Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Beginning with God 2

Worship.jpgLong ago an English writer announced that our God was too small — and he then listed the ways that Christians generally have bad ideas about God.

James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) is arguing something like this when he suggests we take a deeper look at our “false narratives” that are shaping our lives.


God is good.

Smith tells a story when his faith in God as good was shaken, and it had to do with their daughter who, 8 months in the womb, was discovered with a rare disease that would claim her life 2 years later. A pastor met with Smith and asked this question: “Who sinned… you or your wife?” [Groans deleted.]

Smith proposes that what shapes that kind of question is a narrative of “the angry God.” “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished” (40).

How has the Angry-God-Narrative shaped your life? What have you done to reshape the Angry-God-Narrative?

Smith thinks this is the most prevalent narrative about God among Christians today. It is a constant “tit for a tat” God.


Jesus’ narrative, Smith proposes, is a different one. God is good; the question is not “who sinned?” as in John 9:2-3 (“who sinned, Rabbi, … that this man was born blind”) but how can God be glorified. Jesus heals the man to show the grace of God at work. Jesus abolished the idea that we get what we deserve. The tit-for-a-tat God is a means of control — of our world and our life. It is a controlling narrative, however, that doesn’t work.

Someday we will see justice and someday we will understand justice. (He interacts here with Augustine.)

We can also take delight and comfort in that Jesus, too, experienced suffering. He believes for us when we struggle.

God is good. All the time.

How is the God-is-Good Narrative re-shaping your world?

After each chp Smith has a section on spiritual formation: this one is on silence and listening to creation itself.

Comments read comments(17)
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Dave Leigh

posted July 16, 2009 at 1:20 am

Thank you for this. I think my problem is that I am very aware of my own sins and tend to burden myself with guilt even though I know better. When problems come my way, it is very easy to believe that I deserve them–or something worse! At least that’s the tape that plays in my head if I’m not vigilant to guard my heart and thoughts.
It is very liberating to think in terms of problems having the purpose of glorifying God rather than occuring to make me miserable! Of course I know that. Yet somehow your comments here have helped me see this with fresh perspective.
I’m going to work on making this perspective a more intentional part of my thoughts and feelings.
Thank you!

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posted July 16, 2009 at 7:26 am

This “angry God” theme is a significant problem that impacts many different parts of our church today – including, I think, an undercurrent in the evolution debate in some circles. Defects and disease cannot arise “by chance,” all is ordained – as a result of a specific sin – not just original sin.
But while it is clear that God is just – and exercises judgment and mercy – it seems to me that the overall theme is God is good and desires relationship with his creation and with humans created in his image. The God is good narrative keeps us moving forward in relationship rather than fearing wrath for intentional or unintentional missteps.

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Rodney Reeves

posted July 16, 2009 at 10:05 am

We live in a world dominated by “cause and effect” thinking. What helps me overcome the tendency to connect the dots is the story of John 9. I love that story. Jesus shifts the dialogue (much like Dave and RJS did in their comments): God would rather have us talk about his purposes in our lives than try to answer the question “who sinned?” with our feeble attempts at making presumptuous judgments about the misery of others.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 10:29 am

Before we attack the “angry God” idea, we have to stop and look at some other words of Jesus: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).
Sometimes God judges sin in the here and now, and sometimes He waits. We cannot completely ignore the possibility that our misfortune is due to our sin.
Nor should we assume someone else’s problems are due to sin. The simple fact is we don’t know what’s going on.
I think it is healthy to at least consider the possibility that we are in trouble when things go wrong. It is a good time for self-examination and repentance — and God is not less good because he punishes our sin; His punishment is designed to bring us to repentance.
But we shouldn’t assume that for anyone else. Not only is it calous, but it presumes to know the mind of God.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 11:02 am

He wants us to join him (Trinity) in His mission. He is not trying to discourage us from participating.

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Scott Morizot

posted July 16, 2009 at 11:23 am

Coincidence of topic. I was just reading the following this morning:
I’m not sure I’ve had much problem with the “angry god” narrative personally since I can’t think of a time I really believed it. Some of the treatment I received from some Christians over the course of my life may have been due, in part, to their captivity to this narrative.

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Dave Leigh

posted July 16, 2009 at 11:41 am

#4 Chris B – Of course you are right that we ought always to pause for self evaluation and look for ways to repent and improve our lives. But I think the point being made in this blog is that the “angry God” mentality rarely, if ever, finds relief. Some of us are so conditioned to wallow in guilt and are so depleted by this that we forget (or have to struggle to remember) that we have been set free and that God has better things for us. He wants to glorify himself by means of grace in our lives, rather than keep us under his thumb for our failures. He is constantly cheering us on, saying, “C’mon! Get back up! Get back in the game! You can still do this! You can still produce glory!”
One of my favorite Rabbinic quotes on this subject comes from Martin Buber’s Way of Man. Buber writes:
“… he who goes on fretting himself with repentance, he who tortures himself with the idea that his acts of penance are not sufficient, withholds his best energies from the work of reversal. The Rabbi of Ger warned against self-torture:
‘What would you? Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way–it will always be muck. Have I sinned, or have I not sinned–what does Heaven get out of it? In the time I am brooding over it I could be stringing pearls for the delight of Heaven. That is why it is written: “Depart from evil and do good”–turn wholly away from evil, do not dwell upon it, and do good. You have done wrong? Then counteract it by doing right.'”
When we face problems in our lives that may well be the result of sinful or unwise choices, of course it’s good to evaluate and correct them. But ultimately, as noted above in this blog “the question is not “who sinned?” as in John 9:2-3 … but how can God be glorified?”
May we all find ourselves focusing our energies on stringing pearls for the delight of heaven, rather than feeling paralized by thoughts of an insatiably angry God combing the muck back and forth in our lives!

