I recently listened to a sermon where the guy speaking spent 26 minutes on how God was mad/angry/disgusted with human beings. He lifted verse after verse about this. From there, he spent two minutes on how God does all this because God wants what is best for you. God does this all for your good.
(Incidentally, I am actually grateful for the opportunity to listen to a talk like this. I know these verse are out there, and as I shared last week, part of my journey of faith is making sense of them. This is a whole other conversation, but for now, I think it is important to just say they are used out of context to prove how angry God is.)
Now let my ask a question. If you spend 26 minutes on God being angry, and 2 minutes on God liking you, and follow it up with poop smearing, do you really believe that two minutes? Can you really ask anyone else to believe it?
As we have explored faith, you may notice that one of the primary narratives here is “trust.”
Faith is not about believing all the right things, faith is about trust. And defining faith this way is a lot more helpful in how we think about following Jesus. In fact, I often try to replace the word faith with trust when I read the Bible, because it helps make everything make so much more sense.
Yet most of what we experience is Christianity is fear and guilt based.
We often start with the assumption that God is angry. A lot of very popular evangelism curriculum and strategies begin here. Evangelism is about making sure people know that they are bad and that God is pissed about it.
Only when you truly recognize how angry God is with you, and feel appropriately guilty, are you able to enter into the Kingdom. Perhaps you have heard the phrase: For Good News to really be Good News, you have to start with bad news.
I don’t know about you, but I have enough bad news. I want a faith that helps me make sense of the bad news.
Further, look at how we often articulate Jesus. God is angry and wants somebody to hit. But Jesus steps in and says, hit me not them. So God does.
My question is: How do you trust a God like that? How do you trust the angry God who wants to smear poop on you, but oh by the way God does it for your own good?
Maybe I can get behind Jesus in this scenario..but God? My question will always be, when is God going to want to hit me again.
If we begin the story with a God who wants to lash out at me because of how awful I am, then the rest of the story is about making sure God is happy with me. Because if I start with an angry God, even if I get to a place where I am doing the right things, in the back of my mind I have to wonder what it will take to send God over the edge again.
It is not about trusting a benevolent being. It is about doing whatever I can to avoid getting incinerated. It is based on compliance and fear, not love and trust.
And compliance and fear is not the story God wants us to be a part of.
As we looked at a couple of weeks ago the story actually begins with hospitality. The story begins with a good God who makes people in an act of self-giving love. The rest of the story is simply God doing that over and over.
In fact, the whole Bible is geared towards telling human beings this God can be trusted.
Have you ever noticed in the Old Testament how many times God is contrasted with other gods? That is because the other gods operate on fear and guilt and compliance. This God is fundamentally different because this God operates out of love.
The creation narrative shows the world created out of love. Abraham is God asking a man to trust him through difficulty, and God works for the flourishing of all people through one person. The Exodus story starts with God hearing the cries of an oppressed people. Eventually, God says: If you don’t get it by now, I am coming down there.
Over and over again, God wants us to know God is good and loving and gracious and can be trusted.
But I think we all secretly wonder if this is really true.
We carry a lot of anxiety around God. And I think this is why we are so bad about categorization and dualistic thinking.
If I am afraid of God, then I need to know I am in the in-group. And the easiest way to know I am in the in-group is to define the out-group. If I begin to blur the lines of who is in and who is out (like Jesus does), then I can’t know for sure I am in.
We talk a lot about dualistic thinking and the “us versus them” mentality on here. But perhaps there is a step before this.
Letting go of us versus them thinking requires an incredible amount of trust in God. Jesus was able to blur the lines, because he knew God’s true character. Jesus was defined by God’s love. Not only did he incarnate God’s love, but he got all of his identity from God’s love.
We have to start with learning more about the good and beautiful character of God. We need to begin by actually trusting God is good and loves us. Only then can we really live into the ways of being God wants for us.
When we trust God, faith is not an obligation, but a response. Something we do out of trust, not coercion or fear.
When we trust, we are then free to love those we fear because we know nothing they do can separate us from the love of God.
Faith now really is a RESPONSibility, of showing as many people as we can that God loves us.
But it all starts with learning to trust that God is good, love us unconditionally, and truly wants the best FOR us, not something FROM us.