My readers are probably fed up by now with the way in which I keep reiterating that there are Christians who seem to determined to wring every bit of Bad News that they can out of the Good News. Examples of such articles are here and here. I didn’t mean to rant, honest! 😀
Anyway, my dear friend Mo Thomas looks at this phenomenon in some detail in this post, where he explains some of it with refererence to identifying how he himself used to believe. And he’s right in his thinking.
Responding to Mo’s piece, I wrote a short prose filling out a few other points, which he liked. Together, I believe these two pieces make for some instructive reading, which I think goes to the heart of the pessimistic outlook of those Christians, from two different angles. That’s why I thought I’d share it here with you. It has certainly helped me to see things from their perspective!
Over-Exaggerating God’s Goodness
Why is there such massive pushback in our churches, perhaps even outrage, against an unconditionally loving and merciful God, whom we hope will eventually rescue and save all people? Do people just not want a successful Savior?!?
Well… it’s more complicated than that.
Many that fall into this category are simply trying to honor God by taking the scriptures seriously and literally. They aren’t purposely painting God as a genocidal murderer and cruel torturer and giver of death and disease… instead, they sincerely believe these are unfair and grossly inaccurate labels that atheists tend to hurl as accusations and caricatures. They categorically believe the Bible says what the Bible plainly says, which means that God can and does do whatever He pleases – even if this includes behavior that we would, without hesitation, know is evil.
This was me for most of my life.
Here were a few points of my previous, seriously literal, Biblical logic:
1. God is filled with both love AND wrath, and without the darkness of “violent OT” [Old Testament – Ed] God and “overseer of hell” God, Jesus’ radical love in the Gospels is diminished and perhaps even meaningless without the contrast.
2. The Gospel by definition is centered on a CHOICE that REQUIRES some are in, and some MUST BE out, or else why did Jesus die at all?? In this case, “out” means you will be banished to a place of endless horrifying torture, the just requirement of an infinitely holy God.
3. There was a certain security and even (unspoken) pride in knowing I was heading to heaven’s bliss because of something I had done or believed. It also provides a sense of belonging to be in the “in” group with all the “in” benefits, in STARK contrast with those currently excluded.
4. The parable of the vineyard highlights how furious the “early arrival” workers became when learning the Master paid the “late arrival” workers the exact same amount. It seems so very unfair to say that EVERYTHING depended on the character of the Master, REGARDLESS of how long or how hard or how sincerely anyone worked. I guess I really wanted, in some sense, for God to place a great deal of weight on my life-long diligence, knowledge, choices, and hard work when it came to receiving His benefits.
My unraveling began as the nameless, faceless people, in the stories I read and the sermons I heard, started to become humanized in my heart. These were real flesh and blood image-bearers who, according to the narrative, suffer at the hands of God, in gratuitously violent and soul-sickening ways that I simply could NOT reconcile with the character of Abba as revealed by Jesus.
I also saw that my theology had been mainly propped up on MY beliefs and MY works, rather than on Christ – Their beliefs and Their works and Their loving acceptance of me into Their heart long before my birth.
So I started asking questions, and I encountered the Holy Fire of Their Love that unveiled the terrifying and utterly beautiful nature of raw, unfiltered Grace.
(By the By… it’s IMPOSSIBLE to over-
exaggerate the Goodness of God…
you will be forgiven for trying)
– Mo Thomas, used here with his kind and indeed enthusiastic permission
Of course, that post got me thinking. And, as so often happens when I read others’ posts, it helped me to crystallise my own thinking from over the last few months or so.
Here’s what I put:
I agree that they are trying to honour the ‘whole counsel of Scripture’, but of course even that depends on interpretation and on being able to see the whole arc of the story. For example, treating the OT Scriptures as if Jesus never came is a mistake that is all too common. We cannot give the same weight to OT Scriptures where they are superseded by the revelation of God in Christ.
Something else is that in our lives we are conditioned to believe that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Maybe that hesitancy to believe that the incredible, [insert superlatives of choice] Good News really is as good as we claim, is based on that reluctance to believe that things can really be that good. Especially when we combine it with being told that God is Good, and holding that up against the crap that happens in the world. Evidence from civilisation suggests that God is not good, or at least if He is, then He’s not doing much about the bad stuff that happens.
For those who have experienced first-hand the goodness of God, there is no other way of seeing things except that God is indeed Good – and yes, that’s ‘all the time’ 🙂 But a combination of our fear of being let down (again), nature being red in tooth and claw, and shit being allowed to happen unchecked, and things being too good to be true, I suppose it’s no wonder that we fall short of allowing ourselves to bask in the fulness of the knowledge of just how Good the Good News really is.
So, there we are. Lots to think about there, and hopefully some understanding has been gained too.
Too Good to be True? Well, I think it was Kurt and Katy Adkins that said, “…if it is not too good to be true, then it is not the Gospel”
I think I’d agree with that 😀