A friend recently asked me how I reconcile the vengeful, war-like God of the Old Testament with the meek mild Jesus. That is a question that has come through the ages. On the surface it does look like it is almost two different Gods. The God of the Old Testament does rain fire down on sinners. He does drown armies. He smites people with leprosy. He strikes down one who dared to help steady the Ark of the Covenant. There was blood and fire and law and judgment and punishment.
He was/ is a fearsome, awesome God. One who is holy – absolutely holy. He will not be trifled with – then or now.
We cannot begin to see Him through our own understanding. It fails every time. His holiness is transcendent. We have nothing to compare it to. No one, nothing in our understanding comes close to understanding the greatness, purity, holiness of this powerful, terror-able God.
And yet in the Old Testament we get glimpse of another side of His character when we read, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried….” Isaiah, the Prophet wrote, “I will make mention of the loving-kindnesses of the Lord, according to all the Lord has granted us…which He has granted according to His compassion…” He also wrote, ” Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you, behold I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…” Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning.” David, who was a sinner like us but, was called “a man after God’s own heart wrote, “Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagles…”. David also wrote, “I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live…gracious is the lord and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate.” And of course the very famous, “The Lord is my shepherd…” And perhaps my favorite, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”
Often God is portrayed as masculine. Heroic. Strong. Vengeful. Powerful. But my study of the Bible leads me to conclude that there is a feminine side of God. After all a woman was half of the equation when God created “man” in His image, male and female He created them. The scripture talks about God in feminine roles – teaching and feeding His people – the roles of a woman, “Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms; But they did not know that I healed them…I bent down and fed them.”
Space limits too deep a discussion of this but there is a good book on the subject, The Mother Heart of God by Trudy Bayak. I recommend it to you.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God. So if we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. John tells us “God is love.” If God is eternal and unchanging, which I believe Him to be, what is true of God in one age, is true in another.
Jesus is often portrayed as gentle, mild, meek. Milquetoast. But, in fact, He was far from it. Jesus was a revolutionary. He was dangerous. That’s what got Him crucified. He turned the world on its ear. No longer and eye for an eye but turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Give your shirt as well as your coat. Go the extra mile. Read the Sermon on the Mount and decide if Jesus was mild. That is hard stuff.
God is “both and”. Much bigger than we can grasp. I find great comfort that God is both fierce and gentle; holy and merciful; mighty and patient; demanding and forgiving. He is a great God.
Don’t limit God in His role. He is both male and female. Both hard and gentle. He is much more than we can begin to imagine.
I am sure you have experienced many occasions when someone has hurt you. Depending on the relationship with that person the hurt was a deep wound or you brushed it off. The ones we can brush off are easier to forgive. Like a friend who is late for an appointment, or a child draws on your freshly painted wall. The ones that causes a deep wound are much more difficult to forgive. A spouse’s infidelity, a friend that broke a confidence, an unkind, critical remark. Those are much harder to forgive.
How about the person who wounds you time and again? They do the same thing repeatedly and leave you deeply hurt, questioning your own value. That is really hard to forgive. Some might say impossible. The easiest thing perhaps is just to cut them out of your life…but that isn’t forgiveness.
Peter asked Jesus such a question; “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times.” We are not told what prompted Peter to ask the question. Perhaps Peter had a person in mind. A family member that continued to put him down? A neighbor that kept taking advantage? A spouse that had an addiction? We aren’t told. But it was something Peter wanted to find out. He asked Jesus if forgiving 7 times was sufficient. The rabbis of the day taught that three times was sufficient. So Peter doubled that and threw in one more for good measure. Going above and beyond.
And the question implies that Peter has experienced repeated hurts – for the same thing. His brother put him down repeatedly. His neighbor didn’t respect boundaries repeatedly. His spouse was addicted and creating havoc in the home. Or perhaps Peter was thinking of himself. Maybe his impulsiveness got him not trouble more than once. (I know the Bible doesn’t tell us these things…I am using my sanctified imagination.)
I am sure each of us have asked the same question hoping that Jesus’ response might give us some wiggle room. We’d like to think there is a point at which the transgression is so grievous that we don’t have to forgive. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t give us any wiggle room. Not only no wiggle room but His answer goes beyond imagination. What He is saying is that we are to be God-like in our response to an offense.
We have often read and I have said myself that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. It frees us from the offense. It isn’t matter of letting someone off the hook – it is getting ourselves off the hook of transgression done to us!
