There is a trend among pastors to make God more palatable, especially to young people, in an effort to entice them back to church. Theirs is a walk on a tight rope, a deft balancing act.
Wanting to help young people find their way back to church is a noble desire, a noble goal, but the strategy they employ requires them to ignore portions of Scripture in order to reach their goal. It requires them to labor over slick semantics in their endeavor to beckon the young without losing the old.
Their mission is to prove that God is infinitely, recklessly good.
And God is infinitely, recklessly good.
God was never the problem, the church has been the problem.
Yet the trend appears to be a repackaging of God.
A pastor whom I admire and whom I am growing to love, wrestles with a phrase in the story of David and Bathsheba: “the Lord sent.” The NIV words it like this: “the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.” (2 Samuel 12:15)
In his wrestling the pastor wrote, “But we also know from the canon–from Scripture read as a whole–and from the tradition that God does not send a disease into an innocent child. All evil is a deprivation of the good and so is a consequence of our turn from Love.”
In that statement lies part of the problem.
First, the whole canon of Scripture does reveal that God sometimes sends things that cause the loss of life of innocent children. No doubt some of the firstborn Egyptians who died in the Passover plague God sent were children. No doubt some who were swallowed up in the earthquake God sent as a result of Korah’s rebellion were children.
We know from the whole canon of Scripture that God is good, but we’d have to ignore significant portions of the whole canon of Scripture to say that He never sends harm to a child.
Which brings me to the second problem I see in the statement: “All evil is a deprivation of the good and so is a consequence of our turn from Love.”
Sickness is not evil. Sickness is a tragic consequence of a corrupted world.
The loss of life is not evil. Murder/terrorism, such as was committed in Orlando early Sunday morning, is evil. But the loss of life in itself is not evil. It, too, is a tragic consequence of a corrupted world.
Jesus seems to be less concerned with bodies than He is with souls, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
God is good AND God is hard.
Lots of people quit following Jesus (John 6:53-69) because His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was too violent for them. They wanted no part of it.
Jesus didn’t chase after them in order to offer them a sugar-coated alternative. He didn’t chase after them at all. He just let them go. He said that no one can come to Him (and stick with Him) unless the Father enables them to do so. Then He asked His disciples, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
“Where else would we go,” they answered, “You have the words of life.”
When Peter confessed, “you are the Christ,” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
According to Jesus, it does no good to chase young people who are leaving God because His teachings are too hard. Nothing/no one but God can draw them, keep them, reveal the truth to them.
Chasing after those who are leaving the church may be a different matter.
If the problem is the church, then repackaging the church, not God, might be the key.
Anyone who has taken basic psychology or child development or sociology classes knows that parenting styles have been characterized into 4 types:
Authoritative parenting – demanding and responsive – yields healthy results.
Authoritarian parenting – demanding but not responsive, indulgent parenting – responsive but not demanding, and neglectful parenting – not responsive and not demanding, all yield unhealthy results.
God is an authoritative parent.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about authoritative parenting:
Authoritative parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate their feelings. Even with high expectations of maturity, authoritative parents are usually forgiving of any possible shortcomings. They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions.Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child. Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant. An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands.
Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior of children. Punishments for misbehavior are measured and consistent, not arbitrary or violent. Often behaviors are not punished but the natural consequences of the child’s actions are explored and discussed – allowing the child to see that the behavior is inappropriate and not to be repeated, rather than not repeated to merely avoid adverse consequences. Authoritative parents set limits and demand maturity. They also tend to give more positive encouragement at the right places. However, when punishing a child, the parent will explain his or her motive for their punishment. Children are more likely to respond to authoritative parenting punishment because it is reasonable and fair. A child knows why they are being punished because an authoritative parent makes the reasons known. As a result, children of authoritative parents are more likely to be successful, well liked by those around them, generous and capable of self-determination.
David experienced God this way.
After David raped Bathsheba and killed Uriah, he was miserable. His bones felt like they were wasting away, he groaned all day long, the weight of his guilt was heavy upon him, his strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Society at the time may have accepted it as perfectly okay for a king to rape and kill anyone he pleased, but David’s soul knew better, and his soul was not well.
No parent wants to see His child miserable, so being the healthy authoritative Parent that He is, God sent a prophet, Nathan, to help David.
You may know the story. After Nathan helped David see the wretchedness of his actions, he laid out three consequences. One of those consequences was the death of his son.
“After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.”
Perhaps that bit in bold is the key. Perhaps God did not permit David to keep the boy because Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife when the boy was conceived.
Perhaps the story is not about David and what God did or did not do to him and his innocent child.
Perhaps the story is about God’s infinite, reckless goodness to the victim.
Perhaps the story is about God’s goodness to Uriah.
I know you’re already reading a lot, but later you can read this if you want to know more about the relationship between David and Uriah.
Scripture tells us that God avenges on our behalf. Like He avenged Abel.
Perhaps the sickness God sent on the boy was His way of avenging the murder of Uriah.
The boy did not die when he died, he went home to his infinitely good Father, who awarded custody of him to his legal dad.
When I look at that little phrase “the Lord sent” from the victims’ point of view, I don’t have to ignore large portions of Scripture to prove that God is good. God was very good to Uriah. And even to Bathsheba, who loved her husband Uriah.
And even to David. Because laying down consequences demonstrates love and fosters respect.
David pleaded for his son’s life knowing that mercy was within the realm of possibility. David pleaded with God because in God’s parenting style “extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused.”
David did not hold it against God, or accuse Him of killing his son, when the boy died. He knew that it was his sin that killed his son. Nathan made that clear.
David’s relationship with God was so tight that God likely imparted a deep knowing in his heart. A knowing that understood the boy wasn’t his. A knowing that understood that God doesn’t allow His children to keep ill-gotten gain.
The Pit and the Pendulum.
The church has historically presented God as authoritarian in order to control behavior. People have fled from that.
To get those people back, the church seems to be swinging its pendulum to the opposite extreme, now presenting God as an indulgent parent.
The authoritarian God of the past was not God and this indulgent parent of the present is not God.
If we truly want to love Love, we have to love all of Him – His holiness as well as His compassion.
We won’t do young people or the church at large any favors if we withhold a single glorious and awful bit of God.