How did we get it so wrong when the terms of the invitation were so right?
Here’s the summons in black and white:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35). Simple and severe.
Taking up the cross is not wearing a piece of jewelry. What’s the next stop for someone who takes up the cross? Yes, execution. It’s the ultimate challenge. Everything or nothing. If taking up the cross is tough, then dying on the cross is worse. But if God is loving, why is He calling us to discomfort and difficulties, hardship and inconvenience? Wasn’t the sin issue settled — once and for all, in blood, by God personally — stamped, sealed and delivered, so to speak?
Let’s consider the person and narrative of Job. Surely he was one of the most decent of guys on earth, ever. Would you inflict the disasters and horrors on him, of all people? The testimony bears witness: “That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1) Outstanding and rare, to say the least. Surely, we would spare him from such pain and calamities?
Then are we trying to be kinder than God! Because God didn’t.
Steven Cole expressed this well: “When the Sabeans and later the Chaldeans attacked Job’s servants and murdered them and stole his flocks, Job didn’t say, ‘Those wicked Sabeans and Chaldeans! I’ll get them!’ Lightning struck another group of his servants and flocks, killing all but one man. Job didn’t say, ‘What bad luck!’ When a tornado struck the house where Job’s ten children were, killing them all, Job didn’t say, ‘That’s the way it goes sometimes!’ Rather, Job viewed the sinful actions of evil men and the impersonal forces of nature as coming from God Himself. Satan was the immediate cause, but Job said, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1:21 see also, 2:10).”
Is there the notion that once someone is “born again” into God’s family, they become children of a very benign, doting Heavenly Father, who has nothing but Santa Claus-type “goodies” on hand? A rosy-cosy abundant life on Easy Street. Surely, we are kinder in sentiment than God!
Being a loving Father is not the only characteristic of God. He also corrects His own to draw them into a closer walk with Him — refining and pruning (to use biblical metaphors). The goal? To purpose after His heart and will, ever-eager to please Him in every life situation. Yes, He is a loving father who disciplines us for our good and for His glory: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (Hebrews 12:7 NIV) Indeed.
Beware the fake news that you can be kinder or even nicer than God by lowering His standards and commands.
“The God designated by Job and revealed by Jesus is not merely ‘greater’ than human beings. He is different. Jesus is the image of a God who breaks through the accounting system, a God who continuously offers new — underserved — opportunities, a God who does not fit in with any human scheme. The way in which God breaks through all-too-human insights is evident in the parable of the workers of the eleventh hour (Mt 20:1-16). In one shocking verse: ’Do you begrudge my generosity?’ (v 15), God breaks through the closed system of merits and demerits. He is not a God of revenge; He is not a God of bookkeeping retribution. An encounter with a God who is neither a copy of our needs and longings nor an amplification of a childish father-figure, will be the most serious test for everyone who wishes to achieve an adult faith.” (Kristiaan Depoortere in “A Different God: a Christian view of suffering”)
God will not spare us from the cross. Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial, in exchange for one that puts God and His kingdom first. No bargaining — just an outright come-to-the-end-of-yourself posture. Which is the best place to be — we’re closer to Him.
Yes, God is kind, kinder than we can possibly think. More than that — God is love (1 John 4:8). Selah.
Dr Andrew Goh is the editor of Impact magazine.
VOL. 44 NO. 5 of IMPACT Magazine
CAN WE REBOOT?
... Living in the midst of a pandemic and protests by Kelly Ng
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
by Mary Yeo-Carpenter
THE TRINITY IS THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUE LOVE by Robert Solomon
DOES GOD LOVE EQUALLY
... How fair is God's love? by Darius Ng
NO ESCAPE, NO EXIT, NO END
Can everlasting Hell and the unending love of God co-exist? by Manik Corea
LOVE ON A SINGLE DIMENSION?
- The Impact Panel responds -
RETHINK, RETOOL, RESET
... Covid-19 and Global Missions by Timothy Liu