The All Our Minds project | On Unity and Denominations

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The All Our Minds project | On Unity and Denominations

The night before Jesus was crucified, He gathered His disciples and prayed for them. For their strength and sanctification amidst the hardships that they were sure to face. As He prayed for them, He also prayed for us, the future generations of His church:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Unity. It’s something that Jesus values. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s something that He lived for, prayed for and died for. In His mission to restore perfect unity between God and His people, Jesus prayed that that same unity would exist among believers. That we would be one as He is one with the Father. That future generations would follow His example of reconciliation and unity.

Fast-forward 2018 years to the present day and suffice it to say we’re not quite there yet. The church has certainly grown in numbers since Jesus said this prayer all those years ago, but it has also grown in fragments. With a variety of theological stances that divide us on pretty much any topic worth discussing, we’re left with today’s question:

How can there be so many people throughout history and the world who have hearts that love God, and yet there are so many drastically different beliefs, convictions and practices between them? Where is the Spirit in that?

I love this question. The way it’s worded makes it feel as though the person who wrote it is panting for an answer, wearied by the constant squabbles and eager to get to the heart of the matter. In order to do that, we need to get a sense for how these divisions came into existence in the first place.

The formation of Christian denominations

Within the Christian tradition, there are three main branches: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Here in the states, the two latter ones are considered the most common. In Roman Catholicism, the traditions, rituals and beliefs are the same across the board. Protestantism on the other hand has been broken down into a variety of smaller groupings, including but not limited to Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian and so on.

So the question stands: How did we end up with so many different divisions of Protestant Christian thought when Christ very clearly calls us to unity in Him?

I do want to note that all of the primary denominations of Protestantism are united in their core belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who died for our sins and, in doing so, restored our relationship with God the Father. That primary, fundamental theology is at the root of all Protestant subgroups. It’s when we get to the second, third and fourth tier issues that the dividing differences emerge.

All schools of theological thought are shaped by their leader’s interpretation of God’s Word. Lutheranism, Calvinism and Wesleyanism are all named after the men who created the lens through which their followers interpret Scripture. It’s as though they’ve each developed their own prescription for the curious Christian to wear while they read God’s Word. With these glasses, they say, you will see God more clearly.

And they’re not wrong. We owe a lot to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John & Charles Wesley and many others like them. People who have searched God’s Word with a desire to not only grow in their own understanding of it, but to help others do the same. Their collective thinking has aided generations of believers in making sense of Scripture.

But as they and others have fervently studied the Word of God, they’ve come to a variety of different theological conclusions. Calvinist theology, for instance, affirms predestination while Wesleyan theology denies it. Pentecostal churches place far greater emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit than Evangelical or Non-denominational churches. Over the years, different thought leaders—each with a deep love for God and a hunger for His Truth—have found themselves in different camps on many issues. In following their teachings, we’ve done the same.

The intersection of God’s mystery & the Holy Spirit’s promptings

In his book “The Knowledge of the Holy,” A.W. Tozer shares an interesting observation about our human desire to make sense of God:

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained” (Tozer 8).

We all want the safety and comfort of knowing that our understanding of God is the “right” understanding of God. That we’ve successfully interpreted and uncovered every attribute and every commandment. That our church or denomination has somehow cracked the code on knowing God in all His fullness.

There are a couple of problems with this. For starters, it creates hostility within the body. A sort of theological battle of us vs. them. From there, we’re tempted by pride and finger-pointing. This is when we hear things like “You can’t possibly be a Christian if you believe THAT.” Before we know it, we’re spending more time judging other people’s theology than living our own.

But the biggest problem with “reducing God to manageable terms” is that it leaves no room for the mystery of God. Tozer actually hits on this too a little earlier in this same chapter. He writes about Ezekiel’s description of God’s glory. “When the prophet Ezekiel saw heaven opened and beheld visions of God, he found himself looking at that which he had no language to describe,” explains Tozer. “What he was seeing was something wholly different from anything he had ever known before, so he fell back on language of resemblance.”

