God in a Box – Reflections on Mystery, Jesus, and the Nonviolent God

God in a Box – Reflections on Mystery, Jesus, and the Nonviolent God June 22, 2015
Copyright: urfingus / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: urfingus / 123RF Stock Photo

I just finished delivering a talk on the nonviolent love of God when he came up to me. He pulled me aside and sternly said,

Don’t put God in a box!

It’s a frequent critique. Many people want God to be free to do whatever God wants to do. So, who am I to put God in a nonviolent and loving box?

But that critique is false. God is in a box and I didn’t put God there. In fact, God put himself in that box. And that box has a name: Jesus.

The Jesus Box

People often tell me that there’s a great mystery to God that transcends all of our boxes. I don’t think that statement is very helpful. Whatever “mystery” there was to God, Jesus revealed it.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Ephesians tells us that God, “has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Colossians speaks frequently about the mystery of God being revealed in Christ. Paul wrote that Christ has made “the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to the saints.”

The Mystery of God Revealed

People have always asked, “What is God like?” The Christian answer is that God is like Jesus. The New Testament even goes so far as to claim that God no longer a mystery. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. You know what God is like.

Michael Ramsey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, put it like this, “God is Christ-like and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all.”

Ramsey was paraphrasing 1 John, which claims, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” There is no dark mystery to God. What you see in Jesus is what you get from God. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ.

God is Christ-like

If God is like Christ, then Christians had better know what Christ is like. The cross and the resurrection are two of the most important places to look for discovering what Christ is like.

The total nonviolence of God was revealed on the cross. The Atonement on the cross is where God in Christ responded to human violence with nonviolent love. God in Christ absorbed human violence and offered divine forgiveness in return. That’s what God is like. If we look to the cross and find a wrathful divinity, we have created an idol of our own wrathful image.

God on the cross has no wrath. God on the cross responds to human wrath with divine forgiveness. Never does Christ pray for revenge upon his enemies. Rather, he turns the other check, he prays for his enemies, and he loves them.

As the theologian James Alison states, Jesus is the “Forgiving Victim.” He became a victim of human violence so that he could finally reveal what God is truly like.

In the resurrection, Jesus returned not as a ghost to haunt his persecutors with threats of revenge. Rather, he returned to life as he entered into death – with words of forgiveness and peace. The resurrected Jesus said to those who abandoned and betrayed him, “Peace be with you.” And then he gave his disciples the mission to spread the Good News of God’s nonviolent love to all the corners of the earth.

The God of Jesus isn’t out to get us for our sins. He’s out to forgive us.

If Christians insist on saying that God is mysterious, it can only be that God is mysteriously more loving and compassionate and forgiving than we could ever imagine.

What Christians Can’t Believe about God

For Christians, the mystery about God that Jesus revealed means that there are some things we can no longer believe about God.

A god who sanctions violence against our enemies isn’t Christ-like.

A god who supports the death penalty isn’t Christ-like.

A god who backs military violence isn’t Christ-like.

A god who endorses the Second Amendment isn’t Christ-like.

Those gods are all idols of our own violent image. They don’t belong in the box.

But the Christ-like God, the only God that Christians should worship, is a God of total nonviolent love. The God of Christ invites us to follow him by renouncing violence and living into nonviolent love that embraces everyone, even those we call our enemies. That is the Jesus box in which God was pleased to fully dwell.

The mystery of God has been revealed. “God is Christ-like and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all.”

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  • Sheila C.

    In theory I agree with you. A God that you can’t put in any boxes is a God about whom it is not possible to know anything. And if we can’t know anything about God, we certainly can’t attempt to have a relationship with God!

    But what about the Old Testament? God does advocate things in there like the death penalty, destroying one’s enemies, etc. And while Jesus is clearly opposed to those things, he also quotes the Old Testament, as if he assumes that it is true. I think that contradiction is something we have to face (rather than just saying “God can’t be put into a box”) because God can’t contradict himself, but at the same time, I don’t have the faintest idea how it could be done.

    • Hi Sheila. It’s a great question. The Old Testament is crucially important. I’m hoping to write an article about this question, but very quickly, Jesus did quote his Scriptures, but he quoted them in a particular way. He had an interpretive principle. For example, he quoted Hosea as saying that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice.” There are strands in the Bible that claim God wants mercy/love and there are strands that say God wants sacrifice/violence. With Hosea’s statement, Jesus clearly stood in the strand that God wants mercy, so much that he was willing to take violence upon himself and respond with God’s merciful forgiveness.

      The ancient and modern Rabbis knew that the Scriptures had to be interpreted and they had radically different interpretations. Jesus had a particular interpretation and I think Christians should follow him in his interpretation of mercy, not sacrifice. For more on this, I recommend Michael Hardin’s book “The Jesus Driven Life” – http://www.preachingpeace.org/index.php/bookstore#!/~/product/category=9283050&id=35988484



    • Verisimilitude

      Therefore, since we want a relationship withe Christian ‘god’, we must assume we know something about Him!

  • cken

    The author has an interesting theory however it completely ignores the violent, wrathful, war loving, even genocidal God of the old testament.