The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Aligning with a God of Extremes: How should we respond to spiritual rebellion?

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In this world, hating God is a very popular choice and plenty of people are reveling in it quite joyfully.  So how should we as Christians respond to this?  Clearly we should be siding with God whenever sides are being drawn, but what exactly does that look like in the day to day?  Does it mean we’re supposed to go around seething over the fact that a bunch of people are hating God out loud?  Does it mean we’re supposed to organize public protests whenever some law comes out which promotes a reversal of God’s moral code?  Does it mean we should be trying to avoid rubbing our holy elbows with the elbows of snarky sinners?  What exactly does God want from us in this area? 

Before we start working ourselves up into a lather of righteous anger, we need to give serious thought as to what exactly we’re angry about.  Like everything that God is involved with, the issue of spiritual rebellion is quite complex, and has many facets to it.  When Christians get worked up over the issue of rebellion, they’re usually choosing to focus on only certain aspects of the problem while ignoring others.  When we focus on the wrong aspects, we end up stewing over the wrong things while ignoring the important things.  That’s certainly a waste of time.  So how do we avoid this?  We need to start by being clear about the goal: life is about pleasing God.  He is supposed to be our First Love, and we should be wanting to cultivate soul attitudes which He says please Him.  Certainly God gets angry, and when He does, He wants His people siding with Him, not against Him.  As simple as this sounds, in real life Christians have a tendency to try and lead God in the area of anger.  We’re quick to decide for Him when He should be losing His cool over some issue, and then we get the tantrum started, fully expecting Him to get revved up with us and start throwing down the lightning.  When instead He remains silent, we get all huffy with Him, acting like He’s out of line to not let us run Him up and down the emotional flagpole.  Here’s where we need to turn our focus back onto the critical issue of submission.

God won’t be led by us.  He doesn’t let us choose His fights for Him, and He doesn’t let us define the limits of His patience.  Because He is such a complex Being, we’re going to find His erratic leading totally aggravating until we gain a better understanding of His perspectives and priorities.  Of course there’s nothing simple about stepping into the mind of God.  The more insights God shares with us about how He views things, the more alarmed we’ll feel to discover how vastly different His view is from ours.  When it comes to His loving, gracious, and merciful sides, the Divine view is a billion times more positive than our own.  But when it comes to God’s wrath, things are shockingly different than we expect.  You see, God views His wrath as an extremely positive thing.  God heartily approves of every aspect of Who He is—He doesn’t view Himself as a flawed Being who needs to work on anger management.  God delights in both mercy and revenge.  He’s a complex swirl of polar opposites.  While we can’t hold fire and ice in the same hand without having one element quickly cancel out the other, God finds it very easy to maintain and satisfy extreme opposites in His Nature without any sense of strain.  Certainly He is a God of love—and His brand of love is infinitely better than our own.  But while He’s showering us with mind-blowing love, His wrath is just as real and just as intense.

God is like a diamond: He has many sides and at any moment in time, each side of Him is facing someone.  A very common strategy among Christians is to park in front of God’s loving side and try to pretend that none of the others exist.  And yet taking this kind of approach is guaranteed to lead us astray in the area of righteous anger.  If we want to please God with how we respond to His wrath, we need to stop trying to minimize and oversimplify this aspect of Him.

The classic scenario in which Christians feel it’s appropriate to blast someone with righteous anger is when they feel it is obvious that the person they’re targeting is intentionally scorning God.  This certainly seems like a worthy thing to get worked up over until we remember that God wants humans to have the option of defying Him.  God has always taught that giving us some degree of real choice is a high priority of His.  If God wants rebellion to be an option and people are choosing that option, what exactly are we getting all steamed about?  God is getting what He wants: He wants choice.  He doesn’t want a bunch of obedient robots.

Hell isn’t a bummer to God.  It’s only repulsive to us, because we’re the ones doing the suffering in it.  But God created both Hell and Heaven, and He finds them both quite satisfying.  Rewarding people with Heaven just for submitting to God’s Authority is a way that God flaunts His extremely generous Nature. Trashing people in Hell for refusing to submit to Him is a way that God flaunts His own supremacy.  God is not a shrinking wallflower with an inferiority complex.  God knows He is awesome and He is always finding ways to flaunt His own brilliance, power, and magnificence.  God won’t tolerate being treated as less than superior, and as far as He is concerned, the whole Hell set up serves as a fabulous way of showcasing what happens to creatures who refuse to acknowledge His supremacy.

