I can hear Job complaining to God right now; asking why coronavirus or any virus has to exist and destroy so much that is good in life. God’s response to Job might be that even viruses have good purpose. Ask a virologist. And as organisms, living things, they have a freedom to move hindered only by the ability of free human beings to destroy them. Having been the recipient of malaria through the bite of a mosquito, I understand this. It would appear that the human reach has not extended to the parts of the world where over 400,000 people die of malaria each year. I am somewhat certain that mosquitos have some beneficial purpose, food for bats for one thing. And if I were Job I certainly would ask God what the big plan for ticks was?
There is freedom in this creation. That’s what God intended. And this freedom is only bounded by God at work WITH his creation. God’s work involves a humanity first created to commune and work with God to care for all of creation. Think about Moses for a moment. He is said to have parted the sea but he was the human agent involved with God and with the natural element of wind. Moses was God’s partner. When we read the Bible we always read about humanity and God together: from Adam and Eve to Abraham to Jesus, humanity is freely working with God towards good, for the most part.
In these past painful weeks, with more to come throughout the world, we have witnessed the human community come together to fight; to limit a common enemy.
People on this earth are pursuing a good by all means possible, even at the risk of their own lives. Religious and non-religious folks have become a community to work out God’s good purposes. God doesn’t want this virus any more than you or I do. God is not punishing anyone or wanting anyone to suffer. Just consider what Jesus did to heal. It’s not as if God gave people demons and afflictions only to have his son work to get rid of them. Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for the man’s blindness, Jesus responded that it was the fault of no one in particular but rather it was the will of God to get this man well and know that wellness was the will of the Father in heaven. What hurts and destroys is not God’s intention.
In Haiti there is a saying, ‘Bon Dye Pa Di Sa’ (God didn’t say that), in reference to why there is disease, earthquakes and such. No, God is at work to influence, to draw people together to fight, heal, and comfort. And yes, at certain levels people resist that influence because of their own egos. That is the risk of free will. God’s grace is making a difference as it has throughout history. The miracles of God will be found in the thousands of stories that will come out of this ‘evil’ experience.
Please realize that what I am writing is from a worldview that sees Christ as the best revelation of God’s will for his creation – that one day it will be brand new. For those who have died it IS a reality, even though it brings ache and agony to friends and family.
Right now through the medicine, intellect, faith, prayer, love, sacrifice and grief of millions of people on this planet, a difference is being made. There WILL be healing and good through God’s love and the efforts of humanity. That which intends evil can be changed into good by the grace and will of God working through his creation, particularly human agency.
May God grant special, willing and wise hearts of the government leaders and people of medicine to assist all humanity in the days ahead.
The coronavirus has changed the way most of us think. Some didn’t pay attention when it was first announced. But most of us have now heeded the warnings and cautions and we have adjusted life accordingly. People seem to be more caring for one another. They are finding ways of making connections. Many are sacrificing their own safety to serve others.
So I got to thinking – when Jesus came into the world his message was ‘change your way of thinking because God has come into your midst to create new hope-filled life instead of the fear and enslavement you’ve been used to’. Jesus came to say that he was providing a way to God’s life. You might remember the exact wording: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.”
Now we’ve got scientists and health providers, ‘messiahs’ if you will, telling us how to get better, stay well and enjoy life. I’m sure they soon will let us know they have figured out the way to the ‘kingdom’ of healing and wholeness. And most of us believe what they are saying is true and we are willing to follow.
As in the days of Jesus, some of our leaders turn a blind eye to these ‘messiahs’ and insist their way is best. This got me to thinking that when Jesus says he is the only way to God’s life, he wasn’t being exclusionary. He was stating a fact – that his life, death and resurrection were providing for the whole world a way of healing, hope and eternal life. He provided this for everyone.
I personally think everyone will receive, by God’s grace, the antidote to hopelessness. But a lot of folks just won’t appreciate or trust the giver of the gift and thus they will miss the very conscious new life that is being made available to them.
So when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom is here”, he is telling us to change the way we think about love, hope, justice, forgiveness and even death. For God is healing this creation by his personal involvement. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s on a rescue mission to show that there is a better way to live – with him.
The Sermon on the Mount is our health guide. There is a reason we call Jesus the Great Physician. He came to begin the process of healing, of reconciliation of heart and mind with God. And around the world there are emergency clinics – churches, synagogues, temples – where ‘paramedics’ are trained to care for the least.
Two-thousand years after Jesus we are still in need of the Great Physician. Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to ‘keep an eye out and pray so that you are not distracted from the One who is able to do for you more than you can even imagine’.
