Why do we so readily assume God is a bully?
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“God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to His patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.”
― R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God
― R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God
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I don’t often like to point out what I regard are errors with any one particular individual’s doctrine. Everyone has their own relationship with God and I do honestly respect that. Splitting hairs over finer points of doctrine is not what I like to do nor does such interest me. That having been said, I do find the need to point out what I regard as errors which threaten the relationship one has with God when such is propagated by respected and influential leaders within the church. In that regard, eminent theologian R.C. Sproul has done much to propagate such error.
I will take this opportunity to point out that in the above quote, Dr. Sproul uses the word “infinite” when I believe he actually meant to use the word “eternal.” I’ll note that these are two different words with two completely different meanings. Infinity is a construct of a temporal realm, it is mathematically quantifiable; eternity is not. Eternity is a construct of a higher dimensional realm which is unquantifiable. Eternity belongs solely to God Almighty.
This isn’t terribly surprising as Dr. Sproul is a Calvinist. Those who have read my earlier commentary on Calvinism will already know where I stand on that belief; even John Calvin didn’t believe in Calvinism, but rather it was his followers who twisted his teachings into what we have become familiar with after his death.
But the deeper question one must ask when confronted with such quotes coming from a teacher of the Word is this: Why do we as human beings assume that God Almighty is a worse caretaker of those who are weaker than are we? Let me clarify that point for a moment.
Human beings can be incredibly cruel to one another. No one needs to look very far to see acts of heinous depravity; it is all about us. The human heart is just that: Human. As human beings, we more readily identify with that which is most familiar to us. The flesh cries out for attention because the flesh is needy. When we are conceived in the flesh, we are also present in the spirit. At biological conception, the new life is imbued with the very spirit from God Almighty. It is this spirit which He is interested in. Ironically, it is the presence of this spirit which tends to discombobulate theologians like Dr. Sproul. Such learned men cannot conceptualize a God who can stomach such loathsome creatures as a human being regardless, and can only look upon man through the veil of blood which was shed by Jesus Christ. This is an unfortunate way to view one’s fellow man because it is ultimately an elitist position and is not at all in keeping with the love relationship as outlined by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22.
When a theologian must retreat to the pages of the Old Testament to buttress an argument with respect to the attributes of God Almighty; when only the Law is held up as the means by which God’s Holiness can be quantified, we have lost our way and clearly do not know who Jesus Christ is. I will reiterate it here as clearly and as succinctly as I possibly can: Jesus Christ IS God Almighty; they are exactly one and the same. Jesus Christ is not a subset of God Almighty, He is not a “close friend” of God Almighty, He is not a vestige of God Almighty: Jesus Christ IS God Almighty.
Why am I hammering a point which sould be assumed as well known by a theologian like Dr. Sproul? The answer is simple: Orthodoxy has taught our theologians for many, many years now (primarily from the Protestant Reformation onward, but really since the days of Constantine the Great starting in 325 AD.) that God Almighty and Jesus Christ are really two separate entities which operate in perfect consort with one another. Both exist in an eternal state, but there is never the less a hierarchal structure enjoyed amongst them. There is at the head of this hierarchy, God the Father, then there is Jesus Christ and laterally is the Holy Spirit. This structure is referred to as the Holy Trinity. It should be noted that this Godhead structure was unknown to the early church and was not even formally recognized by any of them until 186 AD.
The Trinity gave Constantine just the kind of ammunition he needed in order to pull the early church in line with his thinking. Until the Edict of Milan in 313AD, Christianity about the whole of the Roman Empire was an outlaw faith movement. (I refuse to call it a religion as in its most pure form, it is a relationship.) The Battle of Milvian Bridge between the Eastern and the Western halves of the Roman Empire had established Constantine the Great as the certain eventual victor and future head of the whole of the Empire. Shortly afterward, he penned an edict with the leader of the Eastern provinces named Licinius. The two rulers of the Empire met in the city of Milan in what is today Northern Italy. (Then it was regarded as a satisfactory halfway point so as not to give either ruler a logistical advantage.)
