By the time you realize your dad was right, you have a son who thinks you’re wrong – Bill Cosby
Why do we cringe at the wrath of god? Why do we only see him as ever loving and patient to the extent of infinite tolerance? This question has been rattling around in my head for a while as I see more and more Christian groups fighting about the true nature of God. Is he a God of wrath, war, and punishment, fickle and temperamental? Or is he so infinitely loving, grace-filled, generous, and kind that He would make Barney look like a sadist?
For years I’ve tried to make sense of it. How do you explain an Old Testament God who commands that “every man, woman, child, and animal be put to the sword” while still believing in a New Testament God who would “Send his only begotten son” to die for the salvation of the world? One seems so unfair, cold, frightening while the other is a warm teddy bear. People seem to pick one or the other: “Fear God, repent, and be saved from eternal damnation” or “Jesus loves you just the way you are; He wouldn’t send you to hell for those silly sins”. But why do we pick one or the other? Why aren’t they part of the same God?
As I’ve matured in my parenting, my children have also grown and begun to test my different characters of parenting. They range from the proud, doting parent who can’t help himself from buying them all the Lego’s, Nerf guns, and Light Sabers they could ever want, to the parent who to quote Bill Cosby “Brought you in this world and can take you out”. A balanced parent is going to have both sides. One who loves their children more than anyone else and one who can get angry enough to take away all of their toys and send them to bed without supper. A father who would prefer to lavish them with all the goodness this world has to offer, but sadly must respond with stern discipline when they disobey or do things to harm themselves.
So, why don’t we see God as the well balanced father that he is? What would you say of a parent who allows his children to do whatever they want? He buys them drugs and brings home prostitutes. He feeds them pizza and beer whenever they ask. That seems to be the human equivalent of what many people are trying to make God out to be. They want a permissive god who will forgive every deed indefinitely without repercussion.
We have laws to protect people from poor parents and adults who behave badly. You can’t leave your kid in the car with the windows rolled up during the summer. You can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes for a minor. You apparently can’t take your six year old to a tanning bed. It’s even hard for a teenager to get a job anymore because of labor laws.
But in a society where parents are giving teens breast implants and liposuction for graduation gifts and shows like my super sweet sixteen and teen mom glorify the irreverent behavior of out of control teens we find ourselves looking for a god that will let us behave likewise. We despise parents like Tiger Mom who strictly enforces schedules and learning on her children to make them more successful in life (with it’s own set of psychological drawbacks as well).
I’m one who believes in a compassionate, loving God; infinite in wisdom and grace. I believe that we should follow the example set by Jesus as loving others more than we love ourselves. I’m not going to tell my kids “If the neighbor child offends thee, thou shalt put him to death with the sword”. And just like all those parents who feel that fear is the best way to control their child, converting people to Christianity by fear of hell is debilitating to a healthy relationship with God. But understanding the complexities of parenting, I have a small window into the true justice of how God is trying to raise up His children.
So, are people who wish to show God in only one light trying to recreate God into the image of what they wanted their parents to be like? But is that what they really would have wanted? Looking back at your childhood and all of the times you felt your father treated you unfairly, can you truly say he was that wrong? (This is assuming that you didn’t have an abusive childhood, in which case I’m sorry.)