Friday, December 23, 2016

Caricatures of God

More than likely you have seen a caricature before.  Perhaps you’ve even commissioned one of yourself.  In the most conventional sense, a caricature is an artist's depiction of someone in which prominent facial features are exaggerated for comical effect.  Sometimes we see that cartoonists and comedians will often present political caricatures; Phrases or stances of public figures might be overstated in order to make some kind of point on a particular issue.

In the spiritual realm, believers and unbelievers will sometimes create their own representation of who they think God is.  Like caricatures, these views of God may be exaggerated or distorted.  Sometimes they have preconceived notions of who God is and sometimes they make the mistake of thinking of God in human terms.  They may cite portions or scriptures or take verses completely out of context to support their viewpoint.

Of course, as the problem with such ideas is that they may only be half-true or completely contrary to what God’s Word actually says!

Proverbs 18:2 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.

For this lesson I would like to focus on three caricatures of God and examine the validity of each.

God of Wrath – “The Sky Bully”

One of the most unfair caricatures of God is presenting God as an irrationally angry God who is just itching to rain down some fire and brimstone on everyone.  The “God of Wrath” or “Sky Bully” is always looking for an excuse to destroy and smite his created for just being themselves or not living up to His lofty standard.  Supporters of this view of God often describe the Bible as a moral code that no one could possibly abide by.  They believe that God is merely an enforcer of these arbitrary instructions.

The irony is that many people who have this view of God aren’t even believers to begin with.  I’ve had conversations with atheists who will call into question the character of God – whom they view as an imaginary character – and cite verses from the Old Testament to point out instances of God wiping out entire nations.  They will go as far as to say, “If there is a God, He’s not the morally repugnant, hatefully murderous God of the Bible.”

Sometimes believers also hold similar outlook on God.  Oftentimes they will only preach on God’s wrath toward sinners, giving the impression that we only ought to serve God out of fear.
Looking to the Bible for answers, we can clearly see that this view of God is based on many half-truths.

Indeed, the Bible does show us that God has a wrathful side.  It’s also true that He delivers punishment to mortals.  However, it is important to notice who exactly God’s wrath is reserved for.

Romans 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…

God’s wrath is reserved for the unrighteous and ungodly, not for random innocents and certainly not for those seeking to do right.

One thing that needs to be understood concerning God is that He allows us free will.  We get to choose how we want to live our lives.  When we make the choice to engage in unrighteousness, that is when we risk the wrath of God upon us.

Romans 2:5  But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.”

When discussing only the wrath of God it is easy to overlook the fact that God’s mercy is towards us is so great.  Consider this:  We have already established that God’s wrath is directed toward the unrighteous.  Unfortunately, we are all guilty of sin!

Romans 3:23  …For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Since we are all guilty of sin, we deserve God’s judgement and subsequent wrath!  Thankfully, however, our God is a merciful God.  His mercy is as great, if not greater, than His wrath!

Romans 3:24-25   …Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…

Through the willing sacrifice of Christ, God offers us salvation from our sins.  While unbelievers will struggle to reconcile the wrathful God of the Old Testament with the merciful God of the New Testament, a true student of the Bible knows that this is not two different gods, but that they are one and the same.  Flip through a concordance sometime and you’ll likely find far more instances of God’s mercy and love than you will mentions of His wrath.  That’s in both the Old and New Testament.  The character of God is consistent throughout the Scriptures.

A final thought on this point:  If God is so full of wrath, why hasn’t He put an end to this wicked world already?

2 Peter 3:14  Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation…

Once again we see that the mercy and love of God prevails.  It is through God’s patience with us that the unrighteous are granted a chance of salvation… and that’s what God wants for all of us!

God as Santa Clause

Another caricature of God is the idea of God being a Santa Clause-like figure whose only purpose is to shower us with blessings.  The mindset is that if we just believe in Him that, like jolly old Saint Nick, God will give us goodies and stuff. Therefore this becomes the only motivation for serving God, for the material rewards.

God is indeed benevolent and abundantly generous with His blessings, the Bible tells us as much.

Matthew 6:30-33  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Unfortunately, those adhering to the “prosperity gospel” misuse verses like this to support the ideology that the pursuit of God is the pursuit of material wealth.

