God isn’t a bully.
When you see a statement like that you would agree, right? Of course God isn’t a bully. Bullies are not nice. They take your lunch money. They use fear to get stuff from you. They torment you until you cry. They make your life a miserable existence of hiding and running and cowering. So of course God is not a bully, right?
So why do we make Him out to be a bully?
Now I have your attention.
In my teaching and preaching opportunities I get feedback. Mostly it is positive. Sometimes it isn’t. Often it is encouraging. Sometimes it is cursing. The strange thing to me is the negative, cursing, often passive aggressive, responses are of one accord. “How can you say that God is that good when He is a God of wrath?” I engage and ask questions. I don’t assume I know what is in their head but sure enough, most of the time, they mean what I think they mean. God is a bully.
Ouch! But it is true. Even now someone is reading what I am typing at this moment and in their head they are saying “but it says it right here in my Bible so it must be true and I believe it and that settles it, why can’t you see it?” Do you know that I may know what they know? Can you believe that I have actually spent many hours in study, prayer, reading and seeking to find the answers? In the end I have found only one answer that really matters. His name is Jesus. He brought us the good news that God isn’t a bully. He was the good news that shows us what God looks like on Earth. Jesus is our answer. We don’t have to believe in the bully, angry-God of our ancestors. He wasn’t that way then and He isn’t that way now. Jesus is God and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God has set us free to see who He really is.
So what about all the wrath stuff?
If you want to find a bloodthirsty God bent on the destruction of mankind you can find Him. That image of God is a product of our fallen-human way of thinking so that is likely the first image of Him you see in your Adam mind. Adam hid in the bushes from Love Himself so we should expect nothing different. God, on the other hand, came to the rescue of Adam and delivered him from his shame by giving him clothes that came from a sacrifice that He made. God has been on that cross from the very beginning. We just haven’t seen Him that way. We didn’t have the capacity to see Him that way. We didn’t have Jesus as a revelation to see Him that way. That is why Jesus is the good news and brings the good news and reveals the good news. God isn’t a bully.
In “Crash Dummies” and “We need more wrath” and “Storing up wrath” and “Children of Wrath” and so many more I have tried to show you a different way of seeing wrath. The original audience would have understood. We however have been conditioned in our thinking by various teachings that have become paradigms for us today. Suggesting that “the wrath of God” is something different than “forever punishment and torture” get’s me names like heretic, blasphemer and (my favorite) partner of a satanic spirit. Yay! They told Jesus the same thing. I still get that kind of feedback so instead of running and hiding I will push in for more. You don’t have to believe me. My purpose is not to convince you. My purpose is to do what God has told me to do. I am to spread the truth of Jesus. He is that good.
One of the accepted paradigms of today is the idea of “Penal Substitution.” Check out “Christus Victor” for more details. Quickly the concept is any sin, no matter how small, compared to a morally perfect being (God) makes that sin so big that it must be balanced with a punishment. The only punishment for sin is death. God then has to punish us all with death (wrath in the afterlife) to “balance” the sin problem. So God is the punisher. We are the receiver. Jesus is the protector. There is more to it than that but you get the idea. There are so many problems with that concept. It is only about 1000 years old and didn’t really get accepted as tradition until the reformation. Interesting that most of the English translations of the Bible you have today were translated by people who would have accepted “Penal Substitution” as truth and therefore applied that litmus when interpretation was required from he Greek to English.
My biggest problem with this “theological theory” is it puts God in subjection to sin. Don’t see it? God HAS TO do something because of sin. It also makes God the bully instead of the savior. When we sin God HAS TO do something. If Jesus steps in we are OK. If Jesus does not we are doomed. God then has no alternative other than use fear to motivate us to not sin or hide from the impending blows under the body of Jesus. When I say it that way I hope it has the intended impact.
The truth is sin and wrath are nothing more than sowing and reaping. Romans 6:23 is most often used to justify “Penal Substitution.”
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
Let me do a quick word substitution:
Our paycheck from our employer (the Sin company) is nothing but death. It is the opposite of life. But praise God we get free eternal life when we see a good God in Jesus and we come to know God (which is eternal life). (LLT)
Humans are running headlong into destruction. The devil came to kill, steal and destroy and he is the ruler of this Earth. He wants us dead. Only by the mercy of God do we survive as long as we do. If the devil had his way we would be dead the first time we said “No” to our parents. Maybe that is an exaggeration, but the premise is true. Without Jesus stepping in to save us from the power of sin and the consequences of sin we would receive nothing but death upon death. In that employee-of-sin place we are like Adam and Eve. They “surely died” and so do we. Jesus reconciles us back to the Father. We no longer need to fear the “wages of sin” but instead embrace “eternal life” in knowing our Father for who He really is.
OK, how about another example of seeing wrath differently?
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
In this case Paul shows us how it happened. Ready? Here it is:
Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them up…
Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up…
Rom 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up…
That is what God did. They (we humans) did the rest. At some point God has to let us go and do our thing. Just like a “cat and a bath” he lets us plunge into our destruction destination. Holding us any longer would be harmful, maybe even harden our hearts to the point of total rejection and “goat” status.
Wrath is a NOW thing. It is a “in this life” thing. Most “Christianity” has put everything into the after death bucket. For sure there is an “after we stop breathing, end of time” event that will be a final judgment. God is going to make everything right for the final time. There will be goats and sheep. Goats will reject God and be let go. The all-consuming fire of God will consume them. This is the refining fire of His love. Anything that rejects God will be consumed. The stuff that is aligned with God will be refined. That isn’t wrath. That is God making things right. Wrath is something we invest in. Wrath is something that we are headed for. Wrath is something that Jesus saves us from if we let Him:
1 Thess 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (ESV)
It is time to stop making God a bully. He isn’t. Our sin does not offend Him. He can’t be offended. He is God. To think that God is disgusted and enraged by our stupidity of sin is to make God that little boy down street waiting to steal your lunch money. God is way bigger and way better than that. He is so good He becomes a man and dies to save us from our plunge into destruction. He saves us from wrath now. He saves us from destruction today. He is the opposite of a bully. He loves us that much.