Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God
The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News
by Brian Zahnd
Waterbrook, 2017. 209 pages.
Before I’d even finished this book, I was recommending it to people as a lovely and wonderful explanation of theology of the cross that I can get behind. It’s a compassionate outlook about a loving God, not a God who’s going to blast people.
Then I read the author’s interpretation of Revelation, and I’m not sure I’m still as enthusiastic. Basically, he says that everything in Revelation is symbolic – and believes a lot of it was for that time and has already happened. I’m not sure if I agree with this take – but I’m going to have to do some reading and thinking about Revelation.
Now, I’d thought the book was about universalism when I ordered it from Amazon. It’s not, though these teachings are very compatible with universalism. The author mentions universalism but says he just doesn’t know.
However, all that said – this explanation of the theology of the cross is indeed Very Good News.
Here’s an example from the first chapter:
What I want you to know is that God’s attitude, God’s spirit, toward you is one of unwavering fatherly-motherly love. You have nothing to fear from God. God is not mad at you. God has never been mad at you. God is never going to be mad at you. And what about the fear of God? The fear of God is the wisdom of not acting against love. We fear God in the same way that as a child I feared my father. I had the good fortune to have a wise and loving father, and I had deep respect, reverence, admiration, and, perhaps, a kind of fear for my father, but I never for one moment thought that my dad hated me or would harm me. God does not hate you, and God will never harm you. But your own sin, if you do not turn away from it, will bring you great harm. The wisdom that acknowledges this fact is what we call the fear of God. Sin is deadly, but God is love.
I know some will be quick to remind me that the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And no doubt it is. In the hands of God, there is no place to hide. We have to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. In the hands of God, we can no longer live in the disguise of our lies. In the hands of God, we have to face ourselves. And that can be terrifying. When the prodigal son returned home and fell into the arms of his father, I’m sure the boy felt afraid. We can tell by how he immediately speaks of his unworthiness: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This wayward son has fallen into the hands of his father; his fate is in his father’s hands . . . and he is afraid. But there is no better place to be! This gracious father in Jesus’s parable is given to us as a picture of our heavenly Father! When the prodigal son fell fearfully into the hands of his father, forgiveness, healing, and restoration began. Just because the prodigal son felt fear as he fell into his father’s hands doesn’t mean he had anything to fear from his father. In his father’s hands was the only safe place to be. It was in the far country that the prodigal son was in danger, not in his father’s hands. When we fall into the hands of the living God, we are sinners in the hands of a loving God.
He does get his theology from the Bible, but has this word of caution:
We need to understand that the Bible is not an end in itself. The Bible is a means to an end but not the end itself. Jesus said it this way: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” If we see the Bible as an end in itself instead of an inspired witness pointing us to Jesus, it will become an idol. Idols are gods we can manage according to our own interests. If we want to make the Bible our final authority, which is an act of idolatry, we are conveniently ignoring the problem that we can make the Bible say just about whatever we want. In doing this we bestow a supposed divine endorsement upon our already established opinion. The historical examples of this are nearly endless; crusaders, slaveholders, and Nazis have all proved themselves adept at bolstering their ideologies with images drawn from the Bible.
About the cross itself, here is an example of his teaching:
The cross is not a picture of payment; the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath; Good Friday is about divine love. Calvary is not where we see how violent God is; Calvary is where we see how violent our civilization is. The justice of God is not retributive; the justice of God is restorative. Justice that is purely retributive changes nothing. The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love. The only thing God will call justice is setting the world right, not punishing an innocent substitute for the petty sake of appeasement.
So was the death of Jesus a sacrifice? Yes, the death of Jesus was indeed a sacrifice. But it was a sacrifice to end sacrificing, not a sacrifice to appease an angry and retributive god. Jesus sacrificed himself to the love of God manifest in forgiveness, not to the wrath of God for the satisfaction of vengeance.
There’s more here. As I said, I’m not sure yet what I think about his interpretation of the book of Revelation. But so much of this book is thoroughly encouraging and uplifting, I do heartily recommend taking a look.
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