I have been a Christian for some 52 years now.
During that time, I have run into people who are favorable to Christianity and quite a few who are downright hostile to Christianity and the God of the Bible. Perhaps this is a subject that we will examine closer in future columns.
For the present, however let me state that in almost every case where I have found hostility toward God, I have discovered that at the root of that hostility was a misunderstanding of who God really is.
One common misperception I often run into is the idea that God is like a displeased parent -- sitting in heaven, arms crossed, scowl on his face, acting like absolutely nothing we do will ever please Him.
If that is your view of God, you have a right to reject him. But that is not the picture the Bible paints of him.
Here is the picture the Bible paints of God: "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again" (John 3:16 17, The Message).
Many want to point the accusing finger at God for this very act of extreme mercy. Instead of seeing the love God has for us, they decry him for requiring the barbarity of a cross to satisfy His justice. So let's start here and we will look at other aspects of this issue in future columns.
Do you realize that in every other world religion, if God shows mercy it comes at the expense of His justice?
Using a human analogy, if a criminal brutalized someone you loved, was found guilty of the crime based upon overwhelming evidence, was declared guilty by the jury, but when it came time for sentencing the judge said to the perpetrator, "I'm in a generous mood today, I am going to let you go free," how would you feel? Not very happy, I would think.
Even if you were a very forgiving person, you would probably have a problem with such a capricious miscarriage of justice, and truth be told, such a judge would not last long on the bench. Why? Because in a situation like we just described, mercy would have to come at the expense of justice.
It is an agreed upon fact, no matter what your culture or religious background may be, when justice fails, hope vanishes. In every other religion of the world, justice suffers if mercy is extended, but in Christianity, mercy comes through justice, not in spite of it. That is why Christ had to die.
God is not a fickle judge. His justice had to be satisfied and by God the Son's willing sacrificial death upon the cross, God's justice was satisfied. As a result, mercy and grace can be extended to all who will receive it.
Justice, mercy and grace are all found in the cross. God is not the stern Father who can never be satisfied, He is a loving Father whose love for us is so great that the Bible says of Him, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, NIV84).
Does that really sound like a God who is harsh and demanding? I don't think so.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.