As regular readers will know, I’ve been on something of a journey of theological deconstruction and reconstruction in recent times. The deconstruction phase began a few years ago, but it feels like I’ve moved into more positive reconstruction phase in recent months.
Much of this reconfiguration has been around letting go of what I now consider faulty views of God and allowing my understanding of what God is like to be shaped by Jesus. In other words, I’m increasingly seeing and understanding that God is like Jesus.
One thing I’ve come to understand is that much of what we believe about God is actually a projection of our own prejudices and dysfunctions rather than the reality of what God is like. Let me put it this way:
We believe in a retributive God because we ourselves are retributive.
We believe in a judgemental God because we ourselves are judgemental.
We believe in a discriminating God because we ourselves discriminate.
We believe in an exclusionary God because we ourselves exclude.
This kind of God is quite easy to believe in, because if we’re honest, he’s very much like we are. He’s a God made in our own image.
But as long as we’re being honest, let’s admit it: the qualities I’ve listed above – being retributive, judgmental, discriminating and exclusionary – are not generally what we would see as good qualities. They are not characteristics we would typically consider desirable in another person. They are not qualities we would encourage our kids to develop and grow in. They are certainly not qualities Jesus demonstrated. And yet, very often, these are the qualities we have assigned to God.
So why do we hold onto these distorted views of God? Well, as I suggested above, education has a lot to do with it: if no one has ever explained to us that God actually isn’t like this, how are we to know? But the other big reason, I contend, is that believing this is what God is like allows us to continue in our own prejudices and dysfunctions. If God is fundamentally judgemental, he’s not too much of a threat to our own judgemental attitudes.
I know I’ve shared this quote before, but American theologian Michael Hardin says “Jesus is the redefinition of God”. This means Jesus lived, died and rose again not only to make provision for our salvation but also to show us just how misguided our perceptions about God were. In short, Jesus came to show us that God is not how we thought he was. Rather, God is just like Jesus: merciful, compassionate, inclusive and non-retributive. Those sound like good, admirable, desirable qualities to me.
The fact that God is like Jesus is exceedingly good news, but it’s also a mighty challenge. If we’re serious about knowing and journeying with a God who is this good, it’s going to have big implications for our own values, attitudes and behaviour towards others, friends and enemies alike. When Jesus says to us “Come, follow me”, he’s inviting us to be just as God is – to abandon our old retributive, judgmental, discriminating and exclusionary ways, all of which lead to death, and to embrace his merciful, compassionate, inclusive and non-retributive ways, which bring life.
[ Image: Tim Shields ]