Beginning with God 6

Worship.jpgIt all begins with God — what we think about God shapes what we think about ourselves and those around us and our world. It begins with God. What is our “narrative” of God?

James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) is asking us to think about our narratives and the need to reshape our narratives with the narrative of Jesus.

One of those narratives is “God is holy.”

Declaring God’s love can be overdone, Smith states. God’s love doesn’t mean God permits sin. God, he says, “is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Two dominant narratives are wrong:

God is wrathful and God does not care about sin. This angry-distant God narrative isn’t what Jesus teaches. H. Richard Niebuhr put the problem this way: “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (116).

What has helped you get over the God-loves-me and winks-at-sin narrative about God and reality? What helps you keep God’s love and holiness in balance?

The teddy-bear God won’t do. God’s wrath, Smith argues, “is a beautiful part of the majesty and love of God” (117).

Wrath, for Jesus, is God’s right action. John 5:28; Matt 12:36-37; 16:27; Luke 21:23; John 3:36.

People, like Thomas Jefferson, like to clip out the parts of the Bible they don’t like. Smith says many clip out the wrath stuff. God’s love does not wax and wane like our emotions; God’s love is to will the good of humans. Wrath is not rage. Wrath is not passion but pathos, a determined decision of God that is rational. Wrath expresses God’s commitment to love, peace and justice. It is God’s verdict on evil.

Holiness is God’s essence. Love loves unto purity is the idea of holiness. Nor do we want an unholy, unwrathful God. Moral indifference will not do. This means, Smith states, that hell is necessary.

He finishes this with a soul training exercise on the need for margin in life.

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  • Andy W.

    What helps me keep God’s love and holiness in balance? Being a parent has been the biggest help in truly understanding this. It is out of the utmost love for my kids that I need to show/teach/help them learn that certain choices and behaviors are destructive to them and others. This often requires my intervention through discipline (or in their mind, my wrath). What looks like wrath to them is really my fierce love for their well being. When I view God’s love, holiness and wrath in this way it helps me to really trust and worship God and take the long view of the journey, realizing that I see so little of what’s to come.

  • samb

    “Holiness is God’s essence. Love loves unto purity is the idea of holiness. Nor do we want an unholy, unwrathful God. Moral indifference will not do. This means, Smith states, that hell is necessary”
    Why does this mean hell is necessary?

  • The key for me is God as creator. Sin is primarily dysfunctional, and thus destructive to ourselves and others. A good God would be bad if he winked at those choices that kill mind, body, soul, relationships and his good world.
    The argument here for hell (if taken in the traditional eternal conscious torment sense) is unclear to me as it was for samb. Do elaborate.
    Finally, I think God’s holiness is subserviant to his love. To suggest that “love can be overdone” is, I think, false. Love is God’s primary characteristic, and if it were the case that holiness and love could ever come into conflict, it seems to me the later would prevail.

  • “I think God’s holiness is subserviant to his love.”
    I can’t agree. As Sproul pointed out, the says God is love, but God is holy, holy, holy.

  • Randy

    It would seem that the need for Hell is simply this…those who have deliberately chosen to live their own life, wink at what they know is against God’s will, have chosen and prepared themselves completely for a life without God, an eternity of separation. They are already living it and have no prepartion for an extension of life of any other kind. That is what they prepare for by the choice…that is what they get. God’s sovereignty does not need to throw them there…They have chosen to live life without Him.

  • T

    I tend to think of holiness in terms of being completely set apart for particular purposes (never being a vehicle for other purposes). I think, at a minimum, it’s fair to say that God is completely set apart for doing what is thoroughly right. He cannot be motivated by or toward evil. He never acts towards those ends. Of course, this is a little circular for those of us who view God as the living standard for what is “right,” but He is what He is. In this line of thinking, though, God is completely set apart for doing what is right, which includes both patient, compassionate mercy and eventual, even reluctant judgment on what is not right and those that practice it. He cannot continue to give life indefinitely to those who use it to do evil to his creation. It just wouldn’t be right, and he has to do what’s right, because he is completely set apart for doing what is right.

