When people are big…and God is small.

Posted: April 2, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Title stolen from a book by Ed Welch (great book BTW).

As of late, the proverbial lines in the sand are being drawn across the evangelical landscape regarding the Gospel. One of the most common questions regarding the God of the Bible is again being raised…”How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?” Overarchingly, that seems to be the primary issue at hand. Some would say that the idea of a literal, conscious, eternal Hell is incongruent with our understanding of love. And I can come alongside them in that because I’ve wrestled with the same issue. However, I think the fundamental question to be asked is not how a loving God could send anyone to Hell, but rather who gets to define love? Us? Or…God?

The general position of those who question the doctrine of Hell seems to be rooted in a problem that is first introduced in Genesis 3…sin. Or put another way, pride. The Mother that is pregnant with all the other sins and the sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven. Rather than allowing God to define love, many are taking it upon themselves to define love and then attempting to impart that attribute onto God. Essentially, they are trying to make God in their image…a reversal of the creative order. We are not God. And to assign attributes to God that we’ve created is to fall in line with Satan’s first temptation in the garden:

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” – Gen 3:5

You will be like God. To me, that temptation and resulting sin is at the core of any effort to water down or change the Gospel message. The beating heart of all false doctrine is pride.

Consider what those are saying who deny doctrines such as the adequacy and inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, and eternal separation from God in Hell. They are essentially saying that the gap between us and God isn’t really that wide. Scripture’s teaching that Jesus’ bloody, brutal death was in our place for our sins to reconcile us to a Holy God doesn’t resonate with them because in their mind and heart, they’re “good people”…good enough even for God. Good people don’t need a Savior. They don’t see a need for it. Though they’d likely never say it, their prideful heart says “I’m not God, but I’m really not that far off.” Good people justify themselves before God. And inevitably, good people (who are very convincing because they feed our sinful nature) will try to change what Scripture says in order to accommodate their self-justification. Since good people don’t need a Savior, they alter the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross away from penal substitutionary atonement. Since good people don’t deserve Hell, they become annihilationists or universalists. And since lies never match up well with truth, inevitably the slippery slope is to change the entire message of Christianity to suit the man-made doctrines (i.e. Jesus’ true message is simply “the Kingdom”). False doctrines and false teachers always hold a very high view of people (particularly themselves…) And not in a good way. People are big, and God is small.

Recently I was having a conversation with someone who I truly love and appreciate. Although I left the church movement that he’s currently still a part of, we still stay in touch and try to catch up regularly. In discussing the recent death of someone whom we both knew, my friend emphatically stated “If everyone were like her, there would be no more problems in this world! None!”

He was dead serious. I felt my heart break.

To me, this speaks to the tragic result of being led astray by man-centered teaching. When a person, a mere human, could ever be regarded as a functional savior of this world, something has gone terribly wrong. I loved the deceased woman as well, but she was not God. Not even close. And my friend’s mouth was simply speaking out of the desire of his heart…he’s looking for a Savior. A Savior that he once knew, but has been largely lost in a watered down, works driven, man centered theology.

So who gets to define love? God does. And Paul gives us a succinct summary of what that looks like…

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8

Good people don’t need a Savior. But sinners do. Sinners, convicted by their violation of God’s law written on their hearts as revealed by Scripture, see a chasm so vast between them and God that the only way they can be reconciled to Him is for Him to do it for them. Sin is independence from God, humility is dependence on God. Sinners need a Savior that, of all the adjectives the Bible uses to describe Him (including “loving”), “Holy” (Heb “Set apart”) is most frequent. He is “other than” us. A massive God that is so good, so righteous, so perfect that he cannot allow sin into His presence. Is so just that He will not allow sin to go unpunished. And so loving that He would send His only Son to take our punishment so that we could be with Him forever.

”   16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – Jn 3:16

That’s really, really Good News. It’s the news that will always remind me that people are small…and God is big. That’s worship, rightly aimed. And ultimately, Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself to us…and we have a choice in that. We can trust revelation (the Word of God) or speculation (the word of men).

Speculation leads to death. Jesus saves. Let us never forgot who’s God. And let us never forget that love…has a face.

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