Improving God

When false teachers surface, they usually do so from within. In some regards, that’s why the priests and Levites opposed Jesus. In thinking themselves to be the purveyors of God’s truth, they saw Jesus as spreading dangerous ideas even as He sat in their temple and synagogues reading and teaching from Scripture.

The unique thing about Christianity is that our truth claims stem from one authoritative source — the Bible. Hence, a cult like Mormonism can spring up from within the ranks, but their falsehood is easy to spot because they have altered the source of truth.

In many ways, the false teachers gaining followers today are doing nothing more than false teachers of the past. They are substituting or adding some other source to the one sure source we have.

The surprising thing is what this new source is — man’s own sense of right and wrong.

How ironic.

God created Man as a moral being, and now Man turns around and wants to improve God.

Men have ignored God in the past, and chosen to worship false gods, they tinkered with His commandments and added a helping of their own. But I wonder if it isn’t a sign of the hubris of our times that the false teaching of today actually thinks God should be a little nicer, a lot gentler, and a considerable amount more loving than how He reveals Himself to be in the Bible.

Some false teachers justify their nicer God by discounting the parts of the Bible that teach about His justice. Others take a more insidious approach. They claim the Bible as their source, then declare that its truth has been distorted — that in the vast Christian tradition, in the conversation that has been going on for thousands of years, some early thinkers embraced a kinder, gentler God than the one the literalists have dogmatically clung to.

Now suddenly, the issue is, What do you believe? not What did God say?

My question for them is this: if God is the loving God people like Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, says, why did He let people for thousands of years misunderstand His love? If the early church thinkers such as Origen who believed in universal salvation were right, why didn’t the loving God they believe in, correct those who declared such thinking to be heretical?

Couldn’t He have alleviated centuries of worry and fear about hell and damnation simply by informing the early church fathers through the Holy Spirit that the literal reading of Jesus’s words about a narrow gate and no one coming to the Father but through Him, were wrong?

As I see it, in their efforts to portray a kinder, more loving God by questioning the clear and plain reading of Scripture, they are actually undermining the authority of the Bible and putting God in a bad light by implying that He did nothing all these years to correct such a grievous error about His character.

The thing is, I’ve understood from Scripture that God is perfect. To suggest that He is other than what we understand Him to be from the Bible is to say that He is not perfect. He has some flaw or weakness that prevented Him from correcting His followers all these years.

When they were holding councils to codify their beliefs and writing creeds and confessions to teach lay people, somehow God couldn’t manage to communicate that they were in error in their understanding, that the things they were writing about hell and His judging the living and dead weren’t true. Only a weak God or an uncaring God or one who hadn’t really revealed Himself in the first place would have let such wrong thinking go on and on for hundreds of years.

Of course the alternative is that God is perfect, answered prayer and guided the leaders as they came together and delineated the tenets of the faith based on the Bible; that they fairly represented His character and truthfully identified Him as the Judge “most just and terrible in his judgments” (from The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Is God only “just and terrible”? Well, no, certainly not. He is, in fact, infinitely loving. That’s why the idea that anyone could improve on His love by contradicting His justice and undermining an understanding of His power is … foolish.

9 Comments

  1. Would it be loving and just to allow sinful man to continue to destroy God’s creation? Would it be loving and kind to allow the good that God created to go unredeemed because of man’s perverse assumption that God must conform to our image of Him?

    All such sin is a form of idolatry since it positions someone or one aspect of God above all others. God has not given us a choice to pick and choose the manner in which we approach Him

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  2. I’m not sure that God always corrects our misunderstandings–if so, there wouldn’t be so many. He gives us free will, even to distort His teachings. However, we do have the Bible to go back to whenever we are uncertain about what is true. The false shepherds always take part of the truth, then distort it. Thus they can point to particular Bible verses that seem to back them up. However, a half truth is still a lie. God is God. He is what He is, and we can’t change him. (Thank goodness!)

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  3. Many have failed to see clearly that every human theological system contains human misunderstanding that comes from the fact that every theologian is a finite, imperfect, still painfully sinful person. Some Christians have learned we must be far more humble in our theological claims.