  • Bill S.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand why love and holiness are spoken of as if they are two different things, like they are two opposing forces or some kind of dichotomy. Isn’t holiness just perfect love?
    And I also can’t understand why holiness is so frequently defined only in reference to sin/evil. I think most of us would agree that God is love and always has been love for all eternity. But if God is also holy and always has been holy for all eternity, and we only define holiness in reference to sin/evil, that logically implies that there has always been sin/evil for all eternity. This seems like some form of cosmic dualism to me, as opposed to a view that only love existed in the beginning (in the perfect fellowship of the Trinity).
    So I am increasingly thinking that the term “holy” has been somewhat hijacked to sound dark rather than sound beautiful. It’s no wonder why so many people react negatively to the term.
    As for wrath, I think that’s a very normal reaction when love is threatened. If something threatens my relationship with my wife, I should get angry. If a friend who I love continually hurts me, I should get angry. The most unloving thing I can do is to be indifferent and just not care. Thus wrath/anger is a product of love, not something opposed to it.
    I’m not a philosopher or theologian, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. And I’m very open to correction on anything I’ve said, but that’s how I’m seeing things. I welcome a clarification on this from someone more in the know.

  • (4) Chris B – Sproul’s argument is clever and I think overstated. If you exclude reference to the “holy” Spirit, Jesus refers to God as holy just *one* time (John 17:11). If this were *primary*, it seems he would refer to much more often. Moreover, I don’t think Holiness can be an eternal quality/characteristic. What would God have been “set apart” from before creating the universe, and what will he be “set apart” from after the restoration of all things? (I may be misunderstanding what holiness *is*, so do help me on that front if I’m off)
    (5) Randy – How does someone else’s eternal condition follow from God’s holiness? I don’t see that in your statement. Also, how is universal salvation at odds with holiness? It’s still unclear to me why eternal conscious torment is the *only* possible course for those who have “deliberately choosen to live their own lives.”
    Be well all!!

  • Georges Boujakly

    I am wondering (truly) if the starting point of considering the holiness and love of God is human relationship. Our arguments go like this: I would/wouldn’t do this, therefore God would/wouldn’t do it either. There are similarities I am sure since we are made in the image of God. But based on our imaging God, the starting point is God not human relationship dynamics.
    Can someone help out with this?

  • Mark Z.

    What has helped you get over the God-loves-me and winks-at-sin narrative about God and reality?
    God doesn’t wink at my sin because it hurts other people or other living creatures, whom God also loves. The word “holy” is closely akin to “whole”–the quality of God we’re talking about is wholeness, as opposed to partiality. For God to wink and ignore my sin would be taking sides: my side against the neighbor I’m mistreating.
    This is a very simple concept, and adequately answers the question, but (1) it requires us to understand sin primarily as the things I think and do that hurt the people around me, rather than as some kind of personal insult to God, and (2) it explains the need for chastisement, not condemnation and eternal torment in hell. I’ll leave that problem for someone who actually believes in hell, and I wish them the best of luck.

  • Randy G

    Allow me to turn this idea on its head and engage the sin of pride, which we too often identify as a gift of “leadership.”
    Today I had a blessed conversation with an old aquaintance, whom I now count as a new friend. In our conversation I shared how my vision for our church (a formerly dominant denomination in our town) as being along the lines of Philippians 2: Jesu “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…” (TIV)
    In the process of sharing this I spoke of a blessed community that I was part of in our former home. One of our commitments was that we would allow the community to make decisions; another was that labels of privilege and stigma would be “left at the door.” Only in speaking of these two things together did I remember how much we constantly struggled to allow the community, rather than a small group of assembled “leaders” make decisions.
    This reminded me how easy it is for those of us who find ourselves identified as “leaders” to go ahead and make decision ourselves and silence those we are leading because it is convenient, efficient, or whatever. Those are descriptors that we in the church need to be rid of in order to be the church to the world around us. We must not expect God to wink when we silence others by leading them easily and quickly.
    Randy G.

  • Good post. I resonate. God’s love is certainly expressed in his just wrath and judgment. We are so obscurred in our understanding, since we see things from our perspectives. The human wrath we’ve seen expressed is not from human love, but often from human idolatry, or just plain sin. So we end up unwittingly projecting our human perspective onto God, and then end up rejecting the category of God’s wrath altogether, one way or another (explaining it away, or whatever). But helpfully worded here!