I have been intrigued lately by our conceptions of Christian kindness and discipline. It seems that so many of us are very fearful of being too kind. Oh sure, we have no problem being NICE to others. But we seem to struggle with the balance between kindness and strictness with those who sin.
Some of us struggle to be kind particularly when handling God’s sustainable (or absolute) truths. Once we stand upon a solid truth, our hearts can become hard. When others disagree with us, we become tense inside and our blood starts to heat up. We soon find ourselves wanting to respond with passion to defend God’s truths and we often paste on a smile to cover the anger or impatience growing within us.
Kindness ends up taking a back seat to our demands for others to agree with us; and we quickly get pegged as intolerant. We let truth drive our theology and kindness unintentionally gets thrown to the wind.Others of us are quite kind and tolerant. Yet we lack the ability to stand on any truth at all. So we simply let God’s sustainable truths collapse into compromise. In order to maintain our kind posture, we lose our moral bearings. Truth becomes subservient to pleasing those around us; to our being accepted by them; to our escaping their accusations of intolerance. We let kindness drive our theology and truth gets thrown to the wind.If you think about it, both kinds of responses are partially right. They both reflect a portion of God’s character. God is love. He is kind. He despises when we judge others. Scripture warns us that our impatience with others invites God to be impatient with us. Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured unto you.” Likewise, God is truth. He is Holy. He cannot sin. He warns us that our accommodation of sin invites His wrath. The model throughout Scripture is this: when we persist in sin, we are likely to get released to or turned over to that sin. We are turned over to be enslaved by sin. God’s purpose in turning us over to sin is NOT because He hates us; it is because of His love.
God desires that we have the best life that He has planned for us; if we sin, we cannot have that life. So at times, He will allow us to fully taste what we are demanding to have anyway…with the patient and long-suffering hope that we might voluntarily turn back toward Him. So it is out of love that he does this.
It is interesting to note that we often think of Jesus as “Gentle Jesus” for He always reached out to the sick, the weak…and yes sinners. He had great compassion; great kindness. Yet Christ was Holy too. While He often rescued sinners from judgment, persecution or earthly punishment, we often miss that He follows such rescue with the admonition, “Go and leave your life of sin. Go and sin no more or else something worse may happen to you.”It is understandable that we struggle with this balance between kindness toward sinners and hardness (or discipline) toward sin. After all, God is God and we are not. How can we – as mere humans – fully comprehend the singularity of His dual nature? He is Truth and Love. He is Mercy and Justice. How can we fully understand how God can simultaneously be a holy God who judges sin and a patient God who forgives and extends tolerance to us in the midst of our sin? We might not ever fully understand how God is both truth and love. But we can do better than falling into the error of what I call an “either/or” theology. This either-or theology works like this. Either God is a God of love or He is a God of justice; but He cannot be both.
If He is a God of love, then His love must be so pure that He no longer condemns my sin nor requires that I repent of my sins; in fact, His love must be so pure that my sin is really no longer sin at all – His love allows me to have full liberation to do what I find to be fulfilling and pleasurable; as long as no one gets hurt or taken advantage of. OR else God is a God of justice. If He is a God of justice, His holiness must be so pure that He has no tolerance for my sin; He demands that I repent RIGHT NOW. If I refuse to repent, He is so merciless that I invite His absolute anger and wrath down from Heaven. In fact, He is so HOLY that I can never really know if God REALLY loves and accepts me. His truths demand full compliance and any failure to comply may render me hell-bound. God is either absolutely tolerant; or absolutely intolerant. This is the foundation of “either/or” theology. It is error.
I must add here that I was first challenged to consider God more holistically – as a God who can be both love and judge – by a secular boss of mine. In the early 1990’s, he was a leading edge CEO – one of the first to introduce a new concept at that time called empowerment. My CEO was adamant about instilling a sense of ownership within the work ethic of employees; he was convinced that if people really owned their job as if they were an owner of the company, they would perform much more efficiently and successfully.
Yet an interesting thing happened. Employees were used to an older style of business where people in positions of power pushed them down; denigrated their work; and maneuvered to try to steal credit for work successes. They had been oppressed for many years. So something interesting happened: they latched on to “empowerment” like a man in a desert for three days would lap up water!
The result: they carried it too far…
There was a great temptation for employees to take this new found freedom and turn it into a kind of absolute freedom; they wanted empowerment without accountability; freedom without responsibility. They wanted a license that would give them absolute empowerment.
As I saw complaints unfold about the lack of freedom in the midst of the most dramatic freedom that our company had ever known, I knew something was wrong. It was this “either-or” philosophy that was tearing at the true meaning of empowerment. People could see only two options: either we’re slaves to bosses who abuse us; or else we are absolutely free with no bosses to bug us or redirect our work focus. They could not easily accept that empowerment came with a responsibility to be accountable.
It was in this environment that I saw the human tendency to be drawn toward these absolute extremes; for I was at that very time tearing at the true meaning of grace. I was making God into a God of absolute love; a love so deep that repentance was no longer necessary. In all areas of life, I wanted a God who would protect me but never inhibit me. I wanted absolute freedom. I wanted love without discipline. Yet the Scriptures say, The Lord disciplines those He loves…
To this day, I credit this CEO for challenging me in a secular atmosphere; a challenge that God used to reveal my error in how I viewed His nature. This has been a life-long lesson that I will be grateful for until the day I die. I highly respect this man because of his wisdom.So what do we make of this tendency of ours to lean toward this kind of extreme “either-or” theology? Is God love? Or is He judge? How on earth can He be both? Join me in my next several posts as we explore this further…Click here to easily navigate to Part 2.