Two Views

In The God Blog

Two Views

By Dr. Brad Cole

Every Christian would agree with the words that “God is love” yet at times it seems that there are almost polar opposite views on core issues that relate to God’s character. Let’s contrast some of these views.

For example:

 

1. Sin

View A:

Sin occurs in the mind and reflects a rebellious and distrustful attitude toward God. Sin results from a broken relationship with God that all stems from believing a lie about His character. Sinful actions (“breaking the rules”) are the natural unavoidable consequence of this broken relationship with God. Sin is inherently destructive and does its own punishing – God does not need to externally add a painful penalty for sin.

View B:

Sin is breaking the rules which must be punished in order for God to satisfy His justice. This punishment is the experience of “God’s wrath”

2. The remedy for sin

View A:

Sin is much like a disease that requires healing. The solution to the sin problem is to be restored back into relationship with God. This relationship and trust in God is restored when we see the goodness and trustworthiness of God as revealed by Jesus. As we are won back to love and trust, our rebellious attitude toward God is “put in remission.” In this process there is a natural and unavoidable consequence that our life will become more like Christ. “Salvation” literally means “unbroken” or “healed.” Just as salve heals a wound, salvation is the process of healing that occurs here and now. The emphasis is not on “getting to heaven” but rather on transformation and reflecting the character of our God so that others may also begin to experience his love and goodness.

View B:

Sin must be punished to legally set someone right with God. Jesus paid this price for our sins – He took the punishment that should have been ours which means that we can now be saved (i.e. – taken to heaven). Sin is a quantity that can be literally transferred from one person to another (as occurred with Jesus who “took” our sins upon himself). Emphasis is on the future aspect of getting to heaven as well as the utterly depraved and hopeless sinful nature of humanity. When we “accept” Christ we are “covered” by his righteousness and may enter heaven. When God looks at us then, instead of seeing us he sees the righteousness of his Son.

 

3. God’s wrath

View A:

God’s wrath is to experience the natural devastating consequences of separation from God. Emphasis is on God’s respect for human freedom. When humans willfully choose to leave God, he does not become the puppet-master and start pulling strings against our will. Rather, he leaves us to experience the natural consequences of this separation.

View B:

God’s wrath is an active punishment that comes directly from the hand of God toward sinners.This must be externally imposed in order for God to be a God of justice.

 

4. God’s justice

View A:

The Hebrew conception of God’s justice is not to inflict punishment or to use violent methods, but rather to intervene by correcting injustice in the world. For example, God’s justice is done when the widows, the poor, and the orphans are cared for and treated with love and respect. God’s justice is that God always does what is right.

View B:

God’s justice is predominantly seen in terms of a punishment that God must actively administer to unrepentant sinners. “God is love, but he is also just” which emphasizes a dimension of God’s character where he must administer a retributive punishment.

 

5. Biblical inspiration

View A:

The purpose of the Bible is to reveal to us the trustworthy character of God. The Bible reveals God’s dealings with men and women and should be read to form the basis for the core essential belief that “God can be trusted” and that “God is just like Jesus in character.” This view promotes thought inspiration and is able to accept minor mistakes in the writings of the Biblical writers while at the same time accepting the Bible as “inspired.” The angry words of David and Jeremiah toward their enemies, for example, are seen as reflecting the human element. In contrast to this, Christ’s command to love enemies is the gold standard of all truth not the angry words of the prophets. This view also recognizes the allegorical nature of certain passages, rather than a strict literal interpretation.

View B:

Emphasis is on the belief that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God. The purpose of scripture is to reveal how we are saved. Since all scripture is God breathed, when the Bible writers hate their enemies “with a perfect hatred” this must mean that there is a legitimate time for Christians to hate their enemies. Emphasis is on a more literal interpretation of scripture and sees much of the book of Revelation in that light.

 

6. The final end of sin and sinners

View A:

Sin (which results in separation from God) is inherently destructive. Sin literally does lead to death. The lake of fire represents the glory of God’s presence. The wicked are so out of harmony with a God who is love personified that his very presence is to them as a consuming fire (Isaiah 33:14,15) and they rather crave the “outer darkness.” In other words, the final destruction of the wicked is not something externally imposed by God but is rather a natural consequence of being completely out of sync with God’s love.

View B:

God will actively punish and then destroy the wicked with a literal fire. God will miraculously sustain the life of the wicked in this literal fire for the purpose of punishment. God must act in this way to “satisfy justice.” Some believe that this literal fire will last for eternity, others believe that the wicked will only be kept alive in the fire for a short period of time – some longer than others.

