Distortion

“My experience of His furious love often fills me with a fury as well when I hear well-known preachers and televangelists distorting Abba’s image.”

“His invitation to intimacy is startling, contrary to all the pontifications of certain religious leaders and champions of deuteronomic morality. Their unbending rule-keeping petrifies His furious compassion.”

– Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

As an extreme example of rejecting a message that does not work, the testimony of Nate Phelps, son of Fred Phelps is truly heartbreaking. The tragedy he experienced because his father distorted the nature and image of God has haunted me since I read the speech he addressed to the American Atheists.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but there are so many subtler distortions.

At men’s group the other night (which has been opened up to women and is currently meeting at my house), in a discussion about suffering, someone mentioned that it was reassuring to know that every awful thing that happens to us is within God’s will.

I considered letting it slide. I tried to talk myself out of commenting.

But I had to say, “Evil is never a part of God’s will for us.”

“Are you saying that God isn’t sovereign over everything? How can anything that happens under His sovereignty be evil?”

“Sickness, pain, disaster – yes these things are evil. They are a result of sin and the fall. The corruption that resulted from the fall is evil.”

“So you don’t believe in the sovereignty of God?”

“I don’t believe that the fall and the evil that resulted caught Him by surprise. He had a plan in place from the beginning to overcome sin, death, and evil. That plan has already been implemented and is in effect even now. While we still experience the results of the fall, ultimately there will be total and complete freedom from the evil in this world.”

“So you don’t believe that God is sovereign over everything?”

Aye, aye, aye.

People worry that by emphasizing the love of the Father, we somehow fail to portray the complete nature of His holiness and judgment. Yet, I don’t believe that God’s judgment is separate from His love. It is because of love and through love that sin, darkness, and evil are overcome and God moves things toward the way they were always intended to be.

Most people don’t need to be convinced of their alienation from God. This seems to be the distortion that we are born into. That is why the message of His love is so important to overcome an already distorted image of the Father and enable us to see Him as He really is.

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11 thoughts on “Distortion

  1. Have had the same discussion on other side of the world.Why are Evangelicals scared of God’s unconditional love.I thought that was the good news!!! Do they think trusting unconditional love leads to immoral behaviour?To the contrary – it burns the hell out of us with its sheer grace.Religious guilt and law is part of the Dark Side.Keep up the female take on these male centred dogmas Grace!

  2. If Sovereignty means that God is answerable to no higher authority, then yes I would absolutely agree. However, if Sovereignty means that God is really responsible for all evil, then I can’t get on board with that notion of Sovereignty.

  3. Hey, this is basically what my next book is about (which has been at the publishers for about 8 months, and might still yet be published before the end of the year).

    We want to justify God and have him make sense to us. Only he’s not concerned about explaining himself to us. He doesn’t ever tell Job the reasons for the problems. The Israelites get freedom from Egypt, and then things get pretty bad, worse in some ways, for a long while.

    God is sovereign, but he gives freedom to people, and to events. In that freedom there’s often chaos, and distortion, and all kinds of other bad things that build upon each other causing real pain. And God doesn’t say that pain is going to be gone, but he also doesn’t cause that pain. God is not the author of evil.

    He is sovereign, however. Quite. Because no matter how much the evil rages and ruins, God is going to win. He’s going to make all things well. Not even death can get in his way. We are not asked to understand, or justify, or explain. We’re asked to have faith and throw our lot in with God, to trust, and act, and live in the way that reflects his win. Live in a way that reflects his life so that even in this present struggle we can be lights to others, lifting their burdens, helping their pain. Others can do the same for us. In the experience of living in God’s kingdom with others who live the same way we can taste of God’s goodness even now, in the midst of the fires. All while we trust and pray and wholly believe that God is making all things well. And we are going to discover his full goodness, and full peace, and full life.

  4. It seems to me, that there’s a logical error in reducing everything we think we know about God from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek scripture (and maybe some mystical experience) into a single English word like sovereignty and then expanding that word to encompass all situations as if this reduction can adequately explain anything at all.

    We experience this type of error all the time with digital photographs. We reduce a nice pair of feet down to a a few pixels on a camera and then further reduce it so it fits on a website but when we try blowing it up to a lifesize poster (not that I’ve tried that with feet mind you) it becomes pixelated. We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of quality in our homes or workplaces, why do we tolerate it in the church?

    I think we tolerate it because this kind of reasoning has been modeled for us. Some leaders think its adequate to reduce Jesus to a few pixels when they’re supposed to be pointing to the real thing. We’re only allowed to see Jesus through a very pixelated image.

  5. It is a fallen world indeed. Lewis compared once the Will of the Father and the fallen world to a mother’s will for her children’s room to be clean. She willed that the room be clean, but that the children should make it so. When she finds the room a mess, she is not surprised, but it is still her will that the children clean it (mind you, some will clean it out of obedience and obligation, some out of love for their mother and enjoyment of her wishes)

    Either way, the room is unclean at present and it is for us to clean it up. That means we have to suffer through the sludge of our own mess, yes, but that is indeed, what we, as Christians, are called to do: to be what YHWH is for Israel, what Y’eshua is for the world – to bear the suffering, face the evil head on and thus defeat pain and death where they “hurt most.”

    I don’t mean to get off subject, I only mean to say, as you responded to the brother in the Men’s meeting, is it God’s will that evil be upon us? No, but it is His will that we march into the fray right by His side (“As the Father sent Me, so I send you; receive the Holy Spirit ; forgive and retain sins.”) and as He is present with us in the midst and bears the evil for us, and we for our neighbor and thus the world, God claims every evil as His own victory and thus turns the tide – indeed, He has already won the war. We are simply stuck in the after skirmishes.

    God’s sovereignty is not only Holy, but it is whole.

  6. Grace,
    I really liked this statement,
    \”Yet, I don’t believe that God’s judgment is separate from His love. It is because of love and through love that sin, darkness, and evil are overcome and God moves things toward the way they were always intended to be.\”

    I believe that at some point if we are in relationship with Abba, we will eventually see that His love is the transforming power and as Jesus pointed out, light is what displaces darkness.
    If God\’s nature is light then how could darkness be a part of that?
    it seems pretty clear to me that Adam (through sin) set that darkness in motion here and it is love that will displace and eventually consume the dark.

    it reminds me of C.S. Lewis\’ book \”The Great Divorce\” where the choice was made to either move forward into and becoming part of the light (thereby becoming more solid or real) or staying back and eventually becoming less & less real, until nothing that is not real is left.
    Any way,
    I hope that makes sense.
    Peace

  7. “I and the Father are one.” -John 10:30
    “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” -John 14:9

    When we see Jesus, we get a perfectly undistorted view of Father.

    “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
    “No sir,” she said
    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” -John 8:10, 11

    I believe that is Father’s message to us all.

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