Part of this edict was to give greater tolerance to Christians and to treat them benevolently. The last Roman Emperor to pour his efforts into the persecution of the Christians was Diocletian. It is regarded as the most severe persecution ever levied by a Roman Emperor and it was this severity which eventually led to an outright revolt and Diocletian’s ouster. (Diocletian was part of a Tetrarchy – four rulers, two primary and two secondary - which ruled the Empire from 293AD to 313AD.) With the Edict of Milan agreed upon, Christians the Empire over were finally given some freedom to practice their faith unlike any enjoyed since Christ. It was this act on the part of Constantine which made the eventual convening of the councils of Nicaea possible.
During the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine the Great was supposed to have seen a sign in the sky promising victory if the Chi-Rho (The first two letters which spell out “Christ” in the Greek.) were painted upon the shields of his army. Whether this event actually occurred or was merely a clever ruse on the part of Constantine to ingratiate himself with the Christians is forever lost to history. (This account comes primarily from an early church father named Eusebius of Caesarea whose claims are sometimes inflated.) Regardless, it was the perfect pretext to convince the leaders of the early church of his good intentions. (There is lore which states Constantine converted to Christianity on his deathbed, but again this is another of those incidents lost to history. Regardless, it makes for a good tale. In all likelihood, he remained an adherent to the Sun God Amun Ra until his death – like any good Roman.)
Once the first of what was to become seven Ecumenical Councils was concluded, Constantine had established the Apostle Peter as the first of the Church Fathers or Popes. The reigning church leader in Rome, Sylvester 1st, held onto the position as the Bishop of Rome from 314 Ad until his death in 335AD. (Sylvester did not attend the Nicaean Council and had little to do with its codification.) Sylvester was succeeded by Mark and then Julius.
The formation of this early structure was carefully controlled down to the manner of worship to the plethora of icons which were introduced and then venerated. Constantine’s mother, Helena, was sent all over the Empire to collect relics to buttress the belief in the Christian God. In this, here is a listing of some of what she was able to miraculously locate:
A piece of the cross of Christ.
The bones of one of the Magi.
The blood of Christ.
The nails used to secure Christ to the cross.
The Scala Sancta (the stairs from Pontius Pilate’s praetorium) which was used by Jesus.
There are many more on the list, but the point is thus made. These varied objects became the “glue” necessary to bind the Empire together for Constantine and it did so quite effectively. The hierarchy of the church was thus established with Constantine, the Roman Emperor, as its true head. Christianity was now established as the national religion, but only under strict supervision and through a strict set of rules. Abridgement of these rules would find the offender no better off than they would have been under the worst of the Diocletian persecutions.
So what does this history lesson have to do with how Dr. Sproul sees God Almighty? Actually it has much to do with his perspective. How we are taught from our very earliest is generally how we’ll always view something. Our formative years set down in the bedrock of our consciousness how we will perceive the greater world around us. We’ve seen such teaching lead to everything from the inculcation of racism to the embrace of Communism and Islam. We’ve also seen such teaching lead to incredible acts of generosity and benevolence. Nature or nurture is the age old question, but it is without a doubt that to stand against the tide is going to take extra effort and few realize they even have the need. Thus we tend to follow the crowd.
When we are raised to believe that God loathes His human creation and can only stomach them through the veil of Christ’s blood and all of the learned men surrounding us are in absolute accord with that thought, who will challenge the predominate thinking? Very few. No one covets a position as the outsider. It is far easier to walk a road which has already been paved with misconceptions rather than to cut a trail through the untouched tangle of truth. The aforementioned history lesson was introduced in order to give a foundation to the reader as to exactly where the teachings within the modern church originated. Certainly there have been “tweaks” to the teaching over the millennia, but the essential structure remains untouched. Thus Christ is relegated to second tier status forever and always in the minds of His people.
