with Jeremy Westcott
Love, the very essence of His Being
If we continually engage with God in a relational way we will continually find new things. We certainly cannot contain Him in a box – or even in a book. We need a relationship with Him and then, just as in any relationship, we will gradually (or sometimes in a flash of revelation) get to know what He is really like.
As the Joshua Generation, we are called to engage our inheritance, to cross over into the realms of heaven. In that, whether we are engaging God in the realms of heaven or engaging Him in our own heart, or in the spirit, or outside of time and space in the heart of God Himself, God is revealing His precepts, His character and His nature. When we meet God face to face, it begins to change our view of Him, and for the better. You can take it from me: we honestly have no idea just how good He is!
When I have engaged face to face with Him, what I have found is that God is Love. That is not only His predominant characteristic, but the very essence of His being. That Love poses a challenge to many of the ways we have thought about God because of our religious upbringing or traditions. If we are to live as the sons of God we truly are, if we are to love one another and to love the world as He does, then we need to have an authentic experience and testimony of God as a loving Father. After all, we are His representatives, His ambassadors, and we are to play our part in bringing the whole of creation back into a relationship with Him, to be reconciled to Him. Notice that it is not that He needs to be reconciled to us, the world or creation: He has chosen to maintain relationship with us from eternity past and unambiguously demonstrated that once and for all through the cross.
Father, Son and Spirit
The word ‘God’ has all kinds of different meanings to different people. When I write or speak about ‘God’, what I mean is Father, Son and Spirit; there is a relationship there, eternally expressed between the members of the Trinity, and this is the relationship into which we are now invited. As we experience the true reality of who God is, false doctrines and theologies will be exposed as lies, distortions and misrepresentations when compared with the Truth (the person, Jesus, rather than an impersonal set of beliefs, tenets or ideas).
Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. He said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”. We may think we ‘know’ this, but right there is a potential bombshell of cognitive dissonance waiting to explode. What do I mean by that? When we read the Old Testament and the New Testament, there is a danger that we see two different ‘Gods’. The New Testament ‘God’ looks like Jesus, whilst the Old Testament ‘God’ is vengeful, vindictive, unpredictable, and downright scary. It should be no surprise if we struggle to hold these two incompatible views of God in our minds at the same time, yet that is exactly what many of us have done ever since we became Christians. We have looked at this through our own filters and through our own preconceived ideas. If we will look through the lens of Jesus we will realise that any dichotomy is not real, it is just a perception.
Not God at all
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).
Everything that is good in our lives has come from God. Conversely, we can know that everything that is bad has not come from Him. He is, has been, and will always be the same. And His unchangeableness is the reason we are not consumed, and do not have to fear being consumed. It is because He is Love, that perfect Love who drives out all fear. He is good, all the time.
God (who is Father, Son and Spirit) is always smiling at us and is always in a good mood with us; always, even when we mess up. His countenance does not change. He does not get angry with us. Everything He does towards us is for our good, not to harm or punish us. And every time I have used the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ in this paragraph, that does not only include Christians: God so loved ‘the world’ [Greek: kosmos] that He gave… but we will pick up that particular hot potato another time.
The reason we might find it hard to trust God is because the god we have been taught to trust is not God at all. That “GOD” is an imaginary construct of DIY religion, a distant, angry disciplinarian, a two-faced deity with a dark side which is to be feared. That anger, or perhaps you may have heard it called ‘wrath’, could be poured out in extreme punishment on anyone at any time.
That was who Adam and Eve wanted to avoid by hiding in the bushes. But God did not come lashing out at them in anger, roaring “What have you done?” He came seeking them out in love, asking, “Where are you?”. He was saddened by the loss of relationship (and was ready to restore it, if only they were willing).
Discipline, not punishment
Last time we saw that the cross had nothing to do with ‘penal substitution’, nothing to do with God punishing Jesus. But that whole doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has so perverted our view of God that we often try to avoid His discipline because of fear of punishment (because if He would punish Jesus, for sure He would punish us). Can we really trust a god who would punish his own son so cruelly? It is very difficult to see how anyone could trust in a god like that. The world does not, and votes with its feet.
However, God’s discipline has nothing to do with punishment:
Embrace correction. His instruction confirms your true sonship, just as a father would take natural responsibility for the education of his children. Discipline is not punishment but loving instruction and correction to bring out the best in us (Heb 12:7 Mirror Bible).
God disciplines us to bring us back to the image He created us in. The Greek word translated ‘discipline’ is paideia, which means ‘the training and education of children’ or ‘instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity)’. That is what God does with us. But we have a tendency to read into the word all kinds of experiences we may have had in our own childhood and customs and practices we may have adopted in bringing up our own children or observed in others. But God’s discipline is not flawed like ours. If His discipline seems harsh at the time, it is often because we do not like being caught out, or do not like the learning process necessary to get us back on track.
The perception of an angry, punishing, retributive “GOD” is reflected in our society. Western civilisation may be built on a Judeo-Christian ethical foundation, but if the Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature and character of God is flawed, then so too will be the society built on that foundation. The evidence is clear: angry, punishing parenting styles, support for corporal and even capital punishment, wars, jihads and crusades. This kind of institutionalised violence and retaliation has not solved the problems the world faces and it never will. Only love will solve the problem. Only relationship with God will deal with these issues. Our DIY methods only make things worse.
Spare the rod and spoil the child?
Many of us were told (and have believed ourselves) that corporal punishment is clearly taught in scripture. Christians in some countries have fought for the right to smack their children when their governments have sought to bring in laws to forbid the practice. Here is the scripture which is often quoted:
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently
Does this mean that we should beat our children to discipline them? It does not. When you understand what the rod is, you realise it is not a cane to beat someone with.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Ps 23:4)
The shepherd uses his rod to guide, to keep the sheep from stepping off the correct path, not to punish them.
God does not beat us. He corrects us, He puts us back on the right path in a loving way. His discipline is not an angry parent taking out their frustration on their child, as sometimes happens in human society. His discipline is parental love in action and nothing else. Nothing that harms and nothing that maims, shames or blames: only a love that empowers us to fulfil our destiny, a love that strengthens us to know our true identity and to express who we really are.
That is why we can embrace His correction, understanding that it demonstrates how much He loves us and that He cares deeply about us.
This blog post is adapted from Mike’s teaching in the ‘Engaging God‘ subscription programme. Find out more…
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