Throughout that first chapter of Ezekiel, we see him using phrases like “the likeness of four living creatures,” “they had a human likeness,” “sparkled like burnished bronze,” “like the appearance of,” and so forth. It’s clear that Ezekiel is grasping for words to describe what he’s seeing while in the presence of God’s glory. When I finish reading this passage, I like to imagine him saying, “You really just have to see it for yourself.”

Ezekiel 1 is a testament to the mystery of God. It tells us that even our language falls short in attempting to capture the fullness and majesty of His kingdom. And if our language falls short, our minds are even farther behind. Even so, we know from the New Testament that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). In that sense, as we wrestle through the formation of our theology, we must simultaneously remain humbled by the mystery of God and be attentive to the promptings of His Holy Spirit.

Same Spirit, different beliefs?

But if the same Spirit was and is working in Calvin and Wesley and every other theologian to walk the earth, how is it that there are so many dissenting conclusions about the things of God?

Thinking about this throws me back to my years as an English major. Every once in a while, a professor would set an assignment to apply a certain philosophical lens to a work of literature: A Marxist reading of “Jane Eyre,” A Feminist reading of “The Great Gatsby.” These papers are evidence that 1) your background impacts how you interpret a text, and 2) a person can read almost anything into even the most thoughtful combination of words—the Bible included.

Our ability to perceive and act on the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our lives is greatly impacted by our view of the Holy Spirit. While certain denominations, such at Pentecostals, encourage a constant sensitivity to the workings of the Holy Spirit, others seem to ignore His relevance altogether and rely solely on Scripture. Depending on what tradition you come from, you will experience the Holy Spirit differently and therefore interpret His promptings differently.

Perhaps that’s part of the beauty of it. Perhaps, in our human desire to confirm black and white truths about who God is and how His Holy Spirit works, we’re ignoring all the ways that this tapestry of opinions on secondary biblical issues—formed within the unique minds of God’s children—actually mobilizes His kingdom to truly reach every corner of the earth.

The Wesleyans use the image of a river and its many tributaries. Within this metaphor, the main river represents the heart of God and the various different streams that flow from it represent the many channels through which the heart of God is shared with a hurting world. Those who follow this tradition worship an unchanging God who fills His people with His Gospel of love and then sends them out to every crevice of this world to share it with others.

A Wesleyan would say that the various different denominations are represented in the many tributaries that flow from the heart of God. Because each denomination of Christianity shares the core belief of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, they would say that one is not better than the other. Rather, each one reaches a different group of people with different spiritual needs created by their cultural contexts. That the Spirit is working differently among each group so as the minister to them in the way that they need to be ministered to.

I’m reminded of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (9:22). Earlier in this passage, Paul acknowledges the many different groups of people he has encountered in his ministry—”the Jews,” “the weak,” “those under the Law” (9:20-22). Rather than applying a one-size-fits-all for every tradition, Paul carries the Truth of the Gospel in his heart and delivers it in ways that acknowledge each unique context so as to minister more effectively.

The same Spirit is at work in every believer’s heart, but that doesn’t mean that He is working the same way in every believer’s heart. Take the example of a parent-child relationship. Most parents have a set of core values that they want to pass on to their children, but if you have four children with four very different personalities and temperaments, you may need to find four different ways to cultivate the same value in all of them. The core value remains the same, but the vehicle by which it is communicated can vary.

The Holy Spirit is a source of spiritual strength, wisdom and conviction (Romans 8:26; Isaiah 11:2, John 14:26). He may work differently in each person’s heart, but He reveals the same life-giving Truth to all who will listen.

So now what?

When I first started writing this response, I was pretty convinced that sin was the cause of denominational divisions. While I still believe that everybody would have a perfectly holy and united view of God if not for the sin that lives in the heart of man, I also believe that God is rendering miracles from that sin by using our diversity of thought on non-salvation issues to truly reach all cultures and nations.

What do you think?

