I recently watched a clip of an interview with Ricky Gervais, who is a self-proclaimed atheist. The talk show host was seemingly defending Christianity, which surprised me, but Ricky Gervais’ argument was that if all the books in the world were burnt, a thousand years from now Christianity would no longer exist. Immediately, an objection rose deep within me. His Word is written on our hearts. Yeah, maybe some of it might be lost along the way, but I don’t think so. I think believers would rally, and His Word would be preserved. Even if it wasn’t, the fact that we are His image-bearers, came to the front of my mind. We were created in the image of God, in Latin it’s Imago Dei, and that’s not something that can be taken away.
Mr. Gervais seems like a pretty thought-full guy. He seems fairly awake when it comes to Hollywood’s wokeness and all that crap. I’m not sure what makes him resist the idea of a God so much. Most of us have been exposed to people claiming to love God who don’t reflect Him at all. Maybe he has never been exposed to the God I know. Maybe he just isn’t ready to surrender. Surrender, such an intriguing idea, isn’t it? Most of us hear the word and think of giving up, or giving in, usually to something that is overpowering you. I was contemplating the word today and trying to think of a better way to explain surrender when it comes to giving your life to God. It’s much less of a ‘throw your hands in the air’ kind of event and more of a trust fall, right? My mind went to water. Turbulent water, even. The struggle of trying to swim, or even just staying afloat. How exhausting and scary it is, how much we struggle and fight to stay alive. And then the simple act of turning over, facing the sky, and ceasing everything that even resembles effort… only to find yourself floating. I can feel it even now. The surrender of just resting on top of the water, without any real effort. Of course, if you are like my husband and your body mass is more muscle than fat, you might struggle to stay afloat, but most of you understand that feeling, right? Like sinking into your bed after an unending day. There is a peace there, the weight of the water beneath you, the expanse of the sky above. I love it.
That is the feeling that comes to mind when I think about surrendering to a good, good God. It’s not scary. It’s not even hard, when you know His true character. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we aren’t showing the world the fullness of the goodness of God. Maybe when the world looks at the church in general, they don’t see very much that appeals to their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Is the church (in general) starting to look more like the world than the God we claim to love?
Awhile back, our pastor spoke about what he called a “Stunted Gospel.” He had a large painting on stage and, with a much smaller, empty photo frame, would highlight different parts of the painting. It was still a beautiful picture inside the frame, but it wasn’t the whole picture, it was “stunted.” He applied the same idea to churches today and how some might focus on the written Word and others on the works of the Spirit. Neither are wrong and both are beautiful, but neither, by themselves, are a complete picture of the Gospel. It was a good message, and I believe it could, and should, be applied to our picture of God himself. We all have a frame, or a lens, that we look at God through. I think the American church (in general) keeps that lens focused on our favorite characteristic of God: love. The Bible is extremely clear, God is love. But what if there is more to love than we think? What if we adhere to the world’s idea of love because it sounds right? Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Wait, so hating evil is a part of genuine love? Are we allowed to do that?! I’ve been told, repeatedly, that I am allowed to hate evil, but not the person. But then again, Psalms 11:5 says the Lord “hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” In Psalms 5:5, David says to the Lord, “You hate all evildoers.” Psalms 2:4 “He who sits in the heavens laughs, He scoffs at them.” Amos 5:15 says, “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate!” In Exodus 23:22 God says, “I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you.” (Is it possible that people who don’t know the truth and sin are different than people who knowingly choose to do evil, and are therefore “wicked?”)
Are you wondering why I’m moving the lens to this part of God’s character? Do you want me to go back to the love part? I never left it. God hates evil because He loves us. God seeks justice and speaks truth because He loves us. God disciplines us like a Father because He loves us.
In my opinion, the world equates tolerance with love, and the church doesn’t look too different. John Bevere has a fantastic quote on this subject; “Jesus warned the church in Thyatira against tolerance, which was leading them into immorality and idolatry. Our culture often confuses love and tolerance. The two couldn’t be more different. Love seeks the other person’s good; tolerance seeks to be thought of as good in another person’s eyes. Love comes from fearing God. Tolerance comes from fearing man.”
I think it’s possible that we are “loving” people to death. That might sound extreme, but do you know what happens when people come to us, looking for something different and we respond like the world? We allow them to believe that their sin is ok. We don’t want to hurt their feelings, so we don’t speak truth to the lies they are speaking and/or believing. We don’t want to scare them away, so we hesitate to tell them there is a better way, but that it requires turning away from the very things that are causing them so much pain and suffering. Trying to make someone feel better about their sin only delays them from owning it and repenting. How is that loving? Until they recognize their sin, turn away from it, they won’t experience the forgiveness and freedom that comes from surrendering. And if they never surrender, they die in the bondage of their sin.
Another thing that “sounds right,” that I hear a lot in church circles, is that we should not cause division. I hate to break it to you, but in Luke 12:51, Jesus said, “Do you think that I came to provide peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Division isn’t always a bad thing, believe it or not. In fact, there must be division: we must divide truth from the lies, good from evil, light from darkness. That list could go on and on if you spend even two minutes thinking about it.
Where am I going with all of this? Back to the beginning. Imago Dei. What an amazing thing to be trusted with reflecting the image of God! I don’t know about you, but I want to reflect Him well, and that means tossing the frame or the lens, and presenting the fullest picture of the goodness of God and ALL of the aspects that make Him a good, good Father. Even the ones that are confusing. Don’t get me wrong about the loving side of God. but use love as a lens through which to view the rest of Him. He is a judge, but a judge is useless (not to mention loveless) if they aren’t just. He is a warrior, but for what cause? To oppose those who oppose the ones He loves. He is a King, He establishes His rule in our lives for our protection and for our good, not to exert His power. Yes, God is love. But He is so much more. And those other aspects of God, the world desperately needs; they need someone to speak truth to the lies, to stand up for righteousness, to seek justice, to establish His Kingdom in the world around them, to be a light in the darkness. I’ve heard it said that light stands out even more in darkness, but I think it’s fair to say that, not only is it brighter… it is more necessary.
“Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.” Isaiah 59:9
Be the light. Be an image bearer. And don’t fall for the world’s stunted view of God’s love. Get to know all of Him, so that you can reflect all of His goodness.