Imagining God Your Way

I may be revealing my age here, but I recall a certain Burger King TV ad from the 70s….

“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us. … Have it your way at Burger King.” 

I could have my burger anyway I preferred. Wow! That was welcome news. Especially when I remembered ordering a burger without onions at a McDonalds in Canton, Ohio. Everyone else was almost finished with lunch while I stood in line waiting.

On a recent trip to the grocery store I was reminded how blessed we are in America. Such variety! So many choices: French Vanilla? Vanilla Bean? Vividly Vanilla? Or Home-Made Vanilla ice cream? Should I get 1%, 2%, skim or real-deal milk? Any of those choices would have been okay, but Mary and I have our personal preferences.

Some people imagine God as they prefer Him to be. Maybe they visualize a God so kind and loving that He would never sentence anybody to hell. I call this imaginary god, so sweet and gentle He wouldn’t swat a fly, a “Doting Grandfather.” A kind old gent that would never discipline His grandchild. After all, “boys will be boys so let them have their fun.”

That is another of the six caricatures of God I describe in my book, God in His Own Image. But there is one very big problem with all these imagine-your-own gods, and here it is: The real God has revealed Himself to us very clearly in Scripture. He has told us just Who He is. To try to adjust Him to suit our fancy is both blasphemous and lethal. 

He is who He is, and we must get over it. 

This safe, passive god—this idol—would never condemn anybody to hell. He will forgive them and welcome them to enjoy heaven. In the words of the old 19th Century German skeptic/poet, Heinrich Hein, “After all, He must forgive them. That’s His job.” He actually declared that on his death bed. 

This doting grandfather would also never permit, let alone cause, severe trials and pain to fall on His children. However, the God of the Bible assumes responsibility for sending severe trials—even plagues and exile and death—upon rebellious Israel. Miriam was handed a severe case of leprosy for criticizing God’s anointed leader. Moses, a man God called His friend, was denied entrance into the Promised Land for striking a stone instead of speaking to it.

God is righteous. He always does what if right and just. God is holy, and will not compromise with sin or sinners. The penalty for sin is always the same: “The wages of sin is death.” No exceptions! Not even for His own Son, when Jesus assumed responsibility for our guilt and endured the punishment for our sin. In fact, the cross of Christ is the clearest evidence that God will and does punish sin. “He (Jesus) who knew no sin became sin for us.” That’s why He suffered the bloody, painful and shameful death on a Roman cross. It was my sin—your sin—that nailed Him there.

If God did not spare His own Son, how dare we assume He will spare you or me?  

My book, God is His Own Image, is based upon Romans 11:22: “Consider (ponder on this) the kindness and severity of God.” His kindness is illustrated in the Bible and throughout history. But that kindness is not without expectations. When Israel continually walked away from their God to pursue idols, and when they rejected the promised Messiah Jesus, they had passed the line of no return. Judgment had to fall. Justice had to be done. 

And it was.

Israel, God’s favorite olive tree, was severed—cut off—from the life sustaining rootstock. Gentiles were grafted (welcomed) into God’s big family. God was severe with Israel, but He was merciful and kind to us Gentiles by opening the border that had once locked us out of His kingdom. We, once dead in sin, were made alive in Christ. Adopted into God’s very family. Praise His name!

God is certainly kind, but His kindness does not suggest it’s His job to forgive anybody. His holiness and severity demand that God always applies the law consistently. No exceptions! Sinners will die for their sins. Sinners will be alienated from their Creator for eternity in hell.

Remember Mr. Beaver, in C. S. Lewis’s, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? When asked if Aslan the Great Lion was safe, Beaver replied, “Safe? He is not safe. But he is good!”

That’s how God introduces Himself when appearing to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7, ESV… In the book I offer an explanation of that last statement about punishing children for their parents’ sinful actions.)

God is both kind and severe. That’s the way He is. We must humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand, and accept His offer and His conditions to enjoy a relationship with Him. Let us come to Him as we are—guilty and lost and damned sinners—to receive His mercy and grace.

Having done that, God responds with overwhelming mercy and amazing grace and fatherly love. 

He is not a doting granddad but He is grand! 

He is worthy of our praise and love and trust.

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