False Ideas About God


I think perhaps the most harmful idea about God is that He’s sort of like a kindly, somewhat doddering, grandfather with a long white beard, waiting to give out presents to people who ask.

This false image is not only damaging as it is, it opens up a lot of people to anger who expect God to be this way but instead find Him to say no to their requests and to be quite engaged, in control, and not at all doddering.

I’m not sure where the idea of “grandfather god” came from, how it got started. I think it’s a fairly recent concept, though I don’t think Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God in the act of creating did anything to dissuade people from seeing God in this benevolent, passive, aged way.

I find it hard to imagine, though, that the people in the 1700s listening to preachers like Jonathan Edwards who preached “fire and brimstone” sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” would conceive of God as a kindly grandfather. They understood from the sermons they heard on Sunday and those they listened to during revival meetings, that God’s judgment of sinners was anything but kindly.

In reaction to this focus on God’s judgment, I believe Christendom began to focus on God’s love rather than on His wrath. Hence, the script flipped to this kinder, gentler God who loves the world. The natural outgrowth of this emphasis was a redefining of God’s image. He was not angry; He was loving. He was not eager to judge; He was eager to save. He was not a kill-joy; He was willing, even desirous, of showering His people with good gifts.

The problem actually is the focus, the over-emphasis of one of God’s traits to the exclusion of the others. And to be honest, grandfather god, while accurately identifying some of God’s attributes, neglects others so that the overall concept of God is drastically distorted.

As you would expect the preachers of Jonathan Edwards’s day knew nothing of “grandfather god.” Here’s a flavor of Edwards’s famous sermon:

II. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down; why cumbreth it the ground” (Luke 13:7). The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and ’tis nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

III. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They don’t only justly deserve to be cast down thither; but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is.” (excerpt from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as posed by Yale.edu)

What I find interesting—though I haven’t read much of the sermon at all—is that I see nothing so far that doesn’t square with Scripture.

So which is true about God? Is He angry or is He a kindly grandfather?

Again, I’ll say, the problem is that both these perspectives are incomplete. God is kind, loving, merciful but He is also just and uncompromising and angry at sin.

The thing is, in this era of grandfather god, we don’t like to hear those things about God that contradict our image of universal benevolence.

But actually God is universally benevolent. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He mercifully withholds His wrath from deserving sinners so that we have a chance to accept His free gift of grace. And it is His kindness and love for mankind that prompts His offer of salvation.

The mistake we make today, I believe, is speaking only of the traits that we like, that we’re happy about, and sort of mumbling under our breath that yes, God hates sin. Honestly? It’s even hard for me to write these truths. If feels a little foreign and I’m afraid someone will misunderstand. After all, we humans don’t have the holiness that God does which mitigates His traits we can only understand as negative.

In truth, God’s wrath is no more negative than His love is. His wrath is directed at rebellion and the cause of death which haunts the human race, and in fact all of creation. God hates death. He hates the sin that caused it. His plan is to bring it to an end. But the truth is, some will resist His love, His kindness, His mercy, His grace. As a result, they align themselves with that which God hates.

The best analogy is not a new one. Sin is like a cancer that will take a person’s life unless it is attacked aggressively, excised, dealt with ruthlessly. Should a doctor be benevolent toward the cancer? Or toward his patient?

To be benevolent toward the one is to be wrathful toward the other.

In short, God is both, kindly and angry. But grandfather? No. That doesn’t fit. God dwells in inexpressible light.

Time we retired the idea of grandfather god and look at Almighty God as He has revealed Himself—and that means we need to look at more than the qualities we find easy to talk about.

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Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan – A Reprise


One View Of God's Sovereignty

Some time ago I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects in life versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated above(though I don’t remember the captions).

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship, when, in fact, God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

The above diagram is a more accurate depiction of the path we take. But there’s another version.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

God, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

– – – – –
My apologies to any actual artists! 😉 This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May 2014.

The Kindness Of God


Lion-origional, smallGod doesn’t need defending nor does His word. God Himself is omnipotent as well as omniscient and as such, quite capable of defending Himself. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a 19th century preacher in London, first made this point clear with an oft-repeated analogy:

The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries. (from “The Lover of God’s Law Filled with Peace,” sermon by Spurgeon as quoted at All Is Grist)

Defense isn’t necessary, then, but what about praise? Praise is like a fragrant sacrifice offered to God, so rather than defending Him, I want to praise Him.

These days, He’s falsely accused of many things, often by those who claim they don’t believe in His existence. It strikes me that He’s mocked today much the way Jesus was when the Romans had Him in custody. Scripture says, “While being reviled He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23)

So one of God’s kindnesses is that He doesn’t pass judgment immediately on everyone of us who rejects Him, spits on Him, maligns Him, or acts in a hypocritical way that could cause others to think less of Him. He is slow to angry and abundant in lovingkindness:

But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. (Ps. 86:15)

Along that vein, He allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. At times, of course, He withheld rain, usually from the chosen people, Israel, who were not walking in His ways. He used prophets to warn them, then judgments to rebuke them. Sometimes these judgments took the form of other nations coming against them and defeating them in battle. Other times it took the form of drought and famine. But always the goal was so that they would know that God is the Lord.

God never loses sight of the big picture. He understands that this life is but a vapor. From time to time, in Scripture He compares this life to that of a flower that fades or falls off or to smoke that vanishes away or to fog that appears for a little while and then disappears. For God knows that what matters is what comes next. So He’s always looking for ways to break through the veil of darkness and unbelief.

That’s why He appeared to Abraham and to Jacob; why He spoke with Moses and to the people of Israel; why He sent prophets to His people; why He walked in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo; why He brought Israel out of exile; why Jesus came; why His Holy Spirit breathed His word into the writing of Scripture; why He makes His abode in the heart of every Christian; why He built His church. All His work is to reveal Himself to humankind.

God’s kindness extends to His Church. He has brought us together as branches of Himself. He calls us His children and has equipped us with special gifts we are to employ in serving one another. He calls us to love the brotherhood, to pray for one another, to forgive each other.

He also commissions us to share with the world the good news about redemption and forgiveness of sins. In other words, God’s kindness extends to the very ones who hate Him most, who mock Him and reject Him and are determined to be His enemies.

Unfortunately, because God delays His judgment, some think He is indifferent to sin or impotent to punish it or oblivious because He’s non-existent. How sad they do not recognize that He’s extending His mercy in order that all might come to repentance and be saved:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4).

But here’s the thing about God’s kindness: it is the means by which He rescues us from the dominion of darkness. Paul, when he stood before King Agrippa, told how Christ Jesus appeared to him and commissioned him

‘to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ (Acts 26:18)

That’s God’s kindness to those who are in the camp of the enemy. Jesus said that it’s not the will of the Father that any of these should perish (Matt. 18:14). God said He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11). He said He desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).

How great is our God! Great in lovingkindness and mercy. Praise to His name.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan


Recently I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated (though I don’t remember the captions).

One View Of God's Sovereignty

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship when God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

God, then, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

– – – – –
My apologies to any actual artists! 😉

Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan  
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