Thinking the Worst of God

I had a great time in Knoxville over the weekend.  I met so many wonderful people with great stories.  I love the synergy of people being in the room on a similar journey and the insights it begins to open up around the room and long after.  One of those who was with us returned home to North Carolina and was listening to The Jesus Lens on Monday and came up with this observation. I love it. Why have we been taught to read Scripture as if God is the meanest presence in the universe, instead of the One who is Love Itself? This is Ed from Asheville:

I’m sitting here at my desk catching up on some work after everyone has left the office and listening to the Jesus Lens again.  There’s still so much in this series that I’m trying to absorb.  Its just such a different perspective from my past experience!

Anyhow,  I have a question (as usual).  In the first dialog session a comment is made about reading scripture and the fear of just choosing to read it the way that makes yourself feel good.  I thought about this a while and I have to wonder.

I understand the woman’s concern about just interpreting scripture in a way that makes us feel good and “creating God in our image” as you put it.  However, when I look at how the majority of believers (especially here in the south) look at God and scripture isn’t it really the other way around? Don’t we actually interpret scripture in the worst possible way instead?  There seems to be this idea in the evangelical arena that the most fearful and nightmarish interpretation of scripture is the “safe” one and therefore the “best” one.  It seems to me that our sinful religious tendencies pull us toward whatever interpretation of scripture will affirm us in our fear and shame and it also seems to me that that is contrary to everything Father is trying to walk us out of.    Isn’t using an ultra conservative interpretation of scripture to twist Father’s presentation of himself in the Son into a religious caricature at least as egregious an error as a liberal interpretation that makes God out to be “too nice”?

Maybe the reality is that Father’s grace is so generous and free and his nature so kind and gentle that both ideas offend our religious sensibilities and we run “back to Egypt” so to speak in our interpretation of scripture. From a fleshly perspective we seem to  prefer the terrifying law giver view of God because that gives us a perceived measure of control (do good get good, do bad get bad) whereas grace and mercy properly understood leave us in the wonderful but terrifying position of being completely out of control.  I think the danger of interpreting scripture in a way that makes us comfortable is certainly there but doesn’t it pale in comparison to the danger of interpreting scripture in a way that makes our being with Father uncomfortable?  

All I can say is Yes! Yes! Yes!

As Father wins us into his love and we see him as he really is, you’ll read all of Scripture differently, as if it came from a Father who loves you not a god who desires to condemn and destroy you.

If you haven’t watched or listened to The Jesus Lens, it’s a free resource from Lifestream if you want to stream it, or you can purchase the DVD here.  Here’s what others have said about this series:

THE JESUS LENS material is excellent. Fresh, relevant and anointed.
– David, retired teacher in Ashford, Ireland

I love everything about it, especially what it says about the Bible being a love letter. This has breathed new life into my Bible reading!
– Julie, mother of three in California

These sessions opened up a fresh way of looking at the Scriptures as God’s unfolding love story through the lens of His son, Jesus.
– Barry, retired military in Virginia

I feel like I’ve been handed a missing piece of my heart. (The Bible has often been just another source of shame. Now I can see how God is restoring it to its proper and useful place in my life.)
– Susan, former slave of shame

THE JESUS LENS is an incredible look at the Scriptures. Having read the Bible all of my life, this teaching has endeared me in a whole new way to the amazing story of my loving.
– Dawn, a member of the studio audience

6 thoughts on “Thinking the Worst of God”

  1. Brother in Christ

    What if you had that moment with God where you were full of him and then you lose it. I felt that awesome feeling before and then ended up going away from God me now coming back but don’t have that feeling?

    1. Obviously there is not enough here for me to respond in any concrete way. I’m not sure what you mean by “awesome feeling” or that you “lost it.” But if you are being drawn back to him he has a way to to make himself known to you. Don’t look for a feeling, though. It’s a reality that the feelings will conform to. Look for him. Ask him to show you. Find a brother around you whose walk with God you respect and see if he can help you.

  2. I would suggest that this kind of “scariest possible God” mindset has not only deeply affected Biblical interpretation for centuries, but has also infected the field of Biblical translation from Greek and Hebrew into contemporary languages. In general, the popular English translations (NIV, ESV, RSV, NASB, KJV) all tend to some great degree toward using the harshest possible translation choice in passages that relate to God’s nature, motivations, or intent wth respect to justice. Rather than presenting a Father who allows his children to freely live out the consequences of their choices, while patiently awaiting their choosing to live in relationship with him, the common translations tend toward selecting from the range of legitimate translation possibilities a meaning that reinforces the stereotype of God as a harsh, condemning judge.

    This isn’t to say that the Bible has been intentionally mistranslated in order to mislead or deceive, however. Many Greek and Hebrew words with critical theolgical import can carry numerous (sometimes highly-diverse) meanings, with the author’s intended meaning being highly dependent upon the broader context (both literary and cultural) of his writing(s). Discerning that intended meaning is no easy task, as sometimes their are too few clues extant about the context (such as the “because of the angels” passage in 1 Corinthians) or in the case of contexts that reflect cultural understandings that were commonly-accepted in the author’s day, but have been lost to us over the millennia. In such cases, even the most-diligent translators will tend to make selections of meaning based on their own best understanding, which usually means an unconscious reliance on theological and cultural (and possibly historical) presuppositions and preconceptions. Consequently, I would suggest that this often results (quite understandably) in translation choices that tend toward a “scary God” reading.

    So what is a possible corrective to this? I would think that it would be worth considering using the standard of the “Jesus lens”–first come to understand the God that Jesus said his life revealed, then ask which meaning (from among the legitimate range of meanings) best fits both the context and Jesus’ own revelation. By the way, this won’t suddenly make the task of translation easier, but it would likely result in a more-authentic translation. Nor would this remove all the “difficulties” of translating the Old Testament, as care must be taken to stay true to the degree of revelation available to the OT authors and prophets. It would be illegitimate to assume a “softer” meaning in such cases where doing so reflected a NT-influenced bias. Even Jesus didn’t say that the OT passages he quoted were misunderstood–rather, he expounded a more complete revelation (“fulfilling” the Scriptures).

  3. The irony of Adam & Eve gaining the knowledge of good & evil is that they immediately judged God to be evil and hid from Him.

    Even today we’re still quite proud of the “knowledge” we gained in the garden. We use it all the time, against each other and even God. But it certainly doesn’t make us more like Him, does it?

  4. I love the way it is called: “The Jesus Lens”!!! It says it all… Thank you so much for this!

  5. Having a revelation of Abba Papa’s love and learning to live in His affection has truly set me on an amazing Journey…..because of His great love for ALL MANKIND…”As in one man ALL DIED….As in one man (Jesus) ALL were made righteous….does anyone believe in universalism?…..

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