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Scott Morizot

posted July 16, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Interesting. I can’t think of single instance when as a result of any circumstance, I asked either “who sinned?” or “how can God be glorified?” In the case of the story in the post, both strike me as strange and not quite human responses. I have had friends who have had babies in the womb diagnosed with serious conditions, so I have a little bit of connection to Smith’s personal story. To the extent that any question sprang to mind, it was “How can I help?” Mostly I just prayed and tried to be present to them as I could.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“Depart from evil and do good” sounds like a great plan. But you have to know what evil you’re doing.
Wallowing in guilt to extremes is certainly not what I had in mind.
But there are those who teach that these things are never punishments. That’s hard to support scripturally, and it’s a dangerous attitude — it’s best to learn your lessons quickly.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Nice post. I’ve been thinking about this a lot–no set in stone answers or positions, but:
1. Why do folks argue about inerrancy, when it’s really HOW do we read the Bible–see the Blue Parakeet
2. I think in some audio file N.T. Wright was talking about his aunt having no time for Paul and the law, etc and that she much preferred John and God is Love
3. George Lakoff talking about Authoritarianism versus empathy and how this relates to HOW we read the bible–as a law book or an epression of God’s Love. I think this is the source of all the Calvinsim versus Arminianism schisms, fundamentalists versus “liberals’ etc
4.Also, this is where we discover the readers implicit world view–is his God the authoritarian Judge or the expression of Love?

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Michelle Van Loon

posted July 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

It has been an ardous process in my life learning to surrender to a different spiritual-emotional script than the one I grew up hearing that said, “You big knucklehead! You messed up. You have ______ (fill in the blank with the disaster/punishment of your choosing) coming to you.”
He has patiently been erasing one digitized soundbite at a time from that toxic old script in my soul, even when I insist on trying to re-record the old message again.
The sweetness of His patience and persistence in doing so has helped me engage with His goodness in ways I can scarcely explain in words.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 4:38 pm

The single toughest thing that keeps me from “knowing” Knowing that God is Good and he is love has been my struggle with Calvinism. If calvinists are right than there is some people who God refuses to extend saving grace to (that could include me) and send them to hell for his glory. I have never understood how this is love? I have never understood how you then could say to someone that God loves them, especially when you don’t know if their elect and if they are not elect what could the words God loves you possibly mean at that point? I am still struggling with this stuff and I don’t know if I ever will be at peace with it…

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posted July 16, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I may be on a much lower intellectual rung in this discussion but this is what I’ve been studying lately–God is Sovereign, God is Sovereign in all of his attributes–his love AND his justice. We are God’s creation –we are the pot made from clay just how God the creator wanted us to be made. We are responsible to do what God has purposed for us but we all fall short–hence none of us is deserving of God’s mercy and grace. However, God chooses to give grace to some and he can choose because HE is the sovereign God.
The god that I would create for us would be only the loving part-he would definitly overlook my small sins and he would punish those who sin against me. That theology makes me sovereign. But, the triune God is Sovereign.

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posted July 16, 2009 at 8:13 pm

I think the God is angry narrative shaped my early life as evidenced by a 10-year absence from the faith in which I remember thinking, “How can I go back after all that I’ve done?” The God is good narrative has shaped my years subsequent to that period of my life in that once I came back to faith, I was overwhelmed by God’s graciousness and mercy. Is He a righteous judge? Absolutely. Is He a good and loving God? Absolutely. We just tend to emphasize one part of His nature over the other, oftentimes to our own detriment.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 9:05 am

I too struggled with this angry-God narrative for many years; a God I could never truly please but could only hope to pacify and keep his anger at bay by my efforts for him. The result was me hiding from God. Yet I never actually left the church – it was where I’d grown up and all I’d ever known. For me, grace is the thing – what drew me back to the heart of God. It is an ongoing journey. I love that Smith aligns his thoughts with spiritual formation. I think our view of God and his transforming work in our lives go hand in hand. I just put this book on my library list and can’t wait to check it out. Thanks for this series!

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posted July 17, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Re posts 12 & 13
God, to be sovereign, does not have to be sovereign in the manner envisioned by John Calvin and his successors and disciples. That view of sovereignty is too limited, small minded, and out of step with Scripture.
As Roger Olson has written, “Calvin clearly taught that God foreordained the fall and rendered it certain. (Institutes of the Christian Religion III:XXIII.8) He also affirmed double predestination (III:XXI.5) and displayed callous disregard for the reprobate who he admitted God compelled to obedience (disobedience). (I:XVIII.2) Calvin distinguished between two modes of God’s will-what later Calvinists have called God’s decretive and preceptive wills. (III:XXIV.17) God decrees that the sinner shall sin while at the same time commanding him not to sin and condemning him for doing what he was determined by God to do. To Calvin this all lies in the secret purposes of God into which we should not peer too deeply, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who regards God as above all love.
John Wesley commented on the Calvinists’ claim that God loves even the reprobate in some way. As one contemporary Calvinist put it, “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.” Wesley said that this is a love such as makes the blood run cold.
Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, commented that those who find themselves suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God. To paraphrase Wesley, that is a glory such as sends chills down the spine. God foreordains some of his own creatures, created in his own image, to eternal hell for his own glory? Calvin may not have put it quite that bluntly, but many Calvinists have and it is a necessary extrapolation of the inner logic of consistent Calvinism. (Institutes III:XXII.11)”

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posted July 17, 2009 at 11:20 pm

John 1453,
That is exactly what I am talking about.

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