - because Jesus WAS GOD!)
    Otherwise we are on tricky ground....you seem to imply that God does not love those who are against him, or who sin, or whatever. I believe God loves us all with a perfect love - and therefore loves us all equally, for you can not improve on perfection. I believe God disciplines us out of love for us, so that we will turn from sin - mutually benefitial - God hates sin, sin destroys us. As for judgement - it's pretty complicated! Yes, it's coming, yes, God judges, but - we have been forgiven! Whcih gives us no license to go on sinning, as we all know, but keeping in mind the fact that we were forgiven, all of our sins, once and for all, means we will live not in hopeless fear of the judgement and wrath of God, but more in an awe and joy at his holiness, and love, as he makes us more like him.

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  5. "As for making God appealing - well, therein lies a whole kettle of fish. Maybe more later."

    Forgot to mention that what I meant was that we shouldn't need to make God sound appealing. If we point people to Jesus, the most perfect example of the character of God, we see a lively, humble, joyful, wise, humourous, serious, loving, caring, powerful, artistic, playful, concerned, angry, majestic, meek, tired, grieving yet hopeful God.
    The character of Jesus should not be off putting, if people are turning away from him, is the image we present of God to blame?

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  6. I've just finished reading "The Knowledge of the Holy" by A. W. Tozer. It's a great book, and one of the central things that Tozer hammers home is that God's character attributes are all equally at home in him- even the ones which appear to "contradict" eachother.

    Humanly, we imagine that his love and his anger must pull against eachother to decide which one is expressed- that's the way we work! But in God, these attributes live together perfectly. He is completely just and completely loving- they don't operate against eachother in any way because they are parts of His character before they are an abstract characteristic that we can define.

    That's why the chaplain is wrong: the heart of the Bible's message has a lot to do with "I love you", but it's also a lot more complicated. And it has much more to do with a sin-bearing death on a cross than they are giving away!

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  7. "The character of Jesus should not be off putting, if people are turning away from him, is the image we present of God to blame?"

    Unfortunately Jesus was offputting to some people - those who preferred to trust in their own goodness, those who put political freedom before spiritual freedom, those who wanted to keep ruling their own lives with their own priorities, those who wanted to keep ruling others' lives for that matter, and those who wouldn't have that man to rule over them. People turning away from Jesus doesn't necessarily mean that the image we're presenting of God is to blame. As you rightly point out, the image God presents of himself is ultimately in Christ, but people turned away from him. (Dave's talk to WarwickCU, below, is a good case study on Jesus teaching this himself.)

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  8. God's love is holy: it can't be otherwise in a holy God. So yes, in the cross we see that love was his motivation, but we also see the holiness of that love: what lengths he went to so that he could be both just and the one who justifies the ungodly! And so he also brought glory to himself: for who is there like God, who is completely just and also so merciful as to justify the ungodly? Since God is supreme, for him to want glory for himself is not wrongly selfish, but is perfectly Right and Good. For anyone else to seek glory for themselves it utterly wrong, because all glory is rightly God's. There is no dichotomy between God being motivated by his holy love and his glory in the cross.

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  9. Random 'I thinks':

    I think Daniel is spot on describing how emotions and qualities humans can never hold together, God can. Don Carson's The difficult doctrine of the Love of God is brilliant on that.

    I also think Chris is right to question which we should lead with God's wrath or love (The chaplain in the last para seems to say it should always be love), but I do not think there is a right answer. I do think God's love trumps his wrath. However, reading the gospels recently I do not think there is a one size fits way to proclaim the gospel. Jesus can lead with either grace or judgment depending on the state of the person's heart, although the other is never far behind. (cf. Rich Young Ruler with the Adulterous Women in John.)

    I think the chaplain is right about Romans 1 and it being a consequence not a cause (primarily), BUT it IS a God-ordained consequence designed to punish, because of the rejection of him (not some fire breathing caracature).

    I also think Rosemary is spot on. However I think that the cross (as Dave pointed out) is the place that such discussions should always go - and as quickly as possible!

    PS: Just to through something else into the mix; why does nobody ever mention this quote in the following in these discussions?

    'God IS a consuming fire' (Heb 12:29)

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  10. "People turning away from Jesus doesn't necessarily mean that the image we're presenting of God is to blame"

    EVERY time I suggest that Christians might be to blame for something, somebody says that it's something to do with the non Christians attitudes. Can it be both? We HAVe to ask honest questions of ourselves, and admit the possibilty that with all the study of scripture we can do, and with the most attentive ear we can give the guiding of the spirit, we are human, and we will mess up.

    It's the same attitude that I came across at university sometimes:
    "Oh, well, only 1 person came to the lunchtime talk but he heard the gospel, so we must be doing something right". True, but too infrequently did people analyse WHY only ONE person came! (Or two, or three, whatever)

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  11. "I still think of love as the central theme, as the unamed chaplain said."
    What do you mean by central?

    "I hope I love for both our sakes, not a selfish urge but one of mutual benefit to ourselves and others. How can God's love be sacrifical AND selfish at the same time?"
    Do you not (and correct me if I'm wrong; I don't presume to know you better than yourself) first love her for your own gain and then in response to that love you love her for her gain? Isn't everything we do controlled at base level by our selfish desires? Hence you can love her sacrificialy because you love her selfishly? I don't think God can love us selfishly (we have nothing to give him he did not give us), but he can relate to us selfishly - we are his chess pieces - and love us sacrificialy - he defends his chess pieces.

