Speaking of God – A Good God

Posted: April 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Speaking of God – A Good God

For you are a good God and love mankind, and to you do we give glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, always, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. (Orthodox Great Vespers liturgy)

When we speak of God, it’s important that we remember always that he is a good God who loves humanity. I notice that aspect often seems to become obscured in modern Western discussions about God. Sometimes it’s obvious, as in certain Calvinistic strands that either explicitly or implicitly end up attributing both good and evil to God. A God who is responsible for evil is not a good God. It’s one of the more outrageous assertions that can be made about the God we find fully revealed in Christ. (Moreover, it’s only in Christ that the creation of the human being is finished.) I thoroughly agree with the Orthodox that any such claims about God are utterly heretical and contrary to the faith which has been handed down to us.

But it can take subtler forms. For instance, in the strands of evangelicalism within which I swim, it’s very common to hear “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” when tragedy strikes. It permeates thought, conversation, teaching, and song. The concept comes from Job and illustrates one potential issue with lifting verses and phrases at will from our Holy Scriptures and applying them without the guidance of a deep and apostolic tradition. Here’s the verse from Job.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. As it seemed good to the Lord, so also it came to pass. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21.

The first thing that we have to recognize is that in his fatalism, Job is actually incorrect! (Though the next verse goes on to note that Job did not, in truth, charge God with wrongdoing.) Yes, in a broad sense God allows freedom in creation. That’s part of being a good God who does not deny any good thing to his beloved creation, even if that good thing can be twisted. In the context of the narrative, we have something of a “God’s eye view” that Job lacks. We know that God took nothing from Job. Satan did.

But Job’s perception makes perfect cultural sense. It was normal in the ancient world to ascribe all sorts of things to the gods. We see that in, for one example, Homer. At one point in the Iliad when, speaking of the son of Atreus and godlike Achilles, he asks, “Which of the gods brought them both together fighting?” It’s not a rhetorical or allegorical question for Homer. He has an answer. Apollo did. Job, from the context of the narrative, doesn’t worship multiple gods. He worships the one God. So when he loses everything, it’s natural for him to ascribe it to God. It’s also what his friends assume — which is why they spend so much time trying to explain why God must have done it and Job must have deserved it.

But we know from the story that God didn’t take anything from Job. God never really explains himself to Job, but as the reader that’s one of the things we must understand. (Job is also a type or shadow of Christ as the suffering servant in the narrative. But that’s another discussion.)

Moreover, that should not come as any surprise to a Christian. In the sermon on the mount, when Jesus commands us to love our enemies, it’s so that we might by sons of our Father in heaven. Why? Because God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust. He is a good God who loves mankind without condition or reservation.

Ours is the God who makes all things new, from whom the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. We respond to evil by doing good, by blessing, and by acting to heal and restore.

Our God is a good God — a God of divine love. We must always speak of him in those terms when we dare to speak at all.


The Didache 6 – Be Perfect

Posted: June 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect.

This line of the teaching haunts me. It echos Jesus in its call for us to live the way of love and by so doing to be perfect. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches (Matthew 5:43-48) that as we learn to love our enemies (and thus have no enemies) we will be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.

And again, a rich, young, devout man comes to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22) seeking life. He has followed the way of Torah faithfully, yet recognizes that something is still lacking. Jesus’ answer begins with “If you want to be perfect …” Being perfect, then, is connected to receiving life and involves sacrificing to care for the poor as we follow Jesus.

James adds another layer (James 1:2-8) to the mix. If we’re going to be perfect, it seems we must have patience. And patience comes through trials and suffering. If our faith is never tested, it seems we would have difficulty becoming perfect. Some of the things we suffer, then, are for our salvation. I can look back on my life and see that pretty clearly at times.

There is a strain within Protestantism that holds that even if you never struggle to actively love your enemies, care for the poor, remain faithful through trials, or visibly ever change from the person you were into a person shaped and colored by Jesus of Nazareth, nevertheless you can somehow be “saved” if you give some sort of mental assent to some ideas about Jesus. It’s as though they believe the God who has freely allowed them to shape and form themselves into the person they desire to be will suddenly, after their death, magically change them into the person they should have been, but never tried or desired to be in life.

I have to confess, I don’t understand that perspective. I see a God who created us to be shaped and formed by the way of love, the way of life, the way of Jesus. But I also see a God who allows us to shape ourselves into whatever sort of creature we desire to be. And while I see much evidence that in our death and resurrection God will complete our transformation in ways we can hardly fathom or imagine in acts of new creation, I see no evidence that he will contravene our will and shape us into something other than what we desired to be in life. In the new creation we will become in truth and outward reality what we have desired to be in our heart.

For good or ill.