Is it not possible that we as Christians are subject to the groaning of this world just as anyone else? While we may not fear evil, the ultimate loss of faith, we do need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
There is, in all of this, a type of abandonment. Some feel abandoned by God whose oft-repeated promises seem to insulate believers from earthly trials. But the God we have come know and trust in Christ subjected himself to the worst the world would offer, to the point of crucifixion. The true sign of the faith is trusting the crucified Christ – the pioneer of our faith and our own journeys. Pioneers lead the way through the worst to discover the best. Even those travellers in long ago America had their share of fear, anxiety, and doubt but they knew to keep their eyes on their leader. (See Hebrews 12:2)
Sometimes even the firmest of believers have to experience what the ancient writer called the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ As we walk blindly through this, God extends his hand to guide us beyond the grave circumstances of earth’s bounds. It is only through this ‘dying’ that we truly encounter Christ. The disciples discovered that truth.
In 1939 amidst the Nazi rise to power, King George VI of England, gave a speech in which he quoted the poet Minnie Haskins, entitled “The Gate of the Year” (1908):
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God – that shall be better than light and safer haven than a known way.’
Back in 48 A.D. the church was predominantly Jewish. Soon Samaritans entered and then the Gentile world responded to the Good News. And get this- the church rulers at the time went from 613 laws of Moses to just 4, an interesting 4 at that (see Acts 15). Gentile Christians were asked to abstain from food that had been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming the blood of animals.
Why these four? It had something to do with accommodating the consciences of Jewish believers. It was like a negotiation in order that the two groups would be able to fellowship together. Sort of like today the Presbyterians saying they won’t baptize infants while hanging out with the Baptists.
Today those four laws that came from the Council (in Acts 15) are not required for Gentile Christians. In fact most of them are not even understandable to a lot of Christians. Jewish Christians these days do celebrate many of the traditions found in the Old Testament but not as legal requirements.
But what about the question of sexual immorality? What did that even mean? It meant rampant promiscuous sexual activity outside the context of marriage between a man and woman.
Now, a parable of sorts: God is the great Maestro conducting his orchestra in such a way as to accommodate people who have learned to play a different tune And God also accommodates people who play, in some people’s opinion, out of tune. See, the tune we play is not what gives us entrance into the orchestra. It’s our trust of the Maestro to get our music to the place of glory. The Maestro has been making such accommodations since the beginning of time.
This little parable is meant for us today. Jesus gives us two commandments that he says cover the whole law. They sum up everything God wants from us. One is to love God with our whole being and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves, as Paul repeats in one of his letters.
So what about people who are of homosexual orientation and practice? Why are we laying a heavy burden on them which denies them God’s love and their intimate love for one another? I am not speaking of promiscuous sex, which is in reality outside the bounds of real love for all of us. I’m emphasizing friendship love and romantic love that comes from a commitment between two people.
In my humble opinion, we are not to prohibit homosexual Christians from embracing faith or being embraced by the church community. This is a legitimate accommodation the Maestro makes for the Kingdom Orchestra. If any person knows and lives God’s love they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yes, there is a change in the tune since 48 A.D. And God is smiling upon all the new members of his orchestra. God’s ongoing love makes more than an accommodation. He creates something beautiful from all corners of his gorgeous and glorious creation.
Most all of us have heard the saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I personally don’t believe there are atheists anywhere. God has implanted in every soul just enough light or awareness to know that somewhere, somehow God or even ‘a god’ exists. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-21: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!” By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So no one has a good excuse.
What happened was this: people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, and refused to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. The reality of God is present to everyone everywhere but people, though they know God, choose not to honor God. Some people even worship or honor themselves, which is sort of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And since the world we live in is one large foxhole you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t look for help outside of themselves.
From the Scriptures we learn there is something of God’s life in every part of creation. “Everything was created through him (the logos – universal divine reason); nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.” John 1:3
In Acts 17 Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens. They wanted to believe in something and he explained to them that the ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’. 22-23 “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know whom you’re dealing with.”
Somewhere there is a source of justice or people wouldn’t say, ‘it’s just not fair’. Some even ask how a ‘good God’ could allow evil? These are all questions pointing to a ‘higher power’.
1-2 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.” Psalm 19
“God has not left himself without some witness to his being, and his goodness.” Acts 14:17
Even astrologers searched the skies for the Messiah and thus found him before the religious leaders did. Expressions such as ‘knocking on wood’, ‘the man upstairs’, ‘oh my God’, ‘thank God’ or even ‘thank goodness’, are all tied to a sense of someone outside of ourselves.
