I wonder if sometimes we intentionally or unknowingly mask the beauty of God in the gospel by minimizing His various attributes. Peruse the Christian marketplace, and you will find a plethora of books, songs, and paintings that depict God as a loving Father. And He’s that. But He isn’t just a loving Father.
Limiting our understanding of God to this picture ultimately distorts the image of God we project in our culture.
Fourteen times in the first 50 psalms we see descriptions of God’s hatred toward sinners, His wrath toward liars, and so on. All of this springs from the absolute holiness of God, His separateness from anything sinful. In John 3, where we find one of the most famous verses about God’s love (see v. 16), we also find one of the most neglected verses about God’s wrath (see v. 18).
It seems that much in the same way we try to soften the radical demands of Jesus, we also tailor our knowledge of the character of God to fit our own desires. Some of us might come by this innocently; maybe no one ever told us that God is wrathful and jealous for His own glory.
More likely, though, our inattention to the more uncomfortable characteristics of God’s perfect character is an intentional blindness. We choose not to think about God in this way because doing so would require more of us than we’re willing to give.
When we either intentionally or unintentionally limit our knowledge of God to the parts of Him that we’re comfortable with, we have the luxury of thinking much less seriously about our sin, priorities, resources, goals, and dreams. But if the Bible is true and God is who the Bible says He is, there’s nothing we can rightly hold back from Him. He has laid claim to every part of our lives.
If we saw God as He is, then our lives would have to change. Dramatically. But there’s another effect of having a limited view of God, and this one is counterintuitive at first. When we don’t see the holiness, wrath, and justice of God, we aren’t able to truly experience the fullness of His grace.
Ironically, we might choose to emphasize God’s love over God’s wrath, refusing to think much about the reality of hell and justice. We might even make the argument that we’re doing so in order to emphasize just how great God’s love is. But we’re actually diminishing the very love we’re attempting to hold up. We can’t fully appreciate the grace of God without fully appreciating the holiness of God. To put it another way, we can’t know the greatness of our salvation without knowing just what we’ve been saved from. The Bible is very clear on this point: What we’ve been saved from, by God’s grace, is God Himself.