    "...you seem to imply that God does not love those who are against him"
    I was not intending to say that but merely to highlight the absurdity of the crucifiction if active judgement does not exist - as the chaplain seemed to imply. Without active judgement Christ died for nothing.

    "I believe God disciplines us out of love for us, so that we will turn from sin"
    Are you intending to say God disciplines on earth and not in hell?

    "Yes, it's coming, yes, God judges, but - we have been forgiven! ...but keeping in mind the fact that we were forgiven, all of our sins, once and for all, means we will live not in hopeless fear of the judgement and wrath of God, but more in an awe and joy at his holiness, and love, as he makes us more like him."
    Yes, for those of us that are forgiven; and the rest of the human race? I agree love should be exceedingly central to our gospel but we cannot say, as the chaplain seems to, there is no active punishment.

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  12. "EVERY time I suggest that Christians might be to blame for something, somebody says that it's something to do with the non Christians attitudes. Can it be both?"
    Yes, you're right, it can be both. Which means 1) we have to make the gospel as attractive as possible because it is attractive and 2) despite a true representation of the good news some people will still not like it. The rich younge ruler wanted eternal life; he'd done all he could to attain it - it was presented as attractive to him. But was he willing to sacrifice what he could not keep to gain what he could not loose? Some people are just plain stubben - I am!

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  13. This provides a helpful alternative on the message of the whole Bible John 5:39

    The other reason only one person would come to a lunchbar, Chris, is an absence of quality-quantity publicity. Something that now rectified as seen a sharp rise in attendance...

    We must present the full picture of God - and Jesus himself comes as saviour and judge... not just saviour.... people hardened by his parables and preaching, just as they were in response to Isaiah, and later to Paul (Isaiah 6, Mark 4, Acts 28)

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  14. "The other reason only one person would come to a lunchbar, Chris, is an absence of quality-quantity publicity. Something that now rectified as seen a sharp rise in attendance..."

    That's extremely good to hear :-)

    By the way, useful comment that somebody made about there being no size fits all Gospel presentation.

    You are right, Jesus knew how to get at the heart of each individual - something we can't do as well, which is why we have the Holy Spirit, and must allow ourselves to be worked through - our words can not persuade people alone.
    Just remember that Gospel is GOOD news - so we shouldn't have to be ashamed to proclaim it!

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  15. Me: "People turning away from Jesus doesn't necessarily mean that the image we're presenting of God is to blame"

    hatchris: "EVERY time I suggest that Christians might be to blame for something, somebody says that it's something to do with the non Christians attitudes. Can it be both? We HAVe to ask honest questions of ourselves, and admit the possibilty that with all the study of scripture we can do, and with the most attentive ear we can give the guiding of the spirit, we are human, and we will mess up."

    Absolutely: that's why I said, "...necessarily..."! I absolutely agree with what you then said in the above para - I had replied before with the above emphasising the possibility that it can be other than 'our fault' because you'd implied that it was ever and only 'our fault' by saying, "The character of Jesus should not be off putting". I suppose I should have read the 'should' to include not only your following question about our part, but also implicitly a possibility on 'their' part... I didn't mind-read you!! lol. Thanks for the honest question of ourselves - useful.

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  16. So er basically, we don't study the scriptures to get eternal life, instead we should study them to learn about Jesus, the source of eternal life? Right?
    Or maybe there is no one message you can say the whole bible is about - seems to me to contain a whole lot of everythigng. But then, Jesus runs through it all.

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  17. "So er basically, we don't study the scriptures to get eternal life, instead we should study them to learn about Jesus, the source of eternal life?"

    ...i think you're splitting hairs....to know* Jesus is to have eternal life... so if we study the scriptures to find eternal life we find Jesus... if we study them to find Jesus we find eternal life...

    *(in the real sense of knowing - humbled epignosis / bornagain / repentance style...)

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  18. Ah yes, fair enough. I guess it does work both ways. So long as we remember salvation comes from Jesus and not the pages of scripture themselves. I've known somebody to make the bizzare The Bible = God connection out of a very simple reading of John Chapter 1 - very strange!

    (The word of God in John chapter 1 is Jesus - the bible is the word of God - therefore Jesus is the bible, and as Jesus is God the bible must also be God! Errmm...)

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  19. I think it's really important that God's other attributes, like his anger, his justice and so on, aren't in opposition to his love, but are intimately related to it and are expressions of that "steadfast love and tender mercy".

    The Lord our God is a jealous lover - it is because he loves us so deeply that he is angry when we are unfaithful to him. What kind of husband would be indifferent to his wife cheating on him?

    Equally, what kind of loving God would not seek to bring justice when people have had terrible evils done to them? He loves the oppressed, the exploited, the marginalised. He loves everyone who has been hurt by sin, and so how can he leave sin unpunished and still be a loving God?

    God is love, yes, but this isn't some fluffy, sentimental love, but a love that is as hard as nails - as hard as the nails driven into Jesus on the cross. Some people would prefer a God who is Nice to a God who is Good, but that's not who the Bible presents us with.

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