We all know that God is good, right? In fact, in my old church we added the phrase "all the time, and all the time, God is good." So, what is there to study this week? You may know that God is good, but a lot of people are uncertain, at best. The worst part of that problem is that you may be the basis on which they form their opinion about God. Let's explore what the Bible says about this issue and what we should do about it!
The Cosmic Conflict over God's Character
Commentary for the December 21, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar… For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:7-8, 20-21, NIV
Have you ever wondered what people are doing on other planets throughout the universe? Perhaps you have. However, most likely, like many other people, you spend your day taking care of the necessities of life. You work. You raise your children. You care for your home. In fact, you may be so busy that you have little time to even consider things like life throughout the cosmos. Paying attention to everything here may be challenge enough. Yet there is a school of theological thought that believes this is a major occupation for those living on those other worlds.
They teach that Earth is like a theatre, or perhaps a television transmitter broadcasting what is going on here on Earth to the rest of the universe. How reminiscent this is of the days when Galileo challenged the prevailing theology of his time that the Earth was the physical center of space. We laugh at the arrogance and simple-mindedness of those people of long ago who believed that they held such an important place in the center of everything. Yet, we continue to believe, like a spoiled child, that we are at the center of everyone’s attention, instead of perhaps being a backwater planet, relegated insignificantly to the edge of our own spiral galaxy, out on the fringes as it were.
Perhaps if we could avoid the human tendency toward pride, we could like Arthur Dent in the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” whose planet was demolished for a galactic expressway,[i] come to a more accurate understanding of our place in the universe. Like King David, we might find ourselves asking of God, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”[ii] For truly once we discover how insignificant and finite we are in this infinite expanse of stars, we may not be able to fathom the mystery of why we at first thought ourselves so wonderfully superior. We as a people who wish to stand and proclaim our worthiness to the universe appear to presumptuously feel that we alone can vindicate God before the entire alien host.
Even if we feel this is the correct state of things, when we consider what they have been viewing through our presentation, we see that our portrayal of God’s character is somewhat schizophrenic. Like Janus, the two-headed god, we give God two heads, one vicious and cruel and the other loving and compassionate. James, in his Epistle, pointed out how inconsistent this is. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”[iii]
When we look at the church, which, by definition, should probably be the most accurate representation of how we see God’s character, we see some, perhaps far too few, within the church that indeed are compassionate and caring. However, we also see those who are anything but. Those who are not tend to constantly be on the look-out for those who deviate from understood orthodoxy, they mercilessly judge, recoil from, and if possible cast out those who offend their delicate sensibilities. They claim justification in doing this by asserting they are simply protecting the flock. In reality, they are perhaps more interested in preserving a culture and a life-style they have grown accustomed to and are very comfortable with. Perhaps they think that because they like their segregated cultural ghetto, God must like it, too. Therefore, they must do all they can to preserve it, in His name of course.
Lest some think this is all speculation. A few years ago, John,* a youth leader in a long-established, inner-city church planned a camping trip to provide the young people an opportunity to get out of the concrete jungle and enjoy God’s beautiful natural creation. When he decided that the trip should be opened up to non-church children from the community as a way to speak God’s love into their lives, all the church members with children in his group promptly withdrew their children from the planned campout. The reason they gave was that they did not want their children being contaminated by influences from non-Christians.
While stating that they believe that God is love, the message they delivered loud and clear to the non-Christians was, “You are losers who do not belong in our group.” Thankfully, the leader did not relay this attitude to the children who went on the camp out. He later remarked to me that he heard far less foul language and greater respect and politeness from the non-Christians than he had ever experienced on previous outings with the regular church youth. Apparently the parents even had their children send thank you notes and make appreciative phone calls to thank him after the trip. However, the parents of the church children who had not gone on the trip only expressed frustration that the youth leader had not recognized their “entitlement” to have a proper “Christian” outing.
While this is a sad little episode, it is illustrative of how all too often our Christianity gets played out in the world. Instead of seeing the sheep outside the fold as lost and needing our help,[iv] they are portrayed as the enemy and a threat to everything we hold dear as Christians. Interacting with them will make us “unclean.” Bringing them into our churches would destroy the idyllic sanctuary from the world that we have carefully preserved. And if this is how we feel about the church, how much worse would it be in our homes, and at our dinner tables? Why would we even consider “eating with sinners?”[v]
What a horrible picture this paints of the character of God. Instead of being the God of all glory who came into our dark and gloomy world to live a life of poverty and deprivation, a God who bled and died on a filthy, splintery cross to demonstrate how far He was willing to go to compassionately succor his despondent lambs, we portray Him as a mean-spirited Being, more concerned with protecting the cleanliness of heaven than with the needs of Earth.
