Trying to learn and figure out God’s nature is a difficult and controversial thing. When I was in college, one of the things the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on campus tried to do was to have an annual Veritas Forum. These forums were public discussions/debates every year with two opposing professors on a question of faith. The questions ranged from “What Does It Mean To Be Good?” to “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes,” and “What Should You Do After a Moral Failure?”
Each time, there was usually some information station before the Forum to get students interested. I recall one poster which asked, “If God Exists, is He Good or Evil, Smart or Stupid?” That question was above a large four-quadrant graph on which people could put a sticker to indicate where the viewed God was along those four axes. Some thought God was perfectly good and smart, others thought he was a little dumb and somewhat evil, and so on. The pins were all over the graph. And boy did it start conversations.
Last Sunday Jeff talked about competing views of God, especially in the Old Testament (OT), bringing in both theologians such as David Bentley Hart and atheists like Richard Dawkins. It was good to clear the air a little and to say okay there's some things in the OT that are pretty difficult to understand, that make us uncomfortable, or that outright clash with our own mores and culture. This tension is often ignored or papered over by leaders and members of the Church for all of those reasons mentioned, but it shouldn't be.
It is possible to acknowledge that there is a time and place for everything and that we shouldn’t let secondary issues divide us while also adhering to a desire to really understand God as he’s revealed through all scripture. The questions about God is an excellent conversation starter and should be faced head-on. If we shy away from difficult conversations and questions, then we will err. To ignore the complex character of God is to replace him with a more familiar and inaccurate god of our own creation.
Jeff said that our own experiences color how we view God. If I had a rough life, then I may well emphasize God’s nature as a wrathful judge and rule-keeper as he is often portrayed in the OT. If I had a miraculous turnaround in my life, then I might pay more attention to God’s nature as savior, redeemer, and loving Father as found in the New Testament (NT). If I have an easy life with an anything-goes attitude, I might mistakenly believe that God doesn't really care about what we do and that he's more like a senile Santa Claus than anything else. And so on.
This is why looking at the whole Bible and looking at God's nature throughout it is important. To ignore the OT is to ignore the authority of God to pronounce judgement and to ignore the NT is to ignore the authority of God to pronounce forgiveness. Jeff said that as Christians we “hold to the goodness, the beauty, the justice, the grace, the healing, the father heart of God because that’s how Jesus revealed him to be and that’s how he relates to us.” But we also “hold to a God who has the right to judge his creation.” What we must not forget is that both Testaments provide vital context to each other and are meant to be read that way.
Context matters also in terms of genre. Parts of the Bible are poetry, eye witness accounts, apocalyptic literature, oral histories, and other genres. What is important is that they are all divinely-inspired and give a meaning to existence that our lives and world would otherwise lack. Remember when you think about difficult passages or about God’s character that Christianity started with the worst thing happening to the best person- a perfect, loving, capital-G God allowed himself to be tortured to death.
Personally, I know that no matter what I always come back to the fact that I’m just a human and I cannot fully know or begin to understand all that God does and why. I am not perfect, I don’t have the whole picture and all of truth. I’m just some guy who is trying to live a decent life. In my own smallness compared to God, I find comfort in the idea that while I might not have it all figured out or understand why the Bible says some of the things it does, but God is in charge, so he’s got it all sorted out. I don’t have to understand it all to believe that in the end all will be okay. If God is willing to die for us, then that speaks very loudly as to his character- and that is encouraging.
John Dale Grover is a native of San Antonio, Texas and attended Bowdoin College in Maine. Currently he is a graduate student in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He loves board games and owns way too many books. John is also an advocate for self-care and mental health.