And so I would like to suggest that the lady who touches Jesus’ garment in Luke 8 actually ‘steals’ a miracle provided to her by God’s grace. Perhaps ‘steal’ is a bit too strong; we might say that she clandestinely finds a way to God through her touch.
A friend of mine says that every person on earth has some point of contact with God in his or her life. For the woman in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus garment was that point of contact, getting just close enough to the ever-present grace of God. Here’s her story from vs. 43-45: “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’ When no one stepped forward, Peter said, ‘But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.’”
God causes his sunshine and rain to fall upon the evil and good folk alike. Jesus referred to God’s care for everyone in the Sermon on the Mount. In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, Papa (God) says to the protagonist Mac, ‘God is particularly fond of you, you and everyone.’
For the woman in our story in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus’ garment was just enough. She made the effort to receive that which had been waiting for her, as orchestrated by God the Maestro. In Matthew 9:21 the words are recorded that she really wanted to touch this healer, this Messiah, and she wanted to do it discreetly, for her problem was probably a chronic menstrual bleeding which would have made her too unclean to touch Christ, the holy man. A point of contact. A miracle stolen. Or the grace of God just hanging there for the taking.
As a pastor there were many times I was asked to perform a marriage, a funeral or a baptism by people who were looking secretly for some good luck, a good start, some comfort, all being points of contact to touch the sky as it were. I suspect for many the motive was to get closer to God; and for many it was a matter of doing ‘the right thing’. But either way these were all points of contact. Sometimes a hospital visit for a non-believing patient, a telephone call, a prayer are points of contact. Who knows how the point of contact will bring life? Because life is what God is about and God is everywhere at every moment.
“Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree—
“and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner
where I can’t see him?”
“Am I not present everywhere,
whether seen or unseen?”
God’s Decree. Jeremiah 23:23-24
Now here’s the thing. Christians are the body of Christ, clothed with Christ at all levels of maturity but the grace belongs to our strong loving God. We may not even have faith enough but even that’s enough for it was the faithfulness of Jesus that impacted the lady. “But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” Galatians 3: 25-27
That’s what people touch, the unseen faithfulness of Christ at work in us. Sometimes we know it and sometimes not but God knows and loves so well.
And now, the rest of the story. This beautiful thief is ‘caught’. Not by the disciples. They are still learning the extent of the master’s grace. They are bewildered by Jesus’ question, ‘Who touched me?’ because everyone was jostling the disciples and Jesus, pressing in against the Messiah. But in the melee there was a secret desirous touch of an unclean woman. She wanted to remain anonymous but the miracle was so evident in her body and her life that she confesses to why she touched Jesus.
Now I think Jesus is thrilled that this ostracized woman would dare come close enough, risking her reputation, but her story is meant for every soul that thinks itself unworthy of God’s grace.
Sometimes I wonder if Christians might sense the pressing in of a neighbor or loved one or a social outcast who wouldn’t darken the doorway of a church. A word, a touch, a whispered prayer may just activate the power and grace that is all around us.
Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovare which is a great ministry/organization concerning Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.
Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he makes the analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. HIs writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon specializing in treating Leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.
Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings such as anger, sadness, depression and much more.
Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.
So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain.
Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.
We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s bee attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success just to name a few methods of denial.
Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12.
‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’
Maybe the questions isn’t ‘what do you believe?’ Maybe a better question is the one we often have asked our children, “Where does it hurt”.
No one who is born of God continues to sin (1 John 3:6). ‘Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48)
We don’t strive for imperfection. It is a natural occurrence. Imperfection is our failure to succeed in our goals or it may be the undesirable qualities in our character such as flaws or inadequacies or such.
We tend to think of our imperfections as failings or even sin but in truth they are part of the maturation process that God is working in our lives. We may be made righteous in God’s judgment when we are in Christ but for the rest of our lives remains the process of sanctification. Becoming more like the God, in whose image we are made, is an ongoing process.
The image of God is not completely erased in humanity though it has been defaced sometimes to the point of being unrecognizable. It is under the shadow of sin whereby we see dimly as in a dirty mirror. Yet, by placing our confidence in Christ, we are ‘new creations.’ (2Cor. 5:17) Accordingly, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God remembers our sin no more under the new covenant. (Hebrews 8:12)
In the Fall of humankind creation has distanced itself from the creator, but through Christ we are finding our way back. And the Grace of God in Christ back sustains the way.
