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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Now that finals are over, I finally get to start catching up with blogging. A week or two ago, Real Live Preacher posted something that caught my eye. Now, I usually like a lot of what RLP says, but this gave me pause. It all started when a reader named Sherrie emailed him with a question:
Dear RLP,

The pastor at my church said something this weekend that has bothered me. He is doing a series on King Solomon and was talking about Solomon’s greed. My pastor mentioned that God will judge him. I was under the impression that God doesn’t judge. Can you help me with this?

That's a great question. What would you say if someone asked you this? If you haven't already seen RLP's answer, take a minute to read it (it's short).

First of all, there's much in RLP's response that I like. The easy (popular) answer is simply to say, "God is a God of love, of course he doesn't judge." Of course, that's not the answer Scripture gives, and RLP doesn't either. He points out that:
The Bible does say things about God’s nature, but it also preserves the mystery of God. I am convinced that the intelligence who created the cosmos is far beyond anything I can ever understand.
In other words, God is a whole lot bigger than we are. We need to be careful about assuming that we can fit God into our little box, we need to be cautious about judging him according to our standards. Having made that clarification, RLP continues:
Keeping all that in mind, I can tell you that the Bible says that God does indeed judge us. Perhaps you have some rather negative ideas about judgment. Maybe you’ve been judged harshly yourself. I understand why that word has negative connotations nowadays. But when we speak of the judgment of God, it is another way of saying that God understands some things to be right and others wrong. If God knows what is righteous, how can God not judge us when we do things that work against what is right and good?
I think he's stated this nicely. He recognizes that many of us have had bad experiences with others wrongly judging or condeming us. And yet he affirms God's right to judge, even though that's probably not what this woman wants to hear.

So what about love, grace? RLP continues:
But if the God of scripture judges us, the Bible also makes it clear that this God loves and forgives us. The love and forgiveness of God also exist in a measure that is utterly beyond our ability to understand. The Bible speaks of God KNOWING us, and uses that word in a very broad and ancient way. To be known by God is to be known completely. So the God who knows when we are wrong is the same God who loves and forgives us beyond measure.

If we tried to put God into an idea that you and I can understand, we might say that God is like someone who knows all of your faults but loves you anyway. Loves you enough to die for you.
I think all of this is basically correct. But there's something that bothers me in his response. It's not so much what he's said, but what he hasn't. So what's missing from this picture?

It's Jesus.

Maybe I'm just being oversensitive here, but I've read this thing through several times, and he's just not in there. There is no reference to Christ (other than the oblique "he loves you enough to die for you"). And I think that's a big deal.

You see, we live in a culture that has tremendous faith in the love and goodness of God. We are convinced that God will accept us just as we are. All of us. No matter how bad we've screwed up. And that's true.

But Scripture is very clear, it goes much further: God's acceptance and favor is grounded in our being united to Christ. That ONLY happens when we place our trust and confidence in Christ, in what he's done. The right answer is, "Yes, there IS judgment, for every wrong and injustice we have ever committed (and every right thing that we haven't done). But God is also gracious - he has made a way for someone else to bear that judgment. It's Christ. Put all your confidence in him."

And that seems to be missing from RLP's response. Yes he rightly reserves God's right to judge. Yes he points out that God is also loving and merciful. But he says nothing of how that grace and mercy is accessed - it only comes through personal, active, trust in Christ. And that last little bit makes all the difference in the world.

Our only hope to escape God's judgment (which we rightly deserve) is to be united to Christ, who bears that judgment for us. But if we are not united to Christ, we have no hope. Sorry. That's why Christ charged his disciples to proclaim good news to the nations. That's why we believe in "mission." Our only hope is Christ. Apart from him, we are in deep weeds. Christ IS our message.

I'm not sure whether RLP's omission here was intentional, or merely oversight. But it concerns me deeply, because its close enough to the truth to sound awfully attractive. But it's not the gospel. And I think that should concern us all.


At 10:12 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

This whole conversation reminds me of the Barbara Walters special on heaven. Barbara was very congenial and almost "awe-struck" with just about every religious leader she spoke to on the topic - except when she spoke with Pastor Ted Haggard from New Life church in Colorado Springs. With him, she was somewhat pointed and even a tad condescending. Why? Because he brought up the "J" word... he had the audacity to suggest that the only way one is fully guaranteed eternal life (heaven) is by being born again in Christ. Of course, Barbara Walters read this as narrow and judgmental to which Haggard replied that, no, he was not trying to be judgmental - he was simply sharing the truth.

My point here, of course, is that Jesus Christ ALWAYS stirs up the heart and demands lines to be drawn. He IS the "Great Divide" and there is no way to get around that. No, "good people" don't go to heaven without a relationship with Christ. That's not being narrow, that's being honest. Haggard used the example of someone saying, "Well, MY belief is that drinking Drano is okay." They can believe that all they want... but, in the end, drinking Drano will kill you regardless of how much you believe in it.

I spend time at RLP as well and, though some of the thoughts lean towards being a tad angry, I'm okay with all of it - I'll take passion over apathy any day of the week...


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