As if that were not enough, we also claim that if we could only fully implement that miss-characterization here on Earth, the whole world would be a heavenly place to live. We forget that even among ourselves, as Christians, we cannot agree on the details of that corrupted vision. Some view that vision as every man and woman with a gun in their hand to do battle with evil as the answer, while others feel that passing enough laws and constructing enough prisons will produce the utopia we crave. But few see the answer as simply going to the bleating, lost sheep and compassionately meeting their need as being in any way effective. Never mind that the Bible reveals Jesus did exactly that for us.
Instead of continuing the work of the Great Shepherd, we muddy the still water[vi] for the other sheep and push them away when they are drawn to drink. It was God, the Shepherd who brought them to drink. It is He who provides the water. How dare we block their path? Instead of readily receiving the sheep that freely come, we make long lists of exactions and if we are in the mood, we go in search only of those who measure up to those lists. When we find them, we train them to do the same as we have done and continue in them the process of driving away those we find undesirable, never asking ourselves why those unclean sheep might have shown up at our holy door in the first place.
How strange it must look, if there is life on other planets, and they are indeed observing all this. If God is truth,[vii] truth is consistent. This schizoid portrayal of saying that God is love and acting in such an unloving manner toward those He has called is not. It portrays a God powerless to protect His people. Therefore, Christians must protect themselves with guns, laws, and exclusive elitism. We must banish every attempt that sin makes to enter our precincts, even if that means rejecting the lost sinner as well. The paradox is that perhaps once we give in to this distorted image of God’s character, we may find ourselves without the only protection that really matters: the love of God.
*A pseudonym to protect privacy
[i] “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams, Harmony Books
[ii] Psalm 8:4, NIV
[iii] James 3:9-10, NIV
[iv] Luke 15:1-7
[v] Ibid. vs. 2
[vi] Psalm 23
[vii] John 14:6
"THE COSMIC CONFLICT OVER GOD'S CHARACTER"
December 21, 2013
Texts: Ezekiel 28:12-17; Isaiah 14:12-15; Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1-5; 1 John 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:8; Ezekiel 36:23-27
It's the Christmas season-a time for giving and sharing. And a time when many people show their true character. They either act like the Christmas Angel or like Ebenezer Scrooge. Two news stories this week showed the contrast.
The students at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho were invited to come to school dressed up like the Christmas character of their choice. So Christopher Rougier decided to dress up like Santa Claus. Because Christopher is an African American, his teacher thoughtlessly called him out, saying, "Christopher, don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?" According to Christopher's father, the cruel remark caused his son to feel "ashamed and embarrassed."
The teacher was placed on paid administrative leave and the school released this statement: "This situation involves a teacher recently hired by Cleveland High who made - and admits he made - a stupid mistake. The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made."1
But another man's character was also news this week-a man whose name is still unknown. In recent weeks, restaurant servers from coast to coast and in Mexico have been given generous tips. Amounts have ranged from $1,000 to $10,000! All meals were charged on an American Express card and next to the tip amount on each receipt was stamped "@tipsforjesus." None of the signatures are legible.
Instagram, an online photo-sharing phone app, has a "Tips for Jesus" account with photos proving that these tip stories are real. "Doing the Lord's work, one tip at a time" appears as the feed's tagline. From Los Angeles to Michigan, and places in between, smiling waiters and waitresses are posting their photos with their receipts. Across the country servers are leaving their restaurant's address, asking that this generous person of character visit their restaurant and leave a tip.2
Two very different stories, of two very different men, with two very different characters.
As we studied in this week's lesson, the universe has been witnessing God's true character since Lucifer's first accusation-when what we know as the great controversy began. Yet it's clearly a losing battle for Satan. The universe cannot ignore or deny what God has done for humans after Adam and Eve first sinned. Satan's accusation that Jesus is selfish was refuted once and for all when Jesus did the most selfless thing the universe has ever seen: Jesus died for us.
John 4:10 describes just how unselfish Jesus is: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (NIV). And now it's our turn to be selfless by following Jesus' urging to "let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16, NIV). The universe is watching to see which side of the battle each of us will choose to join.
Additional resource: msnbc
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