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How Great is Our God?

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O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.   —Psalm 34:3

The idea of magnifying God always seemed a little odd to me. We don’t typically talk of magnifying except in the sense of making something appear larger or nearer. How can God be made to appear bigger than he is? Is he not infinite? Or how can he be made to appear nearer? Is he not everywhere present? What can it mean to magnify the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God?

Then I recall the language of lovers. Lovers extol what they love. Ask a lover about something he loves—it need not be a person but a hobby or vocation—and prepare to hear his love magnified as if it were the only thing in the universe. For in a sense it is; it fills his own universe. Those who love God cannot help praising him. Everything that happens in their lives will be found to connect in some way to the God they love.

They will speak of the glory of Your kingdom
and will declare Your might,
informing all people of Your mighty acts
and of the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. (Psalm 145:11-12)

But there is more.

We live in a world that belittles God. Our culture for the most part considers God as unimportant and regards people of faith—especially those whose faith impels them to public action—as dangerous lunatics. God is okay as long as he is the private delusion of a few fanatics. He is tolerable as long as he doesn’t matter in any meaningful way to the life and business of the world. Let God have his little corner in religion. Let him make his rules and have his “kingdom,” but let’s not have any nonsense about absolute truth or a universal moral law. Looking at God through the lens of our culture is like peering into the wrong end of a telescope. God seems small and distant, parochial and insignificant. His acts aren’t mighty; they’re puny. He is weak and stupid, perhaps even evil.

Consider what Christians credit God with: he created everything that exists; made a way through the Red Sea so the Israelites passed through on dry ground; he sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s offering; he shut the mouths of lions; he raised Jesus from the dead. But these things are all in the past. What has he done lately? What do we credit him with today? He gave me a parking place near the door so I wouldn’t get rained on; he reduced the severity of the flu I had; he provided a grocery gift card anonymously when I really needed it. While these acts reflect a personal care seldom found in the old stories, they don’t seem to magnify God. They make him out to be a kind of doting nanny, more concerned with our comfort than with our character. Perhaps the culture is only reflecting back the smallness in the testimony about God that Christians have given. Sometimes in our zeal for his omnipotence, we Christians even credit him with evil—at least with what the world regards as evil.

God intends that his children be like him, that they exhibit his character. In doing so, they reflect his good character and bring credit to his name. This is why Jesus told his followers, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The world unacquainted with God knows him by the deeds of his sons and daughters. It is by our good works that we show the world how merciful and loving is our God, how forgiving and patient, how terrifying and awesome. If our deeds are evil, we discredit God. One does not have to look far to see how much discredit Christians have brought to God. In the world we are known for bigotry and intolerance, hatred, ignorance, and ineffectiveness. So let us turn back from condemnation and from evil deeds that discredit God, and let us do good: bring health and healing to those who are sick, bring life and hope to the discouraged and depressed, love and accept the outcasts, set people free from systems that confine them. Let us magnify the Lord and exalt his name together.

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The Significance of the Cross

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Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. -Luke 9:23

The church—and Christians—doesn’t talk about the cross as much as it used to. You used to hear Christians talk about “bearing their cross” usually nothing more than an inconvenience. Perhaps there was a neighbor who wasn’t neighborly or a teenage daughter who was rebellious. “It’s just a cross I have to bear,” the complacent saint would say. This isn’t anything like what Jesus meant when he spoke to would-be followers.

To first-century disciples, the cross represented public torture and execution. It was reserved for the most heinous crimes against Rome. It is possibly the most cruel and violent form of execution ever devised, designed to kill slowly and tortuously and very publicly. The condemned were typically made to carry their own cross to the place of execution, so when Jesus says his follower must “take up his cross daily,” he has in mind only one destination: death.

