Those of us who believe in God often believe ourselves into one of two categories of faith: that God is perpetually angry and predominantly just or that God is constantly loving and always mercifully forgiving everything.
God number one just gives us laws, and if we don’t deduce them correctly and obey every one of them to the letter, we are eternally-conscious ash on the funeral pyre of hell. He expresses what He wants from us; what He wants for us to do.
God number two wants everyone to be saved, so no matter what we do and how heinous it is He will just mushy-hug us all into His heavenly home anyway. He expresses preferences for us rather than commands, and in the end it doesn’t matter whether we’ve lived up to them or not.
These naive extremes result from the logical fallacy that since these concepts of God seem oppositional to us, only one can be true. Nuh-uh. They could both be false. They could both have roots in truth. They might not be oppositional at all – and they aren’t.
I believe God is both merciful and just — and I’ve blogged about the reasons and the scriptures enough that I’m not going back over than road again here. I believe that what He expresses toward us are not merely commands or preferences … but the loving instructions and promises of what He wants for us.
What He tells us to be and do is what is ultimately best for us, and He tells us because He is righteous (it’s simply the right thing for a parent to do!) and because He loves us.
Angi and I have raised our kids well into teen-age now. If we’ve done our treasured job well, Matt and Laura will continue to make wise decisions that build their future and their relationships with others. The time for mere commandments is over; those were necessary when they were little and unable to make wise decisions yet for lack of experience. We rewarded obedience; we punished disobedience. Now that is becoming unnecessary; as they increasingly shoulder the responsibilities of life, life itself applies discipline. We do not intervene to remove the consequences of their choices because we love them and want them to grow in the directions that they choose.
Let’s pretend that Angi and I had also been the parents of an older child and she had been our first. This child had helped us care for and nurture and teach the younger two, loved them as surely as we did, and in an unfortunate incident whose portent the younger children could not fully understand — a dare, perhaps — she had rescued the two of them from certain death … yet lost her own life in the effort.
What would we want for our remaining children from then on?
I think I’d want them to remember their older sister fondly. I’d want them to understand and appreciate how much she had loved them and was willing to give up for them. I want them to know that I still loved them as dearly as ever; that I did not blame them for her death.
I would want for them to live their own lives reflecting a growing love toward others, love that gives and never looks back. I would want them to be willing to tell stories about her to others; repeat stories that she had told them when they played school and she was their teacher.
I would want them to get to know her friends better and spend some time with them so they would know more about her; to sing her favorite songs when they got together to remember her. I’d want them to know everything I believe about where she is now and how and why.
I would still want them to grow up, find a mate for life they can love, bless, and be blessed by as much as I have and have been with their mom. It’d be great if they had their own kids, too!
There are all kinds of things that I would not want for them; things that would warp and distort and could yet destroy their lives, even after being rescued once before. Every parent knows what those things are.
And, of course, I would want / not want these things for them because I believe they are the things God wants and does not want for His children. He expresses His relationship to us as “Father,” and He did so through His Son. The comparison between the perfectly merciful and just God and the fatally-flawed person that is me is infinitely distant, I know.
But as I have confessed many times, I am an unabashedly simple-minded person. And an analogy like this “let’s pretend” helps me understand a little better His nature, His love, His righteousness, His justice, His mercy.
It helps me understand who He is, and what He wants – and doesn’t want – for me.