When I became a parent, many views I held about God began to fall apart. I simply could not believe that I, as a loathsome human being, could be more forgiving than God Almighty. Raising kids is not an easy task and anyone who has had the pleasure understands what I mean. Children are a boundless blessing, but they can also try your patience. (To put it mildly.) I’m certain that with few exceptions, most all people reading this who have had children have felt the sting of their rejection on at least one occasion. Such rejection can take many forms, but the rejection is felt no less keenly. It hurts when our children tell us they hate us … or worse. But we forgive them and we do what we can to bridge the gap separating us. We do this (or attempt, in any event) because we love them. Now how is it that as broken, rotten, loathsome, sinful human beings we can do something which God is unable without utilizing a “proxy?” The short answer is we cannot. The Apostle John explained that we can love because Christ first loved us. (1st John 4:19)
Orthodoxy teaches that God cannot look upon sin and as we are all sinners, God apart from this veil of Christ’s shed blood cannot look upon us and DOES NOT regard us as His children. This is errant teaching which came from the hierarchal structure first instituted by Constantine the Great. To put it plainly, it is absolutely one hundred percent incorrect. (I would ask the reader to reference my earlier commentary on Matthew 27:46 for further details on my thoughts:
Sproul calls sin “Cosmic Treason” evidently without realizing what sin is. Sproul appears to conflate sin and evil. This is unfortunate since the two concepts are as different as night is from day. (Again I have already addressed this is an earlier commentary.) I will mention this just to clarify in the minds of the reader what Dr. Sproul seems incapable of grasping: God does not desire you to love him at the point of a gun. If such were the case, I do believe our world would look much differently than it does. God is about a loving relationship first and always. The “Holiness” of God cannot ever be trampled by our behavior no matter how abysmally we act. To relegate such holiness to a being that is so easily roused to anger would bespeak a being not entitled to enjoy such respect from anyone … except at the point of a gun.
Lastly let me be clear on the path which Sproul has chosen is one which dooms most of humanity. If one must first acknowledge and accept Jesus Christ, most of humanity is damned to the fiery pit of Hell. The reach of the 1st century Christians was exceedingly small and most of the world had absolutely no knowledge of Jesus Christ. This remained the case as the centuries wore on. Most all of Asia remained unaware of the Christian God even up through the beginning of the 2nd millennia. While we in the West might not give much thought to the untold billions of lives smothered out by a misreading of scripture and our own innate bias, I assure you that it matters to those people in far off lands who do not share the belief they are going to roast for all eternity just because a well meaning Christian says so.
I had earlier made mention of the myriad evils which mankind is quite capable of inflicting upon one another. I reiterate that we do so because we are being led by our flesh rather than ceding control to the spirit which imbues all of us. I’ll also hasten to add that such evils remain in the slim minority. They get attention because of the fact they exist out of the norm. Most of us “loathsome humans” simply do what we can to make our way through this life as best we can. We may all be sinners (as sin defined is merely the failure to meet a predetermined line of demarcation; in this case, one set by the Celestial Beings of God Almighty – Galatians 3:19), but the evil (read selfishness.) which ensnare us comes in shades of gray.
It is my hope and prayer that as Christians we would all begin to recognize that love is the primary component in the Christian relationship. Most people can be coerced to do something they don’t really believe, but God looks upon the heart of the individual. If we were supposed to simply love God or He’d kill us, there would have been no need whatsoever for Jesus Christ; a better path could have been utilized.
Christ emphasized relationship and love. Paul said that God desires we call him Abba – father. Such is an incredibly intimate term between a parent and their child whom they love dearly. Don’t short-change God Almighty because you cannot yet understand His totality of being. We anthropomorphize God at our peril and our personal loss. We lose so much when we regard God as possessing our attributes. Read Galatians 5:22 and compare the attributes Paul says God possesses to the attributes you have been told God possesses by the church. If you can find an angry, short-tempered, jealous God within the attributes listed, you’re reading into the scriptures what is not there. Don’t bring an Eternal God down to your level in order to understand Him, rather listen with your spiritual ears and rise up to His.