And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
In commenting on his beautiful Christmas piece “Mary Did You Know?” the musician/ come-dian Mark Lowry prompts us to wonder—What would it be like to change God’s diapers? Many religious souls, like Muslims and Jews, would be outraged at the very idea! Their image of Allah or Yahweh would never permit them to even begin contemplating this notion.
The Christian psychiatrist, Dr. Timothy Jennings, writes in his God-Shaped Brain: “Is God like the enemy alleges, or is God like Jesus revealed him to be? This is the question we all must answer. Our eternal salvation depends on which conclusion we draw. And we have another standard against which to test our theories. Is God a power monger, a being of stern justice who must use his power to inflict penalties? Does God say, All I want is your love, but if you don’t love me I will burn you in hell and torture you until you die? (Or forever, according to much orthodox church teaching, -HPK.) Is God a being who requires appeasement? Is he a being who must be bought off by the blood of his son so he won’t kill us? (This is not to say that the unrepentant won’t die in the end; they will. But the reason they die is not that God is forced to torture and execute.)
“In Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel Green and Mark Baker recognize that the Bible provides no basis for such a fear-inducing God-construct. ‘Whatever meaning atonement might have, it would be a grave error to imagine that it focused on assuaging God’s anger or winning God’s merciful attention. . . . The Scripture as a whole provides no ground for a portrait of an angry God needing to be appeased in atoning sacrifice.’ There are only two gods to be worshiped: a God of love, as revealed in Jesus, or a god that is something other than love—a being who requires some action be taken in order to merit his mercy, forgiveness and grace. In every false religion of the world, the central fallacy is a distorted picture of God. He is either a being who is too busy to care, who is detached and disinterested, or who is a cruel tyrant of absolute power that must be appeased.
“Brain research has demonstrated that the kind of God you worship changes your brain. Only the worship of the God of love brings healing. Holding to lies obstructs the healing process. As the world approaches the final consummation, what will the last contest with evil be over? What is the culmination of events as the Bible predicts? It will be a conflict over worship, over two systems, over two pictures of God. On the one hand is the beast’s system, which violates liberty —no one may buy or sell except him who has the mark of the beast (Rev 13:17); or God’s system of love:
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. (Or as the Christmas hymn goes, I wondered as I wandered out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior has come forth to die, . . for poor lost sinners like you and like I. . . .)
“The world is being pushed headlong toward this final confrontation when every person will have to choose: violate liberty, or love God and others supremely. Jesus said at the end of time the love of most will grow cold (Mt. 24:12). Why? Because of wickedness. And as Paul states in Romans 1:18-31, wickedness is the result of rejecting the truth about God. Rejecting the knowledge of God always leads away from God’s methods. Thus religious people can worship a god who coerces and controls. And love is destroyed when liberty is abused. Brain imaging has documented the phenomenon that, when we worship a vengeful god who abuses freedom, when we anticipate the return of a punishing god, our fear circuits grow stronger and our prefrontal cortexes are damaged—again, in the brain region where we experience love, empathy and selflessness.”
In just a couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating the birth of the Savior, a time after which we’ve been hearing Christmas carols over and over again. These ought to make us think deeply about our concept of God, and who we are! (My favorite is Oh Holy Night, especially the line, Truly He taught us to love one another. . . ) Here is my offering, not gold, frankincense or myrrh, but a poem:
A Christmas Prayer
Oh ecstasy of light,
shine into each crevice in my soul,
and help me peer beneath each fearful cover-up of sin,
even that which Christmas celebrations sometimes give.
Lead me, awesome light, lead me into kneeling:
a little sheepish self that darts back to that darkened space
behind the manger.
Call me from the shadow
of her who’s suckling the Savior,
(holding the God who created
and is holding her)
and help me look at and confess
all I’ve hidden inside,
because I can, like her,
look heaven in the face,
full of grace and truth. —HPK