Resources

http://www.astudyofdenominations.com/overview/

https://www.exploregod.com/christian-denominations

https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2018/02/theology-people-god-leading-holy-spirit/

https://www.apu.edu/wesleyan-holiness-tradition/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swfs_kXsx0k

https://www.thoughtco.com/comparing-christian-denominations-beliefs-part-1-700537

https://www.compellingtruth.org/Christian-interpretations.html

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The All Our Minds project | On Submission and Teamwork

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The All Our Minds project | On Submission and Teamwork

The word “submit” isn’t a very popular one.

For many people, submission registers as a tragic loss of individuality or power. If I’m submitting to you, then I can’t possibly be living my best life or following my aspirations. At the very least, I’m giving up part of myself.

In a culture that celebrates the voice, strength and ableness of the modern woman, Ephesians 5 hits us like a ton of bricks with this six letter verb: submit. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (5:22).

I kid you not, I’ve seen women physically twitch while reading this passage. It’s one that a lot of us struggle to reconcile in our own hearts and marriages. Some get defensive. Others just get confused. And still others try to ignore it altogether. God made me a strong & independent woman, so this passage must not be for me.

But I don’t believe in cherry-picking around the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable. I think it’s important for both women and men to work out how this passage informs our relationships. The person who asked today’s question seems to agree.

What’s the balance between wives submitting to their husbands and working together as a team in marital decisions?

With less than two years of marriage under my belt, I decided to call in for reinforcements on this one. I sent this question to a handful of women in my community and asked them to share their own responses to it. These women represent a broad spectrum of thoughts and experiences with this topic. Their responses have helped me think through this passage in new ways. I hope they do the same for you.

Mary T., 2 years married

A lot of times, we think that being submissive means that our husbands “win,” but marriage takes two people and at the center of it is God. I have learned that the ‘I know best’ attitude doesn't get me very far and that it's important for me to speak my mind in a loving and respectful manner. “

Charissa B., 3 years married

“Looking at physical balance lends itself nicely to understanding the balance within a marriage. First and foremost, it is important that the husband and wife share a common goal, direction, or vision. This goal should consider the needs and desires of both individuals.

Having moved to 3 different states within the first 2 years of our marriage, my husband and I have had to figure out what our focal point is, and how to have discussions that inform this ultimate goal without ignoring the needs of each other.  These decisions were never made in one definitive moment. Rather, they were the result of a culture of mutual service and sacrifice within our marriage.

The Bible calls for wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, by laying down his life for her (Eph 5:22-26). Practically speaking, this looks like mutual and perpetual sacrifice on both ends.

Within a marriage, two individuals come together and become one new creation, not one pre-existing creation with a tag-along. Norman Shidle, author of the books Formula for Harmonious Action and The Art of Successful Communication, once said, “A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skills of others.”

When you celebrate each other’s gifts and strengths within a marriage, and aim to put the others’ needs before your own, submission naturally falls into place. I know that my opinion has a place in our marriage, and I know that ultimately my husband has my best interest in mind; he knows the same.

Though conversations surrounding big decisions can be heated at times, the end result looks like mutual give and take. Because I know that I am heard and my needs are acknowledged, I trust my husband’s leadership and direction within our marriage. My prayer is that he feels empowered to lead as a result of his needs being understood and respected as well.”

Emily T., 4 years married

“There is no ‘balance’ between submission and unity in marriage. They are not opposites of each other or ends of an extreme. They aren’t mutually exclusive. By the world’s definition of these concepts we see conflict. It is almost impossible for us to not see one’s position as fully influencing importance or value. In this context, leadership and submission become loaded terms.

We have to understand the terminology as the Bible uses it. The church and the body are used as the descriptors of marriage. The body cannot be at odds with itself and function well. The head can’t make selfish decisions without affecting itself, it has to love and serve the body to sustain itself and vice versa. The head is not a separate entity from the body, but it has a role as part of the body. The body exists as one, moving together toward a common goal.

This analogy has been so helpful in terms of realigning my thoughts when I’ve struggled to apply this passage. We don’t refer to the body and head as a team. It would sound silly to praise someone’s body for good team work. The body and brain communicate and the head instigates action which the head and body carry out as one. When spouses don’t communicate well, the body can’t be productive because disunity makes the body dysfunctional.

