So much of what we hear from today’s Evangelical Christians is permeated with fear. It’s almost as if they can’t communicate the Gospel without referencing the wrath of God, or the threat of condemnation, or judgement.
As an example, a friend of mine was invited to appear on a YouTube channel to talk about differences in theology with the hosts. All throughout the conversation, the hosts continually threatened my friend and urged him to repent and even to resign as a pastor for fear of God’s wrath and judgement that was surely to befall him if he didn’t start believing as they did.
The other day, a friend of mine shared something online and said, “This article gave me a little stab of fear when I first read it. Still recovering from this kind of Christianity.”
I also run across lots of Christians online who communicate much the same way. They post things that warn and shame and threaten “sinners”, or anyone who happens to disagree with certain points of their theology.
Why is that?
Well, I think it’s sort of based on the filter they’re using. They still see God as the Old Testament God of Vengeance and Wrath. They see Him as a stern, demanding, angry, and mostly disgusted deity who can barely stand to look at us and is always one breath away from just annihilating the entire human race out of complete and utter contempt for us.
So, if that’s your view of God, then of course you’re going to feel the need to warn others about this big, bad, angry, powerful and short-tempered God who can’t wait to unleash His fury on those who dare to step over the line.
The sad thing is, this is the very illusion of God that Jesus came to abolish. He told us that if we wanted to see what God was REALLY like, all we had to do was to look at him. He even told stories and parables about how God was patient, kind, merciful, forgiving and most of all, loving towards his children – even and especially if those children were hateful, foolish, disobedient, wayward and, yes, sinful.
The most obvious example of this is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Here we see a child who is proud, greedy, and eager to get his hands on the inheritance that will be his when his father is dead. So, rather than wait, he basically demands the money now – because he literally cannot wait for his father to hurry up and die.
The father gives him what he asks for and allows his son to run away from home and live an extremely sinful lifestyle. Eventually the son runs out of money, finds himself broke and alone, and then remembers his father. He decides to return home as a slave, just to have a safe, warm place to sleep at night, and a hot meal every day.
The father is eagerly awaiting this return and rushes out to meet him, smothering him with kisses, wrapping him in his own cloak, placing a ring of honor on his hand and embraces him completely. He refuses even to allow his son to offer himself as a slave and immediately starts the welcome home party.
What we notice here is that the father, who represents God, is not angry. Not even once. He is kind, patient, giving, forgiving, and most of all loving.
This is the God that Jesus reveals to us.
Jesus also corrects that old testament notion of God only showing love and mercy and provision to those who love Him by declaring that God brings rains of plenty on both the just and the unjust. Then he says that we should do the same if we want to be like our Father in heaven.
Paul also affirms, over and over again, that God is loving, and that we are without condemnation, and that His love for us is higher, wider, longer, deeper, and more amazing than we could possibly imagine. He says this love even transcends knowledge. Literally, it boggles the mind.
Then later Paul affirms that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God: neither height, nor depth, nor angels, nor demons, nor the future, nor the past, nor anything else in all creation – that sort of covers every base, I think.
John also goes so far as to say that God IS love. Some want to modify that statement by saying that God is also a god of wrath, but John doesn’t say that. In fact, the scriptures never say that God IS wrath, or that God IS anger. But it does most certainly declare that God IS love.
So, even if God may be angry now and then, we have to keep in mind that it is the anger of love, not the love of anger.
I also understand that these Christians who embrace the image of God as wrathful and the God we must fear do so for a variety of reasons.
First, they have always and only been taught to see God this way. No one has really ever emphasized the character of God as found in the New Testament and as revealed by Jesus. Instead, all they ever heard about is this God we must fear, not the God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.
Second, they have done a lot of studying about doctrines like eternal suffering, and they mix that in with all the end times scriptures that talk about the coming judgement of god and the “Wrath of the Lamb” that’s found in Revelation, and they take these at face value, without understanding that these verses are written in apocalyptic hyperbole and that Revelation is using these terms in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion not intended to be taken literally at all.
For example, when John says in Revelation that he turned to look at the Lion of Judah, what he actually saw wasn’t a lion at all. He saw only a lamb that looked like it had been slaughtered. This is how the Lion of Judah conquers – by dying, not by killing.
We also need to understand the “Wrath of the Lamb” is being used in an ironic way. The Lamb’s wrath is expressed by eradicating his enemies with the sword that comes from his mouth – the Gospel of the Kingdom – which transform enemies into loved friends and turns slaves into adopted children who are loved and welcomed to sit at the Master’s table.
But if you refuse to accept this, then you’re forever going to hold on tightly to an angry, vengeful, unmerciful vision of God. And that’s up to you. But, if that’s your perspective, please understand that it goes totally against the view of God that Jesus came – and died – to eliminate forever.
See, no one has ever seen God at any time. That’s what the Gospel of John says. It boldly declares that no one – ever – has had an accurate idea of who God is and what God is like. Not Moses. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. Not even David who was a man after God’s own heart.
No one, that is, except for Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has EVER seen or known God. And, according to the Gospel of John, the reason Jesus appeared was specifically to make God known to us.
Do you know what this means? It means that before Jesus came, NO ONE had the right idea about who God was or what God was like.
So, if we want to know who God is, and what God is like, we look at Jesus.
If do this, we’ll see a God who is compassionate towards the poor, kind to the broken, merciful to the sinner, and quick to forgive people – even if they never even asked for forgiveness.
We also see a God who is very impatient with the fear-mongers who claim to speak for him. He not only rebukes them, he demonstrates a character that is 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the God they represent.
“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus says to them. “I desire mercy – compassion, kindness, gentleness, love – not sacrifice.”
Many of us still need to learn that this means.
My prayer is that, more and more, Christians today would know the love of God, and the God who IS love.
Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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