Mediating Perceptions of God

How one perceives God can dramatically affect not only one’s relationship with God but also one’s relationship with others. Two such extremes in which this scenario could occur is, on one hand, understanding God only in terms of his sovereignty and power over us.[1] On the other end of the theological spectrum is the view that God is only a loving a presence who desires to be with us.[2] Unfortunately, each of these views when considered alone poses potential problems.

For example, though God is certainly sovereign over us, too much emphasis on the point could be used to dismiss questionable and sinful human activity. Furthermore, human suffering and humanity’s right to question their circumstances are neatly swept away as those who see God only as sovereign would then claim to act on the sovereign authority of God, even in activities that clearly violate the character and word of God.

I have seen pastors counsel battered women and tell them that because God is sovereign, God will be the one who will deliver them from the hands of an abusive husband. Hence, the model of God as exclusively a power over us is mimicked in the earth and manifests in those who believe that they have the right to do as they choose. Slavery, the scourge of the American consciousness, thrived greatly because of the aid of the church because many of its white leaders felt that God had given them the right to rule over Africans without any concern for the enslaved persons’ humanity.

But focusing on God solely as a loving presence is not much help either. To do so clearly ignores the justice and righteousness of God. As Guthrie points out, God’s justice is far more than “fair and equal treatment of all people.‿[3] Instead, it is the justice that “gives people not what they deserve but what they need. It is justice that gives rights to those who have no rights.‿[4] In doing so, God must confront the sin that deprives others of enjoying what he has for them.

More importantly, it is the justice of God that must confront sin altogether because he is holy and perfect. If he does not, at least from the perspective of those who see God only as a loving, relational presence, then God runs the risk of having followers who abuse the grace by which Christians are reconciled to God in the first place (Eph 2:8-9). Consequently, such God-followers live lives rooted in presumption and moral and spiritual compromise, ignoring the teeming contradiction between what God has commanded and what his followers actually obey.

The solution to reconciling or reframing the aforementioned is to choose understand the continuum of God, particularly his love. If God is love (1 Jn. 4:16), both the sovereignty and desire of God to be with us have a place under the auspices of God’s self. Some are uncomfortable with the idea that the love and wrath of God can coexist. But as Berkhof points out: “We are then confronted with his justice in which he claims the refusing person for himself, and with his wrath by which he accompanies our estrangement. But these are and remain expressions of his holy love.‿[5]

Resolving the tension between the two views of God also must look to Jesus as the ultimate expression or statement of God to humanity. In Christ, we find that God “suffers with and for the creatures out of love for them.‿[6] At the cross, both the power and love of God are merged to provide the crown of his creation with the opportunity to be reconciled to him. Even the Incarnation reflects the continuum of God in that we see God’s greatest desire: the re-union of himself with humanity (that is not to say that God is literally a human being).

If we recognize that God, who is both loving and sovereign, has our greatest good in mind, then both perceptions of God must have place in our theological understanding of who God is. To do so is to strengthen not only our connection to and understanding of God but also of other people.

Copyright © 2002-2010 by reGeNeRaTe X

[1] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 116.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Guthrie, 107.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 133.
[6] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 71.

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