My husband and I are extremely different and sometimes we cannot come to an agreement after communicating at length. In those moments, I have a few options. If I believe that’s what my husband wants is actually sin, then I can submit to God’s ultimate authority and not comply with my husband. If it’s just a different opinion—and let’s be real, it’s usually a difference of opinion, not a sin issue—then I can allow my husband to make the final decision and walk with him in the outcome of that decision. Or lastly, I can just choose to do my own thing, and lose out on the gift that is oneness in marriage. That last option will make both of us less effective and prevent us from reflecting the unity of Christ and the Church in our lives to the world around us.”

Grace S., 6 years married

“I’d always had trouble with “Wives submit to your husbands” until it was pointed out that the passage also heavily highlights for men to submit to their wives. It was a topic of discussion during our premarital counseling that made me realize how this verse was taken out of context quite frequently!

When it comes to marriage, it’s ultimately about trust, communication, and being prayerful about the matter at hand. It’s never been about me cowering in submission as my husband declares his choosing, but more of us talking out our points and coming to an understanding of how to best navigate what is in front of us. There are times that even after praying about something and giving it to the Lord that I am still struggling. In those instances I trust that my husband will make the best decision for the opportunity. I say opportunity and not issue because I know God will provide a way for it— whatever “it” is—to work out albeit unclear in the moment.

In marital decision-making, it’s not about who has the upper hand but rather about trusting that your God-given partner is going after what will have the best outcome for that matter. Thomas and I do our best to make decisions together regardless of how significant or mundane the opportunity may be.”

Anonymous, 7 years married

Ah, the timeless verse from Ephesians 5, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do the Lord." When I first was married, I strived to be the perfect wife, submitting to my husband in all decisions, from the little mundane decisions about what to make for dinner, to the grandiose financial decisions. Now, I feel like I've hit a healthy homeostasis, through many trials and a few errors, balancing knowing when to consult my husband in decisions and when to make decisions on my own. I have come to understand that I need to submit to my husband in all things and that is when the Lord is truly honored.

As my love for my husband and my trust in the Lord has grown, I have grown in worship of my Lord, in turn growing in my to desire to submit to my husband, rather than doing it out of legalism and people-pleasing. Trusting that the Lord has put my husband as my shepherd and caretaker has helped me make decisions with him humbly and graciously. He shows his care and trust of me, building me up as his wife and affirming that I am my own person. In turn, I consider his well-being in my heart, as I make decisions for myself and my family.

We balance our decisions by always remembering we are on the same team. We remember our bond as a family as we make decisions together or apart, journeying through life and striving to honor and glorify God.

Anonymous, 9 years married

“My husband and I actually tag team A LOT. I think it’s part of the respect we have for each other and the love and care we show toward one another with our sacrifices to and for each other. He still makes the last call on things but we definitely have an open dialogue with whatever we are going through. I submit by considering and accepting his advice on things. I know that he has a Christ-honoring perspective, so I’m willing to submit the decision making into his hands. That’s a big reason why it’s so important to be equally yoked.”

Silva M.E., 17 years married

“Submission is a tricky word. In our society it has explosive undertones of oppression and power and control. Is this what we want to bring into our marriages? As someone who studied women’s lib and considers herself a feminist, I really had to step back when I got engaged–from myself and my own thoughts–into a Christ-focused mindset. I had to retrain my thinking away from myself and toward Christ. I had to remind myself that Christ is holding the scale and that my husband and I are of equal weight to Him.

In marriage, it’s not husband against wife or wife against husband in a power struggle over who will “wear the pants.” Do we even realize how ridiculous that sounds? Marriage is a team, with a coach, a captain and a player. Jesus is the coach, the husband is the captain, and the wife is the player. In many ways, she’s a STAR player. But there can only be one coach and one captain.

The mistake we make is in thinking that we are losing our voice, or don’t have a say, or aren’t as important. Those are the devil’s lies. The Bible says to wives, “Be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The Lord loves us, cares for us, protects us, wants to hear from us, wants to give us the desires of our heart – and so should a good, God-fearing husband.

