In our enthusiasm for a cause, we humans very easily lose sight of an objective perspective. We go to extremes that push people further away instead of potentially helping them see things from our point of view.
Take for example the issue commonly referred to as Pro-Life. Whenever I see people outside a clinic with signs that point fingers, calling people baby killers and more, I wonder where this approach to attempt change comes from. Would Jesus, who refused to judge the adulteress until someone was willing to throw the first stone and even then merely helped her see the truth about herself admonishing her to sin no more, stand outside a planned parenthood building with a sign that condemned the scared, hurting women walking through the doors?
When we attempt to support God the way we think we should because we are so enthusiastic about the cause instead of taking serious time to reflect on God’s approach to the issue, are we really serving God the way we think we are?
I may be a slow learner, so forgive the revelation that came to me recently if you’ve known it all along, but when we push God to others based on strict guidelines of right and wrong, we leave non-believers with the impression that God is the God of punishment. We inadvertently make Him out to be a God who is primarily interested in seeing people suffer for their transgressions.
It’s easy enough to see God this way, especially if you do a pick and choose approach to the Bible. Many times, God makes His awesome wrath known, going so far as to wipe out the entire planet in a flood with only Noah and his family as survivors to begin again.
But God is NOT interested in punishing. Let me say this again, because I think most of us operate on the opposite assumption. God’s main focus in this life is NOT to punish those who defy Him but to LOVE and BE LOVED.
You’re wrong, you tell me. God lives to punish bad behavior. He swallowed thousands of people whole in the desert. He sent plagues upon Egypt the likes of which no one in our modern world has ever witnessed. His revelation portrays a coming end that will have no rival in pain and misery and suffering, not even in the best apocalyptic blockbuster. God takes pleasure in sinners’ pain.
Fickle, proud humans that we are, we perpetually grab on to the idea that we can understand the ways of an omnipotent power. Because some of His actions seem awful and cruel, we find it easy to label God as such. But looking at the history of God and man, we can see that God really deals with us from an entirely different perspective. Only a God who loves beyond human knowing could explain how He continues to give us chances to do better, even when history reveals that God can’t seem to win when it comes to the fickleness of the human mind.
Despite God’s worst punishments, His people continue to stray from His commandments. Like a mad roller coaster ride, the story of the Israelite people shows them growing closer to and then farther away from God over and over again. When He blesses them with much, their gratitude from being saved from the latest disaster dissipates all too soon. Look at David. This King who had a heart like God’s, lived to praise Him, but David also failed God, breaking His commandments to give in to his own lusts. Whether God deals with us humans in love or in mighty power, we fall short of giving Him the praise and love He deserves.
But God is not coming from a place of punishment. Instead, even in punishment, God always comes from a place of love. Only God’s love for us explains how any of us are still walking around breathing. Annie Dillard puts it this way:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
The Creator looks down upon a world in which His creations flit about as if they are not tiny ants dodging the giant shoe always dangling above them and does not choose to wipe us out to begin the entire, wretched experiment over again. If that is not some over-arcing love for us, then what is?
Even for Christians, who believe that God humbled Himself to become merely a man in order to sacrifice Himself for our very souls, walk through our days as if we are drugged by our own indifference. We judge others. We create black and white scenarios as if we have no beams in our eyes, always in search of specks. We mock God’s love by taking actions in His name that go so far from doing His will they break His heart.
God is all heart. If you read the Bible beginning with this assumption, you will see it everywhere. God postpones punishment. He is willing to bargain for delayed justice, saving entire cities for the sake of one good man, if such can be found. He puts up with fickleness, blasphemy and disbelief and yet still performs miracles for His people.
God believes in second chances, and third, and fourth. In fact, He tells us to forgive seventy times seven in part because He too never tires of welcoming the return of even one lost sheep.
What a disservice we do for non-believers when our actions reflect a God who favors vengeance over mercy. Whenever we act other than from the root of a love that runs deep in us, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we show the world the God they want to believe in, the God whose actions look spiteful and mean instead of patient and kind.
God wants every one of us to believe in Him: “This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God’s love for us never ends: (for) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Like a puppy who finds full joy in the presence of his master, we Christians owe it to God and our fellow humans to approach our Christian life in love, as God loves us. Instead of looking for the faults in others, we would be much better served to find the strength in all of us, those traits we share that make our Creator God put up with us instead of smashing us to pieces.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus tells us (John 15:13). In laying down His life for us, Jesus showed us the greatest love of all.
The next time we are tempted to draw a permanent marker line in the concrete, we should consider what Jesus would do. Unless you are willing to become part of a person’s solution, to really become a part of it, not just pay lip service to it, why are you pointing out their problem?
God loves. If that isn’t the God you are presenting to the world, if that isn’t the God you carry in your heart every moment of every day, what blessings you are keeping from your self and others.
Don’t know where to start? One of the things God loves most is our thankfulness. Look for the things you can be thankful for in a day and in others, especially others you may be tempted to judge instead. Give your thankfulness a voice in prayer to your Holy Maker. If you give Him the opening, God, who can do anything, will definitely accomplish the rest.