Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Self-Giving Love

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Jesus was innocent, yet he died the death of the guilty. But notice what overall narrative frames this statement (in 2 Corinthians 5:21). It is not the quasi-pagan narrative of an angry or capricious divinity and an accidental victim. It is the story of love, covenant love, faithful love, reconciling love. Messianic love. It is the story of the victory of that love, because that self-giving love turns out to have a power of a totally different sort from any other power known in the world (which is why Paul is happy to say that he is strong when he is weak).

— N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, p. 253

[Photo: Riverbend Park, Virginia, April 20, 2018]

Changeless Love

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

“God so loved the world” — dwell on these words. The world, then, must have been in some real sense worthy of love. He cannot love — he may pity — the unlovely. Has he ceased to love it? If so, when? I challenge a reply. “Love is not love that alters, where it alteration finds”; even human love, if true, never changes. Yet this love is but a faint, far-off, reflection of our Father’s love. God is not love and justice, or love and anger. He is love, i.e., love essential [I John 4:8]. Therefore his wrath and vengeance, while very real, are the ministers of his love. To say that God cannot change is to say that his love cannot change. Hence his love, being changeless, pursues the sinner to the outer darkness, and, being almighty, draws him hence. An earthly parent, who, being able to help, should sit unmoved, month after month, year after year, watching, but never helping, the agonies of his own offspring is a picture more hideous than any the records of crime can furnish. What shall we say to those who heighten enormously, infinitely, all that is shocking in such a picture, until its blackest details become light itself; and then tell us that the parent in this ghastly scene is one who is love, love infinite, almighty, and our Father?

And this brings us face to face with a blunder of our traditional creed, which is radical. It talks of God’s love as though that stood merely on a par with his justice, [as] though it were something belonging to him which he puts on or off. It is hardly possible to open a religious book in which this fatal error is not found; fatal, because it virtually strikes out of the gospel its fundamental truth — that GOD IS LOVE. The terms are equivalent. They can be interchanged. God is not anger, though he can be angry; God is not vengeauce, though he does avenge. These are attributes; love is essence. Therefore, God is unchangeably love. Therefore, in judgment he is love, in wrath he is love, in vengeance he is love — “love first, and last, and midst, and without end.”

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 76-77

[Photo: Giant’s Causeway, Ireland, July 2001]

Out of the Sin-Accounting Business

Friday, April 13th, 2018

I was stunned that Good Friday by this familiar but foreign story of Jesus’ last hours, and I realized that in Jesus, God had come to dwell with us and share our human story. Even the parts of our human story that are the most painful. God was not sitting in heaven looking down at Jesus’ life and death and cruelly allowing his son to suffer. God was not looking down on the cross. God was hanging from the cross. God had entered our pain and loss and death so deeply and took all of it into God’s own self so that we might know who God really is. Maybe the Good Friday story is about how God would rather die than be in our sin-accounting business anymore.

The passion reading ended, and suddenly I was aware that God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing. God is not distant at the cross and God is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus — Emmanuel — which means “God with us.” We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 86

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 12, 2015]

Closing the Book on Vengeance

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Jesus didn’t come to bring vengeance; he came to close the book on vengeance. Jesus announced the Jubilee good news of pardon, amnesty, liberation, and restoration. Jesus doesn’t bless revenge; he blesses mercy and teaches that the mercy we show to our enemies is the mercy that will be shown to us. God does not allow us to hope that the book of divine vengeance will be closed for us but left open and inflicted in full upon others. This is not how it works in God’s economy of grace revealed by Jesus.

Does this mean there’s no divine judgement? Of course not. Certainly there is divine judgment, but it is a judgment based on God’s love and commitment to restoration. The restorative judgment of God gives no warrant to a schadenfreude yearning to see harm inflicted on others. Jesus has closed the book on that kind of lust for vengeance.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 44

[Photo: Kilchurn Castle, Scotland, July 14, 2003]

Partnering Prayer

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Prayer is a primary means for partnership with God. Prayer is an act of willing participation in the mediation of God’s love. Our prayers somehow play a role in the restoration of all things. Thus, prayer truly matters since God is looking for willing partners who will welcome his healing love into this broken world.