However, further study reveals that Jesus Himself dispels such a notion when speaking to the rich young ruler.

Matthew 19:23-24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

We can’t make the mistake of thinking that God’s primary purpose is to deliver us material wealth…  For in doing so we allow our love for that wealth to replace God as our focus!

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Additionally, if we allow ourselves to concentrate only on God’s material blessings we make a huge mistake in overlooking God’s spiritual blessings which are far more valuable!

Matthew 6:19-21  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

God does not want us to have a covetous heart, but to be content with the blessings He gives to us.

Hebrews 13:4-6  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you…”

The God of “Unconditional Love”

In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, asking Him if she should be stoned for this sin.  Jesus famously said, “Let who is without sin cast the first stone.

This a favorite verse of many that subscribe to the idea of God being a God of “unconditional love” who loves us so much that He ignores sin altogether - and that Christians ought to do the same and not be “so judgmental”

 “God loves me just the way I am.  I don’t need to change to please God.”

We’ve all probably heard that statement at some point.  The mindset here is that we do not need to change in order to please God.  Basically, we can just ignore the things that God says are displeasing to Him because He will simply overlook our sin.

It’s true that we have a God whose love exceeds all understanding.  However, to please God we must understand that He does require repentance and avoidance of sin. Therefore, we cannot use God’s love to justify sin.  Indeed, our God is an all-loving God who loves us in spite of our differences.  In that way His love is unconditional

Romans 2:11 For there is no partiality with God.

However, we must understand that God’s salvation is conditional and that is through His love for us that He wants us to change.

Acts 17:30  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…

The words “repentance”, “repent”, and “repented” are mentioned over 100 times throughout the Bible.  Unfortunately some believers ignore this vital component of God’s instructions for salvation!

Recall the rest of the aforementioned account of John 8 for further insight.  At this point, the scribes and Pharisees were convicted by their conscience and left Jesus and the woman alone.  Notice what Jesus says to her.

John 8:10-11  When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Yes, Jesus defended the woman from her detractors by pointing out that no one is without sin.  But that wasn’t the end of the story.  While she was not condemned to death, we read that Jesus acknowledged that what she had done was sinful and told her to repent!

This misunderstanding of the character of God reveals not only a misunderstanding of God, but also a misunderstanding of love itself.  Love does not mean that we have to agree with every decision or action someone makes.  We know all too well that some decisions and actions are destructive.  If we love someone and see them going the wrong direction, don’t we have an obligation to warn them?  Merely pointing out to someone that something is sin does not equate judgement on our part.

A Christian knows that sin is contrary to God’s will and that it actually severs our relationship with Him.

Isaiah 59:1-2  Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God;  And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

It’s really quite simple:  God loves us so much, that is why He wants us to change and repent.  Turning away from sin is turning toward God!

Conclusion:  Two Fallacies

I would like to conclude this lesson by addressing two fallacies, one that contributes to the misunderstandings about God’s nature we have covered and another that could keep us from a closer relationship with God.

Fallacy Number One:  We can understand God completely

Isaiah 55:8-9  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Oftentimes we make the mistake of thinking of God in human terms, but God is not like us.  We were created in His image, not the other way around.  God is eternal, His wisdom is eternal.  We might think we understand righteousness, but only God is righteous.  Therefore we cannot fully understand or comprehend our eternally righteous God.

Fallacy Number Two:  God cannot be understood at all

While we never fully understand God, the Bible does give us a great amount of insight on the character of God.  It is through this knowledge that we can be assured that He doesn’t just leave us hanging;  He reveals to us what we can comprehend and what we need to know.  Through God’s Word that we are given understandable instructions for how we ought to live and attain the salvation He freely offers to us.

Romans 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…

As we have seen from this lesson, God’s mercy and love are as great, if not greater than, His wrath.  He wants us to choose to be saved.

While He is not Santa Clause, He has given us a blessing beyond measure, the gift of His Son who gave His life for us so that we could have salvation.

Finally, we know that God wants us to make changes.  He wants us to repent of our sins and turn to Him so that we are no longer spiritually separated.

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