In my own marriage, I have no shortage of opinions about anything. My husband and I discuss everything and usually come to decisions together. He values what I bring to the table. However, if we disagree, he will have the final say. I am okay with that. I know that he loves the Lord, he loves me and he wants the best for our family. If he made a decision that drew us away from Christ, I would definitely object and stand my ground. We’ve had lots of disagreements and many lively “debates” about matters affecting our family. But in our years of marriage, my husband has pulled the “I’m the head of our family so what I say goes” card once–ONCE. And he was right to do it.

The weight of a family’s spiritual life is on the husband, not the wife. It is the husband who will answer to the Lord for how he lead his family. And so I will joyfully submit to my husband in all matters with the comforting knowledge and trust that he will lead me and our sons toward Jesus. It took me a long time to reach this point.

Honestly, I still sometimes feel a twitch of “you don’t own me!” But that is my childish, worldly reaction to not always being in charge, and that is my own sin to deal with. Knowing God, knowing His word, and most importantly, choosing a godly husband, will help smooth the path to a Christ-centered marriage in which willing submission is a natural part of making marital decisions.”

Mariet S., 27 years married

“Submission of wives to their husbands has usually been emphasized, but sometimes we forget that there is a harder responsibility on the husbands’ shoulders. They need to love their wives, just as Christ did. They need to love them selflessly and should be willing to give their all for them.

“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church…” (5:28-29 NIV). “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (5:33 NIV).

When your husband loves you selflessly and cares for your emotional and physical needs, as a wife, you also are willing to do your all to please him and to show your love, gratitude, and respect. In this kind of relationship, both parties try to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV). It is not a matter of power struggle anymore, but each one tries to consider the interests of the other side first. Of course, this needs sacrifice from both sides, which in turn strengthens the relationship and mutual love.”

So now what?

There seems to be an underlying message in all of these responses: submission in marriage is a lot more about love than control. It requires sacrifice from both parties in service of a greater goal to glorify God as a team. A give and take that’s rooted in a mutual desire to honor Him and each other.

Whether you’re married, dating or single, I hope that these personal stories help you think through this topic in a very tangible way. Please share your own thoughts and responses in the comments below.

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The All Our Minds project | On God’s Wrath & Love

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The All Our Minds project | On God’s Wrath & Love

In the Christian faith, we talk a lot about God being just. He balances the scales of justice. He exacts justice. He is just in all His ways. He is the ultimate Judge.

Sooner or later, these phrases just start rolling off our tongues like trite cliches or rehearsed lines. We know they’re true. We’ve accepted them as God’s truth. We’ve committed them to memory—yet, we’ve never really put them under the microscope. And even if we have, we’ve probably never focused our microscope past the blur. We’ve never really, truly, fully understood the implications of worshiping a just God.

Well friends, dust off your microscopes because question #8 has arrived. Here it is:

How do we reconcile God’s good & loving nature with His violent wrath in the Old Testament?

As far as I can tell, God’s justice lives at the corner of His love and His wrath. Let’s take a closer look at how the two work together to make Him the just God we’re always talking about.

God created the world & therefore defines the parameters of justice within it

A helpful reminder, right? Whenever the thought “but why would God allow X to happen?” enter my mind, I have to remember that this is my Father’s world. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—they’re literally the very first words in the Bible (Genesis 1:1). And if God created the heavens and the earth, that means He has full veto power over everything that happens on it.

Justin Taylor, SVP and Publisher at Crossway, put it this way in a Gospel Coalition article: “As Deuteronomy 32:4 says, ‘all God’s ways are justice’—by definition. If God does it, it is just. And since the triune God is inherently relational, the Bible says that God is love—and therefore all of his justice is ultimately born from and aiming toward love” (Taylor par. 5). Basically, if we believe what the Bible says is true—that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that “all God’s ways are justice”—than it stands to reason that everything He does is rooted in love.

