God is not Santa Claus
To realize that God is a being, not a principle. His actions toward us are directed by His will, His emotions and our actions. God's goodness and His severity are both discussed.
Romans 11:13-24, Rom 5:8, Rev 17:17, The parables of Matthew and numerous others.
Packers "Knowing God" chapter 16
Barnetts, "Current Issues and Enduring Questions", excerpt from "Why I am not a Christian - The Morale Problem", by Bertrand Russell , pg 498]
What does it mean to have faith in God today?-> Take a minute and write your answer
The Back Door:
People often say they believe in God but many have no idea who or what they believe in or what difference it might make. Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many versions of Christianity today? Consider the following suggestions along with your own thoughts.
1. People like to follow religious hunches - it makes them feel special
2. People like to think of all religions as similar or of all just being different ways to describe the same truth. This makes the choosing simple. All these people have to do is draw from each religion or sect those items they like .. they "cherry pick" to customize their gospel.
3. People have ceased to recognize their own perversity and sinfulness. They no longer see the difference between themselves and God.
4. People like to disassociate God's goodness from his severity. If it becomes unpopular to consider some aspect of God (such as his anger) men often re-form God into what we would have him to be. Many prefer more of a "saving Santa Claus" than a creator and a judge. People like to believe in a celestial being who has lots of indulgent benevolence. Any attempt to see God with fear is written off as Victorian or Puritan. Interestingly enough many who feel this way are also quite confused by the cruelty, death, and pain in this world. They say, "Surely a loving God would not let this happen."
Key Message: We must realize that any god we imagine in our mind is useless to us. It is as useless as the wooden idols of old. The only god worth knowing is the real one, our creator, and He must be searched for, not envisioned or imagined. We must also realize that God is a real being and not a principle. Santa Claus is a good example of a principle we envision as a person.
Second we must realize that the real God has described Himself and we can learn about Him objectively. He has told us in His Word (the Bible) that not only is His goodness great but so is His severity. Lets look at each in detail.
Section 1: The Goodness of God
What is goodness? Perhaps the following traits can help you build your own definition. Take a minute and define it for yourself.
Admirable / Merciful / Attractive / Generous / Loving
Now lets investigate God's goodness. First Ex 34:5-7 shows us that Gods goodness includes truthfulness, tenderness, unfailing justice & wisdom. Ex 34:6 shows us God's goodness includes generosity .. (the simple desire that others should have what they need to be happy). And how about "grace". This is the word we use to describe the whole aspect of God's goodness towards us despite our sinfulness.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Rom 5:8 (NIV)
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:8,9 (NIV)
And what of love? I once met a man who stated "God is love, and that's all there is to it". 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 do declare that God is love and I must agree that for the believer, God's love is evident in every aspect of God's involvement with him. But is this all there is to God? Is the statement "God is love" the complete truth about Him?
There is curious doctrine taught in one or more sects of the Catholic Church. It teaches that since God is love and since he died for all men, salvation is guaranteed for all regardless of mens beliefs. It is "Universal". The concept presupposes that there may be a Hell, but there won't be any humans in it.
Key Message: Now the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by faith. Men are required to believe that Jesus was Gods Son and that His death on the cross was the only way man could be made acceptable to God. So where does this doctrine come from? It comes from the mis-application of the statement that God is love. For "God is love" is not the whole truth about God as we will see in a minute.
Section Summary :
While God's love was demonstrated in the death of His Son on the cross many years ago, we should remember that He is right now demonstrating that love in a different way. Don't forget the promise of John 14
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1 (NIV)
This world has a habit of diluting the reality of God. Satan' loves to fill our lives with so much "stuff" that we lose sight of God's love for us. If you find yourself feeling that God's love and goodness are far away from you try repeating the following -
This is not my real life. God is my true father, heaven is my real home, Jesus is there right now preparing my real home and today has brought me one day closer to it.