I think of Christians as slightly imperfect in their walk, in that sin is still a part of our lives. However, God doesn’t see us as our sin but through the work, the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. Slightly imperfect means we don’t have it all together, we are not as mature as we could be. We are a work, God’s work, in progress, ever moving forward. In some respects our lives might even be a mess but we are God’s mess delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s son. (Colossians 1:13)
While some people might not find value in us, God does. He loves us immeasurably. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. That’s his intimate value and knowledge of us.
But here’s the thing. Our flesh, our ego, that natural part of us, still sometimes deeply affects our relationship with God. We say we trust God but we worry. We are greedy. We are fearful and rebellious. But by God’s grace we are ever more steadily making our way into the rightful Kingdom. Luther once wrote that we are sinners and saints at the same time. Jesus tells us to be perfect. Our life’s work is in understanding that maturity and living into it.
Let’s take a modern example to illustrate what this all means. If we have an addiction problem we go to the ‘rooms’ where others are dealing with the same struggle. And the only requirement to be there is the desire to stop the addiction, the behavior that is ruining us. One can actually go to an A.A. meeting intoxicated if he or she really wants to stop drinking.
Now I figure it is no less meaningful for the sinner who goes before God, to be able to say, ‘I want to stop sinning and follow Jesus more closely. That’s my greatest wish. I desire forgiveness and new life’. That is an imperfect Christian on the right path to God’s perfection. Much as Paul meant when he wrote ‘work out your salvation in fear and trembling because God is at work in you to bring about the best according to God’s will.’ (Philippians 2:12,13)
The imperfect Christian is allowed by GRACE to struggle without shame and doubt but is transparent about these issues before other trustworthy brothers and sisters. They believe their sins are forgiven but their memory of their sins is better than God’s memory of their sins.
The imperfect Christian is willing to engage in the disciplines of the Christ life. Prayer, reading scripture, worship, loving others and more are exercises that will help the follower. Jesus will strengthen his or her faith, trust and confidence. The imperfect Christian will seek knowledge not for its own sake but so that such wisdom will help them grow. Christ’s gracious call is to take his yoke upon ourselves for the purpose of training us to live our lives with him, by him and through him. There is a bumper sticker, which proclaims ‘Not perfect just forgiven’. That is a loophole for not trying our best. It is a statement that we are forgiven and going to heaven; but there is a lot of life to be lived in the meantime.
Recall Jesus words in Matthew 5:48. ‘Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Jesus spoke those words with regards to loving our enemies, those who annoy irritate or even abuse us. Being perfect means being the best we can be. For example, if you are a carpenter just starting out you want to frame a house as best you can. Taking shortcuts is not an option. And while you may not be as good as a 30 year veteran you still do your best. That is if you are going to stay in business. The same would go for a teacher, a mom or a dad or anyone with any integrity. And as Christians we strive for our best but do not feel shame when our best might not on par with say, wait for it,… Jesus.
We are on a path, following the Son of God who has called us to place our confidence in him. It was late Christian songwriter, Keith Green, who sang the words, ‘you give God your best and he’ll take care of the rest’. The Christian is called to strive for the prize. (Philippians 3:14) We are urged to press on. And when we fall we pick ourselves up and get back in the race. (Thank you, Frank Sinatra)
But we don’t beat ourselves up. We don’t live in guilt and wallow in shame. And if our fall is, in our own mind, a sin- then we confess that to God and know, really know, that we are forgiven and thus freed to live for Christ.
I want you to imagine a relationship between two people in love where neither has expectations for the other, where neither keeps score of any wrongs that occur. This is the state of the person who is ‘in Christ’ and thereby in union with God. And this position of salvation and life is sustained and maintained by the grace of the Father. The Bible says that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly place. (Ephesians 2:6) which I take to mean, ‘out of harms way’ in terms of any kind of judgment. So we are truly freed from having to ‘feel’ like we should be better than we are trying our best to be.
Let’s consider the analogy of an electrician who is mentoring an apprentice. The mentor states that all that is needed is the apprentice’s trust and best effort. At their first meeting it is agreed that the degree and job are guaranteed. Of course there will be direction and even correction and warnings here and there but the covenant has been established and will not be broken. So too God is not breaking his covenant with us because it is Jesus who has sealed that covenant in his own blood.
All this gives us the freedom to live for Christ because at the heart of it all is the truth that it is not we who are living this life, but it is Christ who is living it in us. (Galatians 2:20)
As a pastor I have always made it my goal to help others draw closer to God through faith in Christ. Theologically I would self identify as an evangelical Calvinist through most of my ministry but now am more Arminian. I am even coming closer to an Evangelical Universalist meaning that Christ is the only means of atonement and salvation but that God has His own ways of applying that salvation to folks who don’t quite get it. More on that later.