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  4. Luther, I’m not sure I’m understanding your opening questions. The fact is, Man initiated the destruction of God’s creation by sinning. Consequently, death came into the world, and all of nature is now groaning until that day when God will make a new heaven and a new earth.

    So is it loving for God to allow sinful man to destroy His creation? It is loving that He created Man in His own image, making him a being who could choose. It is loving for Him to warn Man of the consequences of disobedience. It is loving for Him to keep His word, to prove He is not a liar. It is loving for Him to initiate and carry out a plan of redemption. It is loving for Him to give us the hope of eternal life.

    Clearly, God did not allow what He made to go unredeemed, regardless of any perverse human assumption. Nothing men can believe about God has any effect on who He actually is. He will prove Himself faithful and true no matter how many people claim He is a liar.

    Amen to everything you said in your last paragraph!

    Becky

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  5. Susan, I agree that God doesn’t always correct individuals. He may, but we too often turn a blind eye to the truth.

    I don’t believe the same about the Church, however. This is harder to prove, of course, because there are groups that claim to be the Church or at least part of the Church, and who differ on important things, such as the authority of Scripture over and above church tradition.

    I consider church tradition to be one of those added sources, opening people to false teaching.

    However, I think there is a true Church that God preserves and protects through the power of the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth. In other words, the Holy Spirit was and is instrumental in inspiring God’s Word and in maintaining it, so that we today can know the truth of God just as surely as the people in the first century church.

    I think we have a clear example of how this is done in the book of Acts, chapter 15 when Paul returned from his first missionary journey and reported that the Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. The church leaders met together to determine whether or not these converts needed to keep the law of Moses. They looked into the matter by listening to the facts (that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit), by examining Scripture, and by becoming like-minded. When James wrote to the churches, he explained the process this way:

    For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:

    I see no reason to think that process wasn’t followed in the formulation of the creeds and confessions that state the essentials of the Christian faith, including the existence of heaven and hell and the resurrection of every person, the saved to eternal life and the lost to eternal damnation. It’s in the Bible and the early church leaders embraced these truths. Why, hundreds of years later, should we think they got it wrong, that we’ve misunderstood the clear, plain words of Scripture?

    I might get things wrong, but I don’t believe God’s Holy Spirit would leave false teaching unchallenged in the Church for centuries, if it were making such a grievous error.

    To think that the Head of the Church would not care enough for His body and its ministry is to belittle God, I think.

    Becky

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  6. I guess the point I was trying to make was that it is not loving for God to turn a blind eye to sin, to ignore its consequences both here and now and in eternity. Sinful man if not redeemed can do nothing but sin and for the skewed version of love to win God would have to ignore the sin and overlook justice. Ultimately the fallacious idea that God most conform to a post modern feel good definition of love is in opposition to the love revealed in Scripture.

    That may not be more clear….but at least I gave it an effort

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  7. Friend, I agree with you, too, that theological systems can get it wrong. We have sincere, Bible-believing Christians who disagree about baptism and communion and free will and a good number of other things. I think we may miss the truth about those things because of our sin, because of our unwillingness to break free from the traditions of men.

    However, there are essentials that define what it means to be a Christian, and those are the things I don’t believe the Holy Spirit will let us get wrong. So whether I’m Reformed or come from the Lutheran denomination or am charismatic or have a Baptist affiliation, we’re going to agree in some basics, or we’re not part of the Christian faith.

    This has nothing to do with my belief that some people get it right whereas others don’t. It has to do with my belief that the Holy Spirit, as the Bible says, will guide us into truth (John 16:13).

    In addition, the apostles in the early church were already dealing with false teaching and diligently defining truth. John summed it up in his first letter:

    We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    Clearly, he believed we can know truth and error. We don’t have to wander around in some kind of agnostic state because we humans are sinful and can therefore not know truth.

    We who believe in Jesus as the One who reconciled us to God by paying the just penalty due us because of our sin, have the Holy Spirit and therefore can know truth. John again, this time in his gospel:

    When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,

    Becky

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  8. Luther, thank you. Your comment is very clear. Amen and amen!

    Becky

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  9. Hi Becky…great post…I would say the real remedy is to know the Scriptures so intimately that falsehood can be easily spotted even within our own limited thinking.

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