Most common caricatures of God present him either as a mean old man in the sky with a long beard or a benign and indulgent Santa who never says “No”. It seems as if we can’t make up our mind which image suits us best.
Which picture best portrays the character of God?
At times, it suits us to think of God as mean and repressive as a way of rejecting his holy standards. We prefer to do as we please, rather than be accountable. That’s why we make God out to be an oppressive kill joy. Other times, we like the idea of a fluffy Santa Clause who lets us do as we want. After all he’s just there to indulge us, isn’t he?
Put another way, we are comfortable with the idea of a loving God, providing he doesn’t interfere in our lives and only comes out of oblivion in order to rescue us from something unpleasant or to make life work the way we want. When it doesn’t happen that way? Well then, he must just be that mean old man.
The saddest thing about these caricatures of the Divine is that both trivialize the enormity of God himself and malign his true character. He is the all loving, giving and forgiving God. But he is also the all holy, truthful and righteous One.
How do these biblical descriptions of God help us approach and experience him. One way is to examine the true nature of God’s love – is it conditional or unconditional? Does he love us by accepting everything we do, the celestial equivalence of woke inclusion? Or is his love transformational? Does his love, freely offered, require some response from us which, in turn, leads us to know him and experience him and his love in ever-expanding, deepening and liberating ways?
I suggest that there are at least 5 ways God’s love is presented in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
- The creation and providential love of God
- The invitational love of God
- The saving love of God
- The covenantal love of God
- The rewarding love of God
Beginning with the first, creation and providence, I want to show that there are some aspects of God’s love which are entirely unconditional. God’s love is bestowed on us without any pre or subsequent conditions. But there are other aspects of love that do require certain responses in order to be manifested or experienced in our lives.
The first verse of the Bible declares that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. This was the beginning of a creation process that the book of Genesis goes on to describe. The description is not that of a scientific text book. It expresses theological truth and describes a real event, a real action on the part of God. Christians see the creation as a loving, caring act with an almost infinite attention to detail. We see human beings as “fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)”. That’s why we value all human life. We have been created with the loving care and attention of God himself. This was an act of sheer unconditional love.
Having created us, God does not abandon us. He cares for and provides for all creation, even in it’s present broken and painful state. He shines his sun indiscriminately upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike. This also, is an expression of his pure and unconditional love.
You can genuinely look at yourself in the mirror and say, “God loves me. He loves me deeply and fully.”
This love has clearly granted us freedom, the freedom to respond to him or reject him. He offers us purpose and meaning. He invites us into relationship with himself, the one who is Love, Life and Ultimate Reality. Turning away from this love so unconditionally granted carries its own consequences of course. Turn from love you breed hate, turn from life and you get death, turn from reality and you invite chaos. Is this not the history of the world?
But in all this, God’s unconditional love remains constant to us all. That is good news. What you choose to do with that love is another matter. But don’t blame God when the planet is damaged, the hungry go unfed, or misery sets in. There is enough food and technology to produce more than enough to go around the world several times over. Man’s inhumanity to man is the result of the rejection of God’s love, not the fault or failure of God’s love. And in the face of it all, he still loves us. We look at this in the next blog, where we examine God’s invitational love that extends to every corner of this hurting world.