What’s the worst case scenario for folks who persist in rebelling against God on earth?  He chucks them into Hell.  Is this a bummer?  Not to Him.  God loves Hell.  So if we’re really going to run with this loyalty concept, we should be loving what God loves.  But here’s where we hit a major mental block, because as the potential victims of Hell, we humans have major problems with getting enthused about the whole eternal damnation concept.  If God is going to have boundaries, fine, but why can’t He just uncreate the people who irritate Him and skip the eternal torture fest?  Because He doesn’t like this kind of lopsided rewards program.  God doesn’t want endless rewards for those who obey Him while those who hate Him simply fade into nothingness.  God is an extreme Guy with extreme passions, and His creations reflect those passions.  Heaven is an over-the-top reward system, and Hell is an over-the-top punishment system.  Both options are insanely extreme from the human perspective, but this is how God likes it.  To Him, one extreme balances out the other quite nicely, so He maintains both.  Meanwhile, the fact that He will be happy regardless of which side of eternity we end up on takes all of the crisis out of spiritual rebellion for Him.  He isn’t up in Heaven biting His nails in angst while we persist in hating Him.  Certainly He warns us that messing with Him is a serious crisis for us, because we’re the ones who will be doing all of the suffering if we end up on the wrong side of His wrath. But by the time we factor in God’s enthusiasm about choice and His highly positive view of His own wrath, humans rejecting Him just isn’t the huge issue for Him that we were initially led to assume.

When you come across pictures of some teary eyed Jesus looking all mournfully at the earth, you need to realize that such pictures are just a result of humans projecting their own perspectives onto God.  Because Hell is such a horrific threat to us, we portray God as horrified over us ending up there.  Well, no, God isn’t horrified by His own choices, and it is only by His choice that we end up in Hell.  It is a refusal to accept how enthused God is by both Heaven and Hell which has led to centuries of Christian theologians trying to write Hell out of the picture.  You never hear Christians beefing about the fact that Heaven will last forever, but you can find reams of material about why Hell has to either be a bad joke or a very temporary situation.  Because we humans feel so deeply threatened by God having a sadistic side, we try to act like we can just write that quality out of Him.  Talk about arrogant.  Since when do we get to change who God is just because we don’t personally approve of Him?  We expect relativists and atheists to cling to such absurd ideas, but Christians really should know better than to pretend that they are the center of the universe.  If you can’t even control the way other humans perceive you, how can you possibly pretend that you can eliminate the element of wrath from God’s Personality?

Our Creator does not revolve around us.  He hasn’t constructed this universe to be to our liking.  He didn’t launch the human project for the purpose of gaining human approval.  When we take an honest look at how many restrictions God is putting on us, we realize that getting bossy with Him isn’t going to get us anywhere.  Here we are, living on one tiny planet in the midst of a vast universe which God is intentionally blocking us from exploring.  We can’t even leave our own planet without enormous effort and expense.  Even when we do, we can’t roam very far before we have to return home to get more supplies.  How should we interpret the fact that God is so intentionally preventing us from understanding the things that He creates?  We’ve had thousands of years to study and we’re nowhere close to fully understanding our own anatomy, let alone the world around us.  It’s a huge deal to us when we discover electrons which have been around since the beginning, and yet look how long it took us to get there.  Clearly God is keeping us in a very hampered state—feeding the insights to us one crumb at a time.  At some point we need to face the fact that we are so not in control of this situation.  We don’t understand ourselves, our planet, our universe, or our Creator.  If we ever want this to change, we need to start with total submission.  As long as we’re trying to tell God what He can and can’t like, we’re never going to really know Him, nor will we do a good job of pleasing Him.  It’s not our place to decide for God when He’s supposed to be angry.  We need to wait for Him to tell us, and then we need to align with His instructions about how He wants us to respond to His anger.

