Is God the perfect loving father for whom we have all longed; or is he an angry, blood-thirsty deity who can only be appeased by the torture and death of his own child?
I have watched many people stumble over the issue of God’s love versus his wrath. If he is truly a loving God, they say, certainly he wouldn’t frighten us with threats of eternal torment because we were less than perfect and then carry out those threats because we failed to find or understand the one and only way he deemed acceptable to escape that fate. Surely, they say, if there is a loving God, he would simply love and accept his children for who they are; not for who he expected them to be. After all, he alone is the one who decided that the penalty for not obeying him was death; couldn’t he simply decide to forgive, without the horrific and sadistic sacrifice of his son?
I recently read an article written by someone who was struggling with this issue. He used an analogy to show how, in his opinion, Christians wrongly portray God. He said it is as though a father discovered that his unborn child had a genetic flaw which the father found so offensive that it caused him to view his child as an enemy. The father then devised a puzzle which, if solved by the child, would allow the father to love him; but, if the child was unable to solve the puzzle, the father would send him off to be tortured forever.
He then went on to contrast his unwavering love for and acceptance of his own son, regardless of the child’s failings. He spoke of his deep desire for his son to know how much he loved him, and not to fear him.
His question was, if he, as a human father, felt that way about his child, how could he be expected to believe in a God whose love was apparently dependent on our believing just the right thing, or discovering, understanding or accepting anything? His conclusion was that he couldn’t believe in a God like that; so he chose to believe in a God who would not be angry with him for who he is, but would love him just as he is, just because he is; and that belief freed him, as he put it, “to fly and to fall without fear.”
I completely understand his heart. I, too, used to live in fear of an angry God; and I, too was set free to fly and fall without fear by the knowledge that God is not angry with me and loves me completely. The difference is that my freedom came as a result of understanding that God loved me so much that he sent Jesus, his son, to rescue me, by giving me his record of perfect obedience and paying the penalty of death for my disobedience; while his freedom came from simply refusing to believe that God could be angry.
Truthfully, his way does sound nicer. No anger. No punishment. No need for God to commit filicide, as a friend of mine once put it. No Jesus. No cross. No muss. No fuss. Just an understanding, loving dad. What’s wrong with that?
The simple answer as to what is wrong with that is that it denies the entire narrative of scripture; most notably, who the God of scripture says he is. But that answer doesn’t specifically address the underlying concerns at the heart of this issue: Couldn’t God have simply chosen not to be angry? Couldn’t he have just forgiven and moved on? Why was a punishment necessary? And why does God offer only one way to escape the punishment?
Imagine with me a different family analogy. Imagine a home where the parents have created a perfect loving, nurturing environment. There is no anger, no selfishness; the children treat each other and their parents with absolute love and respect.
Then, imagine that a virus attacks the family and causes the children to begin harming themselves and each other and to lose all respect for their parents. What if the response of the parents was to look at them dotingly and to choose to love them just the way they were, forgiving them simply because they were their children, even though the virus mutated their genes and caused them to become increasingly violent and dangerous toward each other? Would it not be logical that the parents would despise the virus which had so drastically altered their beloved children? Wouldn’t they be angry at the destruction created within their family as a result of this illness? What if they knew that the only way to be completely rid of the virus forever was to kill it, but that killing it would also annihilate anyone who was infected with it?
Then, keeping in mind that all analogies are imperfect but illustrate a point, what if it was discovered that one of the parents had the ability to save the children with a genetic treatment, thereby restoring them to their pre-virus state, but this required that the parent take on the virus and allow it to kill him; and the parent willingly chose to die?
And, now, imagine that the other parent broadcast the word of this rescue to his children in every conceivable way, sending the news of hope to the farthest nooks and crannies of the world, telling them about the one and only cure and what the cost had been to secure it. What if some of the children took the cure but some did not? Would the parent be a monster because he offered only one cure; or because some of the children heard the news, but did not believe it; or because, in the end, he finally and forever killed the virus?
Despite my flawed analogy, the fact remains that Jesus was not an unwilling victim killed by his father. John chapter 1 says that Jesus was the creator of the world. He was the creator who so utterly loved his children, and so totally despised what the presence of sin had done to them, that he and his father were in complete agreement; he chose to become the perfect substitute so that those who receive his sacrifice would one day be completely cured.
The fact also remains that the Good News of our rescue is not a puzzle left up to us to solve. My analogy did not include the presence of the Holy Spirit in this world, whose job it is to convict the children of their sickness and draw them to the cure.
God isn’t simply the kind of parent who loves us in spite of our sickness. He is the kind of parent who loves us so much that he was willing to give everything to remove our sickness. There is no greater father-love than that.