But it is more than that. When we forgive we are reflecting God’s character – it is Hs nature to forgive. The act of forgiveness is more, so much more than our emotional well-being. Therefore when we forgive we enter into a very divine grace, a sacred behavior. I am beginning to see that the act of forgiveness is not about me at all. It is a form of true worship. It is me being willing to lay aside my desires for what I think is fair, picking up my cross and following after God.
And perhaps by His grace God will use me to bless the one that wronged me. Isn’t that what Jesus did on the Cross?
I am not saying that it is easy. It goes against my own nature. I strain against such. I argue. I fight for my rights. I nurse my hurts. I walk in self-pity and carry bitterness. But in the end I come down to this very simple truth. Jesus said to forgive over and over and over and over again – it reflects His nature. That’s what He wants from us. That is what He is doing in us.
The contrast between evil and good has been in the news and on our front pages this week.
It was a thrill to see Dr. Brantley on the news yesterday as he left Emory University Hospital hand in hand with his wife. It is a miracle that he is alive and expected to live a full life. Ebola is a deadly virus that kills 30 to 90 percent of its victims. Dr. Brantley credited God and the many prayers around the world for his healing. I praise God for it – as we all do.
In the same week we learned a family of deep faith lost their son to a gruesome beheading by the barbaric group called Issis. Evil seemed to triumph. Josh Foley’s parents prayed earnestly for his release. Many prayed for him as they had prayed for Dr. Brantley. Prayed for his safety and release. Even the Pope prayed. Why were their prayers not answered?
How do we juxtapose those two events? Why did God not answer one prayer but He not answer the other? Do we have to make ourselves theological pretzels to make sense of it? Are there answers?
First, God did answer both prayers. Just because one was answered as we hoped does not mean He didn’t answer the other. We do not know the mind of God.
I will be the first one to tell you that I don’t have an answer and anyone who does, is not being honest. There are just some things we don’t and can’t understand. I can tell you I believe in the sovereignty of God with all my heart. I know He is in control and He has a plan. His plans are being worked out even now – though we may not be able to see it. What we see is not all there is. There are major events happening in the spiritual realm right now. There is so much more we don’t know. I can’t help but believe that God is setting the stage for the return of Christ.
I believe the events in the past week illustrate the intense battle being fought between good and evil. We do know evil has already been defeated at the Cross – Christ is triumphant. Every knee will bow and acknowledge He is Lord of Lords. One day…
But back to here and now on earth there is suffering and heartache. Let us be faithful to the One who is at work in every circumstance. I don’t know who said it but, I like the quote, “When we can’t see His hand we can trust His heart.” If you are suffering today I offer no pat answers no cliches but a trust in the character of God Who is just, merciful, all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful, big, good, compassionate, near, faithful and the only true Hope in the world.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah. Quite a man. He confronted the wicked Queen Jezebel many times – stood for God’s truth and authority at his own risk. Jezebel, with her husband, Ahab, were formidable, powerful, calculating adversaries. They struck terror into the hearts of their opponents. Her name is synonymous with treachery and deceit, even today.
Elijah was God’s kind of “man of faith” – bold, faithful, courageous, human…
Elijah and the prophets of Baal had a face-off on Mt. Carmel. God showed up in a powerful, miraculous way (Read I Kings 18) – one of my favorite Bible stories! All the evil manipulation, politics, personalities, power are no match for God as God revealed Himself as the One True God. God’s victory was manifest that day in a spectacular way.
Right after God had used him to trounce the evil prophets, Jezebel threatens, as she was want to do! Elijah became afraid. From our vantage today – since we know the “rest of the story” we can be cynical of Elijah’s weakness and easily ask, “But why fear, Elijah. You just participated in a great victory. God showed up. He will again.” Think about it…he was human. What would you do? He was exhausted. He was spent in ministry for God. There was a bullseye on his back. He was afraid of Jezebel and he ran.
I am sure I would have too. Probably from your own experience you know we don’t usually go from mountaintop to mountaintop. From my father’s front porch you can see several ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It looks like it is all mountaintop – what we can’t see are the many valleys in between.
On that morning, Elijah couldn’t either. He was vulnerable. Did God criticize him? Condemn him? Reject him? No. God came to him.
God recently showed me in this passage that God came to Elijah while Elijah was sleeping, resting. Too many of us think we have to work nonstop for God. The busier we are the more value we have. The dark circles under our eyes are badges of courage. Folks, there is no crown laid up for exhaustion.
If we take time to rest we won’t miss God. He won’t forget us. He’ll come get us!
Jesus said, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…” That’s a command. He doesn’t condemn rest – far from it. He provides it.