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The truth about God and how he relates to us, part 1: common misconceptions of a grumpy God.
Renowned author and pastor A. W. Tozer is famous for saying, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Indeed, your theology (your “thoughts about God”) literally is the most important thing about you — it’ll drive what and how and why you do the things you do. Everyone has thoughts about God, even proclaimed atheists. By pronouncing you don’t believe in God (which is actually impossible by the way), you’re making a very bold, very wrong statement about the God you claim doesn’t exist. Thus, it’s not only important to have thoughts about God but to have right thoughts about him — it’s literally a life or death matter!
One vital question: is God happy?
There’s a foundational question we must ask ourselves when discussing how God relates to us: Is God happy? Is God a happy God? Or, more specifically, Is God happy with you? What’s the first that comes to mind when you think about God and how he relates to you? When you think about him, how do you imagine him thinking about you? What’s his character like when you mess up? What about when you succeed? Is there a big difference between the two? If so, your perception and thoughts about God — your theology — probably isn’t right.
Just look around at the myriad of conceptions of God in pop-culture and film. He’s either an ogre that can’t be bothered or a crotchety old man that’s perpetually cranky. But God’s not like that. He’s not some old man who’s cranky about things not going his way. I don’t have time to go into it here, but, you know, the Fall wasn’t some massive hiccup in God’s sovereign plan. Even as man tried to usurp God’s and steal his throne, God was still in control. Even amidst the heartbreak of the Fall and the heartache of all that followed, God is faithful and sovereign. No, to know and understand God aright we must know, as Martin Luther proposed, “that with him there is nothing but kindness and mercy. But those who feel that God is angry and unmerciful do not know him aright.”
There are many invalid and unfounded notions about God and his character. But, perhaps the most trying and difficult to fight against is the idea that God is grumpy. The notion perpetuated by many scholars and theorists today would have you believe that, as mentioned before, God is grumpy, cranky, and angry with you because of what you’ve done. There’s so much animosity and hatred towards God, such that most people determine he’s out to get them; that God is like a crouching tiger, just waiting to pounce on you when you’ve really blown it. But that’s not God. He’s not waiting with bated breath for you to mess up. As Nehemiah declares, “You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Neh 9:17)
God’s not like your dad.
Listen, I love, cherish, and honor my father. I have so much respect for him and his ministry as he’s faithfully served the Lord for the past thirty-odd years. But it’s safe to say that he’d make a really crummy God. To be sure, there are definite similarities between our fathers and God — but our fathers are merely broken, fallible representations of our Heavenly Father. All the good things we see in our fathers are but marred reflections of God’s perfect paternal love and care of us. We’ve seen the worst in our earthly fathers: their impatience, temper, depression, and selfishness — all of which is very unlike our Heavenly Father whose love for us isn’t flawed or unpredictable but is constant and faithful. God’s love for us is dramatically, wondrously different! (Ps 118:1)
God doesn’t change his mind about you. God knew what he was buying when he sent his Son to the cross. Thus, he doesn’t get frustrated with his investment. God’s not surprised by your faults — he’s not caught off guard by your failures. As Jesus took your sin, he knew he was taking the transgressions of his enemies. (Rom. 5:8) Yet, God’s love for us persists. Regardless of where you are, God’s love is the same.
We may doubt, and debase, and deny our divine relationship, yet God will never disown us as his children, nor disinherit us as his heirs. We may cease to act as a child, he will never cease to love as a Father.
God’s not a dictator.
God’s not an old, gray-haired man sitting in heaven just wanting to rob you of joy. He’s not your divine buzzkill, suffocating the fun out of life. The common perception of God and religion is that of him hemming you in, keeping you in line, making sure you don’t mess up. And certainly the Bible does have some rules and God is concerned about the things that you do. But if all Christianity’s known for is rules that keep you in check, we’ve done a terrible job at letting others know what Christianity is all about.
You see, God’s law and demand for obedience and holiness aren’t his way of robbing you of joy. No, it’s through the law that God is leading us into joy, into everlasting felicity through the perfection of his will. “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Ps 16:11) God’s law isn’t a hindrance to life but a shepherd of “abundant life!” It’s by keeping the law and fulfilling the demand that Jesus leads us into his life. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)
God’s not like Santa.
Santa Claus is a pop-culture icon who’s become so godlike that we’ve actually begun to attribute what he’s like onto the one, true God. When it comes down to it, if you believe that God’s all about rewarding the good people and judging the bad people, guess what, you don’t believe in God, you believe in Santa Claus!
[Jesus] is not, thank God, Santa Claus. He will come to the world’s sins with no lists to check, no tests to grade, no debts to collect, no scores to settle. He will wipe away the handwriting that was against us and nail it to his cross.
God’s not keeping a heavenly “naughty or nice” list from which to dispense grace to the nice ones and condemnation to the naughty ones. He doesn’t, thank goodness, judge us on the measure or merit of our performance. That would be very bad news. The economy of God isn’t that if you do certain things you can get God to come through for you. Christian service isn’t the catalyst for divine favor. That’s not how it works.
If you believe that your eternal fate is dependent upon your performance, guess what, you don’t believe in God, you believe in Santa Claus — more specifically, you believe in karma. Karmic Christianity is, I believe, the most devastating form of Christianity around — yet it’s also the most pervasive. It’s so ingrained in us to focus on what we do that we begin think that our doing matters more to God that Jesus’s “done.” Even if it’s not admitted outright, most believers function in a world where they’re their own rescuers — that if they can just muster up enough good, the divine Kris Kringle will come through for them with blessings. But better not mess up or you’re stuck with nothing but coal.
God’s consistent character.
If you’re ever stuck banking on your works, relying on your religious resume, you’re thereby nullifying grace and basically spitting on the cross of Christ, demeaning it to be of less importance and value than your performance. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Rom 11:6)
Do you really think that God’s love for you is greater on one day as opposed to another? Do you really believe that his thoughts towards you are as varied and sporadic as yours? That’d be terrible news, indeed. God is always the same; and likewise, his loving and gracious disposition towards us is the same — it never wavers, or varies, or fluctuates. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8; cf. Jas 1:17) On our bad days and our good days, God’s love for us is the same. He loves us with an unflinching, unmitigating, unconditional love!
Seasons vary, circumstances change, feelings fluctuate, friendships cool, friends die, but Christ is ever the same.
God’s not grumpy; he’s not a God of karma; he’s not out solely to reward the good and punish the bad. God is a God of grace, giving everyone the very opposite of what they deserve.
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 173.
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 29.