 

7. God’s use of rules and law

View A:

God condescended to stoop by meeting a people who were far from the ideal. God gave rules such as “eye for an eye”, divorce laws, how to deal with men who had multiple wives, rules not to sleep with animals, cities of refuge and a thousand other “bad rules” (Ezekiel 20:25) to meet a rebellious people. This is not the ideal, however. Even the 10 commandments were given because of the emergent nature of the situation. God’s use of laws and rules say bad things about where we were, but it should not be a negative reflection on God. We do not read the Bible to collect a list of rules to be lived out in the twenty-first century, but rather the rules are a reflection of God’s condescension to meet rebels. The “ideal” of all law is to have supreme love for God, neighbor and enemy.

View B:

The rules are read to determine how to specifically live them out today. “If the Bible says that women shouldn’t speak in church, then they shouldn’t speak in church,” as compared to “View A” which would see God as meeting people where they were in a certain time and culture.

 

8. God’s use of force in the Old Testament

View A:

God’s methods are not coercion or force. But yet, loving parents (whose methods of parenting are not coercion or force) may occasionally need to shout and even threaten their children when they are about to run into the highway. In a similar way, this group believes that God’s Old Testament “violent” actions were never for the purpose of punishment, but rather for the purpose of protection and ultimately healing. For example, God allowed the flood to occur as a rescue mission (not as a retributive punishment) in order to save the last person on earth who trusted him – Noah. Without the flood, God would have lost contact with planet earth and Satan would have won the great controversy. These methods, however, do not clearly reflect the character of God. Jesus is the only clear reflection of God’s character and God’s kingdom.

View B:

The Old Testament violence of God reveals that God was punishing sin and it is confirmation that God will once again punish sin and sinners in the end.

 

9. The Sabbath

View A:

Emphasis is on the meaning of the Sabbath which is to say something about who God is. The Sabbath points to a God who would create a planet of completely free individuals and would then “finish” his work on the seventh day and rest. The bookend to this rest of creation occured when Jesus died (Friday night), cried out “it is finished,” and once again rested – this time in a tomb. These two great events in human history where God “finished” and “rested”, point to God as both our Creator and Redeemer. The Creator, in his love for lost humanity, willingly became a human and laid down His life for others.  Finally, the God who created the Sabbath for man is seen as a God who craves relationship and special time with his children.

View B:

Emphasis is on the keeping of the day by not working and thus honoring God. The beauty of the Sabbath is that it is completely arbitrary and that it is a test of our obedience.

 

10. God’s power, human freedom

View A:

God is all-powerful, but his ultimate power is his love and humility – this is the power that draws us to him. God’s will is not being done on planet earth. The chaos we see around us is the result of God allowing humanity to freely go its own way. God is in a dilemma (in a sense) since he cannot coercively over-ride our free-will choice to descend into chaos and separation from him. Emphasis is on human freedom.

View B:

Emphasis is on God’s sovereignty, brightness, physical power and right to do whatever he chooses to do.

If we are to allow for a little dialogue between these two groups on this point, view B sees view A as holding a weak and “sentimental” depiction of God. View B’s emphasis on God’s power and sovereignty would lead them to say to the people in View A, “That means that human salvation is then up to human choice rather than God’s choice.” In response, View A would say, “God is like a husband who proposes to his bride. He does not force us to say ‘yes’ – the choice is ours in the sense that we must accept God’s hand in marriage.”

 

11. The atonement

View A:

The atonement is literally the “At-One-Ment”. The atonement is the process of reconciliation between God and humanity. It is the relationship restored. Seen in this way, God has been actively involved in the work of atonement since the rebellion began. The pinnacle of at-one-ment was achieved by the life and death of Jesus Christ who revealed to us the goodness and the trustworthy character of God. On the cross the hatred and ugliness of the character of Satan and the intrinsically destructive nature of sin were also revealed. This revelation was also important to bring us back to God as we discover that sin and Satan are the destroyers, not God. “The wages of sin is death” and Jesus revealed that sin pays the wage, not God. The cross did not change God but rather revealed God – a God who could look his enemies in the eye and say “Father, forgive them.” Emphasis is on God as the intercessor; God as the advocate with the Father; God as the substitute. In other words, the One in between us and God – is God!

View B:

The atonement represents the payment of a legal penalty so that the Father can save lost humanity. “That wages of sin is death” and Jesus took our sins and our punishment upon himself so that we can be saved. Jesus pleads his blood with the Father which is sufficient for salvation.

 

What are we to make of all this?

The nineteenth-century Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard vividly portrayed the spiritual poverty of the Danish state church with these words, [Christianity is] “Just about as genuine as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had once been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.” He then went on to describe his calling: “My mission is to introduce Christianity into Christendom.”

Have we in Christendom really grasped the message of Christ?