"How do I shed a [harsh] image of God? I try and I can't. This is the only God I know. I can't seem to find the loving God some speak of. And so....I wish I never knew God. I wish I was never raised to be a Christian.
"For me, God is a big entity somewhere out there. He is neither personal, nor caring, nor loving. Never has been. At least not for me. And the thought of ever reconciling myself to him and seeing him differently just seems an impossibility."
Tony Campolo responds:
Christmas shatters any idea that God is some kind of vengeful tyrant bent on smiting any who fail to live up to His expectations. The image of a harsh, punishing deity is contradicted when we discover that our God was incarnated in a baby in Bethlehem's manger.
What we realize with the birth of Jesus is that God is a loving person who was willing to give up power in order to express His love. At Christmas we are reminded, as it says in the second chapter of Philippians, that the same God who had the power to toss the galaxies into outer space and set electrons spinning in inner space loved us enough to set aside all that power in order to show that love.
Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth-century theologian and philosopher, once told the story of a prince who had fallen in love with a peasant girl. This prince knew that if he presented himself to her with all of his royal trappings, she would be overawed by him. His power and majesty would render her incapable of freely choosing to love him. Knowing this, the prince took off his royal garments, set aside his crown, and dressed himself as a peasant. He became a peasant in her eyes, so that in this guise she could choose to love him or not, for his own sake.
So it was with God at that first Christmas. If He had not been willing to put His power "on hold," loving Him would be impossible. We would not have the freedom needed to choose love if our God powerfully controlled everything. If all that we thought and did was under the control of His power, then love, freely given, would not be possible.
Sociologists who have studied personal relationships have long known that power and love cannot be simultaneously expressed. In any relationship, they point out, the person who has the most power is the one expressing the least love. Consider a married couple in which the wife loves her husband intensely, but he could not care less about continuing the marriage. Which of them has the most power? He does, of course. Her love has made her vulnerable to being exploited. Love does that! That is why Fredrick Nietzsche, the father of modern atheistic existentialism, sneered at love as he exalted "the will to power."
The good news is that 2,000 years ago, our God showed us His love by emptying Himself of power and coming into the world as a vulnerable infant child. The scandalous declaration of Christians is that the Bethlehem child is none other than the creator God, having become one of us. There is no greater love than this!
Sometimes it is hard to want a God who, for love, gives up His power. There are situations in which we might prefer a God with limitless power. When cancer strikes, or when evil enemies threaten, most of us, like the Psalmist, want a God who uses His power to provide deliverance and make things right.
But we can't have it both ways. Either we have a God who exercises limitless power or a God who limits His power so that love might live in His heart and in ours. God is love! That love has made Him vulnerable. We see that in the life of Jesus. That vulnerability was made brilliantly clear on Calvary. The Bible says that on the cross "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." On the cross we see how far God's love will go. He was willing to die an agonizing death rather than have those He loves endure harsh condemnation.
From Bethlehem to Calvary, we learn that God is not a condemning God, but a friend to sinners. In Scripture we read, "There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." This Christmas, be thankful for the God who comes to us in weakness because He loves; a God who annihilates any belief that He is a harsh and vindictive deity. His coming to us in Jesus is all the proof we need that in His love He wills peace on earth and good will for us all.