Friday, October 14, 2011

God hates you?

A video has been going around online featuring a prominent pastor telling his people (or at least those in his church meeting that day) that God hates them. This leader is someone I've benefitted much from, though I don't see eye-to-eye with him on a number of issues.

All events have context and in recent years, even this year, some well known leaders have wanted to say God doesn't get angry and hell will be empty and such like. To which others have piped up that we must re-emphasise the holiness and wrath of God. And make no mistake God is wrathful towards some and Jesus is the clearest teacher on hell.

But...

God isn't a set of attributes to keep in balance. A bit of love, a bit of holiness and so on. God is a community of persons, and we know who he is as he comes to us in the person of Christ. Jesus loves us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20) and he said, John 16:27, the Father himself loves us. He is all love.

Which means, however frustrating and unchanging people are, the answer isn't for a preacher to stand over and against their people. Behaviour frustrates, budgets can be pressing but harrassing people into change is not gospel ministry. As Christ makes his appeal through preachers they call people to come and be welcomed, loved, drawn, cared for. You can't microwave maturity by blow-torching people, tempting as it is. And I've tried it. It's not nice to do, and its horrid to hear.

The Triune God is all love. When he burns its passionate love in jealous protection of the Son against whom the world rages, the Spirit who is grieved by love spurned, and the Sons bride who he protects with his life. In the end justice will be done, but these are days of patience and mercy and love, as is true also when the NT summarises the OT (in Romans 3). His forgiveness is excessive. In these days of patience the preacher is to offer Christ who came out in love to find us. Such a preacher speaks the word of God and nourishes the people and offers life to the dead.

The preacher will be like their Christ, which is disturbing if your Christ is isn't full of love. The Biblically revealed Christ doesn't quench the smouldering wick or break the bruised, and preacher who sets Christ against people may have strayed from him. The Christ is no mean, spying dictator who is over and against people, he's the shining light and spreading love of his Father who came and was afflicted with and for us. His love is most seen and enacted, felt, and known in the Sons incarne life, death, resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts.

Divine holiness is extreme personal love not scary power. Divine wrath is what happens when perfect love is refused. God was not eternally wrathful, he was always love. He always will be. So why speak otherwise? Why do anything but invite, woo, allure even hardened rebels with tender words of Christs love. People will either receive Christ and doubtless be radically transformed, or they'll refuse him to their own doom. Ours is to portray Christ and him crucified in the full technicolor of the Scriptures, in the full beauty and loveliness that is his.

Sitting under such preaching will soften hard hearts or harden them - depending on the Spirit's gracious movement upon his people. The Spirit-filled Christian will be comforted and encouraged, and warmed and helped and loved. Heavy handed exhortation wont be needed, because they'll be well nourished and strengthened. It might seem peculiar to pull back from exhortations and applications in favour of proclaiming Christ, but nothing changes someone more than meeting Christ, and nothing less than being told what to do, and nothing is more Christian than to be invited to receive Christ.