He Loves Me!
This devotional is a series of excerpts from Wayne Jacobsen's life changing book, He Loves Me! Download a PDF of this book by clicking the link below.
Day 7: Contradictory Portraits
Here is the problem, isn't it? Scripture seems to paint two contradictory portraits of the Living God-a terrible judge and a loving Father. Which is it? Can he be both? We read not only that God has prepared hell for the unbelieving, but also that he commanded Joshua to practice ethnic cleansing in Canaan, poured out fire from heaven to consume Sodom and Gomorrah and opened the earth to swallow those who opposed Moses. Unapproachable in his purity, even the most righteous fell on their faces near his presence paralyzed by their unworthiness. He demanded unquestioning obedience and punished with unspeakable anguish those who did not comply.
No wonder we're at least a little confused when he appears in the New Testament telling us how much he loves us and inviting us to be his children. We see Jesus healing the sick, forgiving prostitutes and murderers, going into the houses of sinners. He invited children in his lap and portrayed his Father as so tender that the most wayward sinner could run to his side in absolute safety.
So what happened to God? Did he get saved somewhere between Malachi and Matthew? Had he reinvented himself into a nicer, gentler God? Of course not! He is unchanging, the same throughout all eternity.
So, then is he both? Is he kind and gentle to those who please him, and vengeful toward the wicked? That's what many of us have been taught to think, which is why we end up playing he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not games. We sift through every event to try and figure out if we are in his favor or out of it. If we think we are in, we can relax and coast through life. If, however, we think our difficulties prove we are out of favor then we have to try harder to please him; a course of action, Paul warns us against. True righteousness cannot come from human effort.
There's the problem. I can't please him until I'm certain of his love for me, but he will not love me if I cannot please him. This is an endless loop that offers no resolution. How can he be a mean and vengeful God one moment and a kind and tender one the next. Those portraits don't depict the same God in different circumstances, but rather contradictory portraits that leave us confused and uncertain of God's true nature. Unless we can glean from Scripture a cohesive view of God's nature we'll never know who he really is or have the confidence to embrace the relationship he desires with us. God did not change between Malachi and Matthew. Our perception of him, however, changed drastically.
Before Jesus came we could only see God's actions and assume he was moved by motivations similar to our own. His actions against sin made him appear as if he didn't care for people. His attempts to teach his people to trust him were misunderstood as vengeful punishment.
Jesus changed all of that. By listening to his words and watching how he lived we suddenly see God's motivations. He fully reflected the Father's glory so we might know him as he really is and no longer be victims of our own misinterpretations. Love dwells at the core of God's being, and the Old Testament contains hundreds of pictures of a God who is rich in mercy, willing to forgive, and passionate about setting us free from the sin that diminishes and devours the life he wants us to experience in him.
He allows us the consequences of sin, not because he delights in our anguish, but so that we can see its devastating effects and run to the only one in the universe who can set us free from them. His wrath against sin was not his rejection of us in anger, but only a reflection of the depth of his love that cannot look away unconcerned as sin destroys us.
These are not mere philosophical issues. If we aren't certain of God's motives towards us, we will never have confidence to engage his presence in the reality of our lives. We'll keep him at a safe distance and miss what he desires most for us-a friendship with him more real and more powerful than any we've known before.