There will certainly be times in life when God tells us to take action against spiritual rebellion.  There will be times when He wants us to speak out against immorality.  But He’s never going to tell us to fix the world, because He doesn’t consider it to be broken.  God doesn’t depend on us to get His will done in any area, nor does He need us to protect His reputation for Him.  God is more than capable of fighting His own battles, and when we try to leap into the role of His protectors, we’re totally losing sight of the fact that we depend on Him for every breath.

When you really want to please God with your response to spiritual rebellion, the two principles you need to focus on are submission and fluidity. Submission is about waiting for God to lead you and recognizing that your personal approval of His choices is irrelevant.  Fluidity is about staying flexible.  Instead of getting entrenched in any single passion, we must be ready to change channels at a moment’s notice.  On Sunday morning, God calls on Pastor Joe to deliver a harsh message against some form of immorality.  But the moment Joe steps down from his pulpit, God wants him ready to speak kindly and graciously to someone who is doing the very thing Joe just preached against.  When your friend Mary starts cheating on her husband, God tells you to get in her face and tell her to knock it off.  But when your friend Donna starts cheating on her man a month later, God tells you to stay out of it and stop with the icy glares.  One minute God tells you to sign the petition to take down the public statue of Satan.  The next minute, God tells you to go bring cookies and cordiality to the Satanist across the street who just painted graffiti all over the Nativity scene on your lawn.  When your church gets told that they can’t move to a downtown location because the mayor of the city has personal issues with Jesus, God might tell you to lawyer up and go to battle over religious discrimination. Then again, He might tell you to just eat it and find a different solution.  Sometimes God tells us to fight. Sometimes He tells us to turn the other cheek.  Sometimes He wants us to emphasize justice, other times it’s all about grace.  There’s no way for us to anticipate how He’ll lead us in a specific situation. But while we’re waiting on Him to lead us, we need to own up to how often we’re using “standing up for God” as an excuse to get revenge on the people who have wronged us.

If we’re going to please God with our response to spiritual rebellion, we need to make sure that it really is God who we’re trying to please—not just ourselves.  Then we need to wait for God to tell us when He wants us to get involved, and we need to stay within the parameters that He sets for us.  Far too often Christians end up using spiritual rebellion as an excuse to start rebelling themselves.  You decide that doctors who perform abortions are the scourge of the earth, so you decide that you’re pleasing God by chucking rocks and pipe bombs through the windows of abortion clinics.  And yet you’re not pleasing God at all—you’re only getting in trouble with Him for blowing off His convictions when He told you to stay home and get over yourself.

This is God’s world, not ours.  He is the Judge, Commander, King, and Executioner.  God doles out the discipline as He sees fit and He never runs His plans past us for approval first.  Speaking out against spiritual rebellion should never be about condemning other humans or exalting yourself as morally superior.  The only reason we should ever speak out against rebellion is when God is telling us to do so. When we act, it should be on His orders, and our motivation should be to please Him with our whole-hearted obedience, not to trash other humans who’ve we decided are less deserving of mercy than ourselves.

If God ever decided to make justice His top priority with us, we’d all end up in Hell, for true justice allows no room for mercy and we all fall miserably short of treating God as well as we should.  Since we’re all counting on the mercy of God to save our hides, we should not be in a rush to throw rocks at anyone else.  At the same time, when God is giving us a clear command, we shouldn’t be dragging our feet about obeying Him.  When He tells us to fight, we should be zealous about it until He tells us to stop, then we should drop it and walk away.  When He tells us to be merciful, we should put our hearts into it.  The longer we know God, the more we will experience Him training us to imitate His own style of constantly rotating between extreme passions which seem to contradict each other.  And yet this is who God is: a wild, contradictory whirlwind of opposing passions and desires.  Love and wrath.  Mercy and vengeance.  Gentleness and brutality.  No one is more fascinating than God.  He is an enticing mystery who attracts us towards Him with a pull that grows ever stronger the more we give in to it.  We don’t understand so much about Him, yet He is the answer to everything we’re searching for.  We feel greatly threatened by so much of what He does, and yet He fills our souls with a peace that cannot be described.  We were created to revolve around Him, and we simply can’t find fulfillment any other way.

FURTHER READING:
The Illusion of God’s Long-Suffering Patience
Dealing with Sinners
Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?
The Timelessness of God

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