Jesus tells his followers they must embrace their own death every day. In this way, they will always be prepared to die if need be for what they believe. For the way of Jesus’ followers is the way of love. They are to be like Jesus, offering themselves up to torture and death to secure life and liberty for others. They are not to use violence or try to force people to comply with their demands. They can persuade. They can reason. They can do good works. They can pray for their enemies. But they cannot curse. They cannot bribe. They cannot use force or coercion. At times, when the church has been politically ascendant, this command has been forgotten, and Christians have even tortured and killed other Christians in the name of Christ.

There is nothing Christlike about the use of force. Jesus never compelled; he invited. He spoke out harshly against the oppressors, especially when they pretended to speak for God, but he did not attack them physically*, and he did not resist when they attacked him. He expects his followers to behave as he did. He urges his followers to make a point of daily facing their own death and assures them that death is not final. This attitude of love with nothing to lose is what has made the church uniquely powerful in the world. It is a power not of force or violence but of totally committed people who will speak out against injustice and let themselves suffer and die for what is right.

* Of course there is an incident where Jesus confronted moneylenders in the temple with a makeshift whip of knotted cords. He was, however, severely provoked, not as some think by the greed and dishonesty of the moneylenders themselves, but by the tacit understanding that certain people could be excluded from God’s presence. The moneylenders set up their tables in the court of the Gentiles, the only portion of the temple open to foreigners, women, and invalids. The authorities did not arrest Jesus because he had exposed a policy they themselves knew to be wrong.
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Does God Love Everyone?

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Read and comment on my blog.

I watched a clever music video today for a song by Michael Gungor Band called “God is not a White Man.” The chorus of the song repeatedly affirms that God loves everyone. Most Christians would find this claim unexceptionable, but does it accord with what the Bible says about God? Does God really love everyone? If so, what does such universal love mean? If not, whom then does he love?

Let’s start by defining love. I may use the same word to describe my feelings for ice cream and my feelings for my wife, so we need something a bit more precise. To love is to act from sincere affection in ways that will secure the good of the one loved. For example, I love my children. My love sometimes impels me to punish them, never because I take pleasure in hurting them, but only because the punishment will help them grow and develop into mature adults. So now let’s ask our question this way: Does God act from sincere affection in ways that will secure of good of everyone?

The consistent witness of Scripture is that he does not. God condemns some people and saves others. He pours out destruction on some while rescuing others. In the end, he accepts some people into heaven and condemns others to hell. Can we say that God loves those he condemns? Here is what the Psalmist says:

The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot. (Psalm 11:5-6)

So according to Psalm 11, God hates the wicked. If we were to combine this verse with verses quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-18, we might justly conclude that far from loving everyone, God hates everyone. No one is righteous; everyone is wicked; no one fears God or seeks to know him, or knows the way of peace. Instead everyone is deceitful and destructive and violent. God hates everyone, and everyone is destined for destruction. The great wonder is that he hasn’t pronounced his judgment already and condemned us all.

The Bible no where says that God loves everyone. It says that he loves the righteous (Psalm 146:8). And it says that his nature is love (I John 4:8, 16). When God appeared to Moses he told him that he was “compassionate and gracious…, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” God’s own revelation of himself is as a God of love.

Here is a contradiction. God’s nature is love, but he still hates the wicked, and everyone is wicked. His love prompts him to forgive, but his justice demands that he condemn. So God provided a means by which people could be forgiven and made righteous. He sent his own son to take the place of sinful people and endure his wrath on their behalf so that they could take his son’s place and be accounted God’s children. He has made this salvation available to everyone who puts their trust in his son, Jesus Christ.

The expression, therefore, of God’s love to everyone is in Jesus Christ. Anyone who rejects Jesus, rejects God’s love. For such a person there is no love left “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:27). So now God loves everyone who loves his son and hates everyone who hates his son. He knows those who belong to him.

But what about you. Yes, you. Does God love you? If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you know that he does, and nothing—not even death itself—can separate you from his love (Rom 8:38-39). If you have not put your trust in Jesus, then he still loves you enough to make you this offer: you give up your life and everything you call your own to him, and he gives to you eternal life and freedom from your guilt and sin. That’s the deal: all or nothing, life or death. There is no middle ground. Which do you choose?

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