The Sanitized Christ: Let's All Feel Good.
I have struggled with understanding the nature of God's "love" as described in Scripture. The best "instruction" I've received is by my life experience as a dad, rather than by exegesis or theology. As a dad, my primary drive is to assure my daughter has the best opportunity to live a full and complete life as a responsible and self-sufficient adult. I want her to mature and therefore to prosper in the way she deals with "reality"--the world as it is, with its demands.
As I read Scripture, I see that God has very similar desires for His children. His driving emotion is love. Indeed He is love itself. This love however is expressed wisely, and according to the needs and best interests of His children for their maturity and growth. Now things get messy: hardship, set-backs, disease, slavery, war, and yes, severe punishment as God seems to respond with wrath or abandonment. He did so with the Jews described in Exodus, and He will do so again in the End Days and Final Judgment described in Revelation. Our God does is not a push-over, co-dependent, sin enabling God who overlooks our willful rebellion. He responds here and now, and He will respond at the time of our deaths.
My point is that we give a false idea of God's love if we describe it only as sweet, gentle, merciful, and healing, without regard to the actual intention and behavior of the person He loves. Our God is also a God of law and consequences, as well as forgiveness and mercy, and these qualities are completely and perfectly balanced and integrated in His essential character. I sometimes think of God as the God of the Open Door. That Door is Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for the sake of freedom. That is, God's love is love because it rests upon our freedom to refuse to walk through the Open Door. While we don't like to talk about this in American popular Christianity in the last 50 years, the choice not to walk through that Open Door is that we choose eternal pain and suffering, that is, we choose hell. If God is the God of Heaven, He also is the God of Hell. This is not the "dark side" of God. He has no dark side. He is pure light. But it is evidence that our convenient, comforting, sanitized idea of God is lacking. God is not to created in our 21st Century "feel good" Christianity image. He is infinite, and His ways are known only to Him.
I trust this: God is sovereign. I trust that He is perfectly "good." I trust that He is perfectly "just." And surmounting all else, and at His essence, I know that He is pure "love." What I do not know, and cannot know, is how God in His perfect wisdom, will express that love in any given situation. He will do as He pleases because He is God, and He acts to express His glory, not to please me.
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