So in years gone by I have used the word ‘grace’ quite loosely, never quite sure of the depth of it’s meaning except that it has to do with the activity of God in our lives (believers or not).
If you have read the book THE SHACK, you will recall Mack, the dad who ends up talking with God about an unimaginable tragedy in his family’s life. If you haven’t read the book, stop here and go order it. Good. Now. At one point Mack reflects on his faith and that of his wife. He says, “My faith is wide and hers is deep.”.
I want to dig deeper in my relationship with God through His word. At the same time I would like to think that he inspires some of my thoughts and even my questioning about his love for His creation and me. This is my journey. I think of the words of the singing group U2: “I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR”.
And I guess that’s good because searching is good. Anselm, an old wise philosopher and theologian around once wrote :”Theology is faith in search of understanding. ”At the age of 70 I sometimes feel like a kid in college again taking classes, this time from the Master on what the purpose of life really is. Yes, I know the great commandments: to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. But there’s a whole lot of meaning within those words. Depth.
Life is not just as simple as some folks make it out to be. Come to think of it, most honest to God people don’t really think that life is all that simple, nor is love and faith and figuring out the will of God or just wanting the will of God over and against our own wills.
Back around 1647 over in England a group of smart clergy and scholars got together. They wanted to write up articles of faith to define themselves, mostly over and against the Roman Catholics. They wrote a Westminster Confession of Faith and from it came the Westminster Catechism, a series of questions and answers about Christian faith mainly used in training people within the church. The first question is: ‘What is the chief purpose of humanity?’ And the answer is: ‘To glorify God and to enjoy him foreve. Ah, to enjoy God and to radiate his person would be wonderful indeed so let’s explore issues around faith, love, God, suffering, and a whole lot more that is on my mind. I call this little book, GRACE MATTERS. And it will become obvious why.
And I won’t be afraid to push the envelope concerning God’s love because I think that grace is a whole lot more than we could even imagine. It comforts us and challenges us. It challenges our collective ego as Christians to think we could ever put God in some kind of box or within a formula that excludes a whole lot of other folks. I am more interested in taking down walls rather than building one.
I am a hunter, of sorts. I like to find things that I want or need. Google search and Amazon are my favorite sites. I have also searched for people, mostly girls- in my youth. I would pretty much go to any length to secure a date with someone I was attracted to. I’d sit in classrooms writing notes to pass to the object of my affection. I’d find ways to meet up in the hallways. I’d join the same clubs or music groups just to be near them. Hey, who really understands young love? Then I met Gigi, my wife of almost 48 years now. As I like to say, ‘I chased her till she caught me.’
Back to the GRACE.
Grace, simply put, is God’s pursuit of you and me out of God’s love for the creation and us.
The FIRST instance of grace in the Bible takes place after our ancestors ate the ‘forbidden fruit’. Genesis 3:8,9 (NIV)
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
That’s a great image. God taking a walk on the earth to find humanity that somehow thought they could hide from God. And God, who knows everything, actually calls out to his hidden rebels as though he wants them to know he’s searching for them. They had shared a beautiful intimate relationship from which they broke and their God is not giving up on them. God wants their hearts to know that God’s heart is still in love with them. And God takes the initiative to find them. (That’s grace.)
God will find them and rescue them and keep them in relationship with God come hell or high water, through countless rebellions and acts of idolatry until God completes the plan of salvation through Jesus.
One might say that grace actually happened long ago in eternity because we read that Christ actually was slain, sacrificed, from before the foundation of the world. (See Rev. 13:8 and 1Peter 1:18-20).
There’s a magnificent purpose statement of Jesus in Luke 19:10 in which he states that the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.
God’s action to find, save, reconcile and redeem all creation is the meaning of grace. There’s that ‘nutshell’. In 2 Corinthians 5 we read that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God.
God is the great lover of our souls. The Bible affirms that ‘God is love’, not anger, judgment, or enmity. Evil is God’s only enemy and God will go to any lengths to save us. And when the objects of God’s affection get lost, run away or hide, God will pursue them through all eternity and welcome them back home, as marvelously illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son. (See Luke 15.)
So no matter what difficulty you might be having with faith and obedience there is no need to hide from God. God’s love will embrace you. God will love us always. God’s love is eternal. As Paul writes in Romans 8, there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
And… God’s love will change us. That’s grace.
By the way- Gigi’s love has changed me. I haven’t always liked the process but I can tell you that it’s all good.
Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.
God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.
Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).
Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.
The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love – God wanting the best for his wayward children.
See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.
Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’
So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.
Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’
In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).
Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.
There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.