Partnering prayer is also an act of yielding and surrender. In spite of some popular practices of prayer as militant proclamations that ‘pull down heaven,’ Christlike prayer is kenotic, cruciform and willing — not coercive, demanding or manipulative. Parnering prayer listens first to seek God’s will, rather than attempting to impose our will in the world in his name. Partnering prayer is founded and funded in the mercies of God, and is therefore best directed at invoking those ever-ready mercies. How or in what form God chooses to deliver his mercies is finally his domain. We can make requests and petitions, but delivering our demands and dictates seems to me out of order.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God, p. 156-157

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 6, 2018]

God’s Holy, Perfect Compassion

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

Luke makes it even clearer that Jesus defines God’s holy “perfection,” not as vindictive anger towards sinners, but as compassionate love toward all people: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:35-36). God’s perfection is not in tension with God’s compassion. According to Jesus, God’s perfection is defined precisely by God’s compassion. We must be careful to not import our own ideas of what divine perfection must be into the biblical text, as has so often it has been done. It is hard to take Jesus seriously and still come away with the assumption that God’s holy perfection requires the infinite punishment of sinners, especially when Jesus defines this perfection in the completely opposite direction. Those from the traditional view have quite a task before them in explaining how God can be said to be “kind to the wicked,” as Jesus affirms, and yet still inflict maximal suffering and torment on them.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 19

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 6, 2018]

Punished By Our Sins

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

This view of sin and punishment is perhaps not as commonly held now as it was in previous generations, so I’m not sure how many people believe that God is holding a big grudge against them for being bad. Sure, some still believe that in heaven there is a list of good behaviors and bad behaviors and therefore to know that God forgives your sin is to know that God has erased the red marks against you and therefore is no longer mad, which means he won’t punish you.

But honestly, I’m much more tortured by my secrets, which eat away at me, than I am concerned about God being mad at me. I’m more haunted by how what I’ve said and the things I’ve done have caused harm to myself and others than I am worried that God will punish me for being bad. Because in the end, we aren’t punished for our sins as much as we are punished by our sins.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, p. 130

[Photo: Sunrise, South Riding, Virginia, March 16, 2015]

At-one-ment

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

With all my heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, I believe in the atonement (all it the a-tone-ment, or the at-one-ment, as you please). I believe that Jesus Christ is our atonement, that through him we are reconciled to, made one with God. There is not one word in the New Testament about reconciling God to us; it is we that have to be reconciled to God.

— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Third Series, “Justice,” quoted in Discovering the Character of God, compiled by Michael R. Phillips

[Photo: Keukenhof, Holland, April 17, 2004]

He Is Risen!

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Verse for Easter:

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 31, 2018]

Transcending Revenge

Friday, March 30th, 2018

While many Christians from the traditional view would say that the holiness of God consists primarily in moral purity and revulsion against sinners, the prophet Hosea defines God’s holiness in terms of God’s unrelenting mercy towards sinners. The Lord says through the prophet, “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos 11:8-9). It is highly significant that the reason God gives for his compassion and refusal to come in wrath is precisely because he is “the Holy One” who is far different from mere mortals. Far from God’s holiness requiring that God punish people eternally, Hosea affirms that God’s holiness is actually what compels God to refrain from wrath and to have mercy. What makes God holy, or different from human beings, is that God has the capacity to transcend revenge and offer mercy.

Similarly, Jesus defined God’s holy perfection, not in terms of vengeful and retributive justice against sinners, but in terms of all-inclusive compassion and love. It is often overlooked that when Jesus tells his followers to be “perfect” as God is perfect, this statement comes right on the heels of Jesus’s command for his followers to love enemies because this is what God does.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 18

[Photo: Oregon Coast, November 10, 2015]