Section 2: The Severity of God
The following is an excerpt from Current Issues and Enduring Questions pg 498-499 which is an article by Bertrand Russell entitled, "Why I am not a Christian".
Russell writes ...
..........There is one serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character and that is that he believed in hell. I do not believe that anyone who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospel did believe in everlasting punishment, ...
... You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell." That was said to people who did not like his preaching....
... Then of course you all remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going to say to the goats, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." He continues, "And these shall go away into everlasting fire." .. He repeats this again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world ... and I think that the Christ of the Gospels would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that......
........... I cannot myself feel either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue, Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects..
-> What do you think? Did Russell make a mistake? What does it mean to be humane? Could a loving God send anyone to hell? Could a loving God have even created such a place as Hell?
Key Message: We should not make the mistake of inventing a god and then measuring the real one against him as Russell did. For if we invent our god we would likely only give him the attributes that we admire. No, we must learn not to imagine what God is like but rather we must learn to seek what the real God said about Himself. So lets look into the "real" God's public record, the Bible. In it God describes exactly what He wants us to know about Him.
-> What is Severity ? Define the term, then read Romans 11:13-24.
Romans 11:22 uses the term "cutting off the branch". It uses it to describe a decisive withdrawal of God's goodness from those who have ignored the goodness. The branch here in this passage is the nation of Israel - they were cut off because they ignored the goodness. They did not believe the message Christ brought. Paul is warning the Romans not fall into the same trap lest they "also be cut off". Remember Ex 34:6 where God points out that he will not clear the guilty - guilty of what .... guilty of disregarding the Son and his message.
Now take time to review these parables of Matthew -
and also consider
Key Message: Each of these passages describes the severe actions that follow God's decision to remove His goodness from people involved in a certain situation. God is not only loving but He is severe. His wrath is every bit as powerfully applied as his love.
Now that we recognize Gods severity , have you ever asked yourself why there doesn't seem to be many cases like Ananias and Sapphira today? If God is so severe why does He hold back?
Read the following passages. What do you see?
Key Message : Yes, God is very patient in His severity. These verses tell us he is merciful, slow to anger and long-suffering. You see God has always postponed the His judgments, given second chances and extended the days of grace. He did it -
- ... in the days of Noah - 1 Peter 3:20
- ... in the days of the Apostles - 2 Peter 3:9
- ... and does so today - Rev 2:4
Now lets look at some other reasons God holds back.
In Genesis 18:23-33 we see Abraham questioning God over His decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorra. The message here is clear. God tolerates the wicked for the sake of the righteous. In Ecclesiates 2:26 Solomon also points out that the wicked can be used by God to care for the righteous. Paul affirms in Romans that there are none righteous except those to which righteousness is credited due to faith in Christ In effect today's "righteous" are today's "believers".
Key Message: God often uses the systems of this world and the majority of un-believers who operate them to support the lives of the believers. Have you seen it?
In 2 Peter 2:6-10, Peter gives another explanation of why God appears to hold back. While most of this text contrasts God's severity for the wicked with His care for the righteous, the last half of verse 9 points out that God knows how to "hold" the un-righteous for the day of judgment while "continuing" their punishment. Romans 1:21-28 describes how when God becomes thoroughly disgusted with wicked people he "gives them over" to depravity. Depravity which not only brings "penalties" on earth but which increases the amount of torment they will receive in Hell. Yes, the Bible teaches that the torment of Hell is not uniform. Just as the rewards of Heaven are in proportion to the believers service, so the punishments of hell are in proportion.
Key Message: Some men are so wicked they are "held" by God and kept alive in their sin so as to continue to punish them. And while alive they are strengthening an everlasting punishment for themselves.
So what have we learned? Have you learned to -
Yes, God is loving but he can also be severe. I wonder, if you came to know God and found that you didn't like something about Him, would you still follow him? ......... Job did .
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; Job 13:15 (NIV)