I’ve been thinking about theology lately, after reading Tony Jones’ book, Did God Kill Jesus?, which goes over different views of the cross which the church has put forth over the centuries.
On top of that, tonight I wrote reviews of two books (not posted yet), one called At the End of the Ages… The Abolition of Hell, by Bob Evely, and the other Life Loves You, by Louise Hay and Robert Holden.
I will attempt to explain how my thinking about these three different books came together.
First, Did God Kill Jesus? pretty drastically criticized the “Payment Model” explanation of the crucifixion. And I agree with that criticism.
But I don’t want to sit in judgment every time I hear the gospel preached. Surely it’s enough to be glad that the gospel is preached? And surely for those who feel burdened by their sins — they can find comfort in the fact that Jesus’ death certainly paid any debt accrued.
However, I’m still uneasy about starting the gospel message with sin.
And At the End of the Ages affirms me in my belief that God isn’t sending anyone to endless torment, that hell is for correction, not punishment, and will be emptied out at the end of the ages, when every knee will bow at the name of Jesus. I believe that the gospel message is about God’s great big enormous LOVE.
So then, reviewing Life Loves You, I’m struck by how positive and life-affirming it is — and all about love. And it’s not even from a Christian perspective! But shouldn’t it be Christians who are affirming how loved everyone is? Shouldn’t we be meditating on God’s love for us rather than agonizing over our own sinfulness?
And that reminds me of a pet peeve I have. I’m on the prayer team at my church, and we plan regular Prayer and Praise meetings. The leader goes by the old ACTS acronym — being sure to include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
I’ve found I’m not comfortable with the Confession section at a Prayer and Praise night. I hear people analyzing and agonizing and finding ways they don’t feel they’ve done all they should. Is this even helpful? Is this how we should focus?
And then I wonder — Does this flow from the Payment Model of the cross? We feel that sin needs to be paid for. Yes, Jesus paid it all on the cross, but we go with I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I’ve heard it preached that we should “keep short accounts” with God and be sure we don’t have any “unconfessed sin.” Is that really how we want to focus?
Why can’t we be the ones focusing on how Life (that is, God) loves us?
I think everyone has fundamental questions of whether they are lovable, whether they are worthy, whether they are good enough. We all have parts of ourselves that make us feel ashamed.
And you know what? God loves us anyway! Deeply and truly! He crafted us and loves the unique people we are. “He knows that we are dust.”
Even in the Old Testament, the Psalmist pointed out God’s love (Psalm 103):
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
I just don’t believe that God is keeping an account of our sins at all. I don’t, actually, believe that sin must be paid for. What’s important to God is where we are with him now. Are our sins keeping us from him? Are we acting like a toddler throwing a tantrum in a corner who won’t accept any loving overtures from our father? Then by all means confess that sin and come back to God. He loves you!
But don’t you think you’ll live a better life if you’re focusing on God’s love for you rather than the ways you’ve fallen short?
If I truly feel loved by God, I don’t need to satisfy my longings in sinful or hurtful ways. If I truly believe that God is “a rewarder of those who seek him,” I don’t have to take shortcuts to get what I want. I won’t fall into discouragement or despair. And it’s ever so much easier for that to overflow to others.
But if I’m focusing on the ways I’ve fallen short? It reinforces that fear that I am unlovable and unworthy. Not true! God knows my failings, and loves me anyway.
And look! The book of I John, which includes the verse about confessing your sins, has some of the most wonderful passages about how much God loves us.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Dear friends, now we are children of God,
and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,
just as he is pure.
— I John 3:1-3
Yes, the focus is on God’s love — and from that hope, we’ll more naturally seek to be pure. God’s love is a positive motivation.
God is not angry with us! He is not keeping track of our sins and which we’ve confessed.
If a sin is keeping us from God now, by all means confess it! But know that your Father is not going to hold that against you.
Why should New Agers be more positive than Christians? Louise Hay and Robert Holden recommend you saying in your mirror, over and over again, “Life loves you.” and “I am ready to let life love me.” It’s amazing how healing that is.
But don’t we believe this is true? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”
The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
— Zephaniah 3:17
Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband';
you will no longer call me ‘my master….
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.
— Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20
And what’s the focus here?
Be imitators of God, therefore,
as dearly loved children
and live a life of love,
just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us
as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
— Ephesians 5:1-2
What, then, shall we say in response to this?
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all —
how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies.
Who is he that condemns?
Christ Jesus, who died —
more than that, who was raised to life —
is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword?…
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
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 8:31-39
Maybe it’s just me — my ex-husband really tore me down when he left and tried to convince me that no one could love such a horrible person as me. I don’t need to think about how I haven’t measured up; I’m always conscious of that. For that matter, I’m one of a big family, and have trouble with feeling even worthy of attention, trouble feeling that I’m one of many, not special.
But when I think about how much God loves me? I’m empowered to be the person He created me to be. I can shine.
I’ve only gotten started on the verses. There are so many, many more. Take a look at all the “Positive Thinking” messages and exhortations in the Bible. Yes, there are a few places where we’re told to “examine ourselves.” I’m not saying that we’re not sinners. We are. But aren’t we all too aware of that? Look at the focus of the vast majority of exhortations to believers in the New Testament. I think you’ll find it’s overwhelmingly positive.
And this is so worth thinking about. It’s worth affirming over and over:
God loves you.