After establishing this, Taylor continues: “While it is ultimately illegitimate to ask if God’s ways are just in securing the Promised Land, it is perfectly appropriate and edifying to seek understanding on how God’s ways are just—whether in commissioning the destruction of the Canaanites or in any other action. This is the task of theology—seeing how various aspects of God’s truth and revelation cohere” (Taylor par. 6). Once we’ve accepted the biblical truth that God’s ways—all of them—are in fact just, we can earnest approach His throne with hearts that ask “but how?”

Love & wrath are not mutually exclusive

There are certain passages in the Old Testament that, on their surface, seem to present us with the image of a less-than-loving God. From “blotting out every living thing” with the flood to taking vengeance on the Midianites in Numbers 31, we see Him go to some pretty extreme lengths to make His glory known.

When we read these passages, it’s hard not to wonder how our God of love orders the death of mothers and children or allows the destruction of entire nations. As we think through this, I think it’s helpful to look at a specific passage. Let’s head to Deuteronomy 4:25-28:

“After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.”

In this passage, Moses is warning the Israelites that choosing to worship other gods will ultimately drive them out of the promised land and into great suffering. He says that they will be scattered among many nations where few will survive.

With this warning, Moses reminds the people of Israel that turning away from God has serious consequences. Consequences that some may find drastic, violent or even un-loving. But notice how Moses’ words in the next three verses reveal the heart behind these consequences:

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath” (Deut. 4:29-31).

Man’s forgetfulness is a major theme throughout God’s Word. God reveals His faithfulness. Then, He is praised. His faithfulness is forgotten. Man sins. God punishes. Man repents. God forgives. And the cycle continues. The Israelites are the best example of this in the Old Testament. Over and over, God makes a way for them. Over and over, they forget His faithfulness and turn to other gods. It’s only through the consequences of turning away that they are humbled and reminded of God’s faithfulness to provide.

Later in Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Israelites to ”Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years...He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna... to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:2-3).

When we’re confronted by instances of God’s wrath in the Old Testament, it’s easy for us to question His loving nature. How could a loving God be so full of wrath? But this passage helps us see that His love and His wrath are far from mutually exclusive, as it is often His wrath which guides the Israelites back to Him after a season of forgetfulness.

God’s love & wrath intersect at the cross—where our hope is born

A few weeks ago, I shared a response to a question about suffering. In it, I talked about how I don’t believe that the suffering we experience today is a consequence of personal sin—which may seem like a contradiction of what I’ve just said. Here’s why it’s not.

For starters, I want to call out the distinction that’s often made between “Old Testament God” and “New Testament God.” A lot of people talk about the “Old Testament God” being the God of wrath and the “New Testament God” being the God of love and forgiveness. But Christians worship one God whose narrative and attributes are consistent throughout all of Scripture. The New Testament doesn’t introduce us to a new god. Rather, it invites us into a new relationship with the same God. A relationship that’s made possible through Christ’s work on the cross.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17-18). He does this through the ultimate act of unconditional love: enduring the totality of God’s wrath on our behalf. Because Christ has paid the price of sin in full, our relationship with God has changed drastically. Rather, it’s been restored.

Certain of our inability to perfectly fulfill the law on our own accord, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25). Instead of allowing the sin of mankind to forever remain unaccounted for—which would have made Him an unjust God—He did this “to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t eliminate the presence of suffering in our lives. It does however eliminate our need to suffer as a consequence of sin. Instead of desperately grasping at straws to make ourselves worthy according to the law, we’re now justified by faith in Jesus. This is the hope we find when God’s love and wrath intersect at the cross.

So now what?

In thinking through this question, it’s worth remembering that the character of our almighty God cannot be limited to the confines of our finite logic. As citizens, we accept that the president has the authority to do things that we don’t. As children, we accept that our parents have the authority to do things that we don’t. And as children of God, we must accept the same.

I say these things not to discourage us from probing to understand the ways of God. In fact, I believe that bringing our questions before God is an act of worship. It reveals our deepest desire to be in true relationship with Him. But in the hidden crevices and darkest corners of our searching, let us remember to savor the mystery of His unsearchable ways.

Donald Miller captures this idea perfectly in his novel, Blue Like Jazz. I’ll leave you with his words:

“At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder” (Miller 206).

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