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the end of religion

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This post is an announcement and an invitation – and I am so happy to be making it!

Dear friends, as of now, the expanded edition of The End of Religion is available for pre-order wherever you buy books!

For the last decade I have continued to do research on the themes in the original version of this book, and over the last couple of years I have been writing new chapters (and re-writing old ones). The result is this new book, with almost twice the content of the previous edition.

The End of Religion is written to your non-Christian friends, to partner with you in generating conversation in a way that should also encourage all our hearts to live into the freedom that is found in the New Covenant.

I believe in this book. I’ve received too much encouraging feedback from the previous edition about new faith found and old faith renewed not to have confidence that this edition will be so helpful to so many.

Excellent.  Both playful and profound.This book both invites seekers to explore who Jesus really is and challenges life-long Christians to follow Him more faithfully. A lively, probing, faithful presentation of the real Jesus.
– Ron Sider, Anabaptist / Author / Activist

And now I’m inviting you to partner with me in a few ways. Would you please help?

  1. PRE-ORDER RIGHT NOW. I’m told that pre-orders help boost publicity. It does make a difference. So, rather than wait until its release date, if you would kindly go to Amazon now and pre-order the book, it will be tremendously helpful.
  2. REVIEW WHEN READ. When you do read the book, if it has made an impact, writing an online review on Amazon and other sites would also be a blessing. (And if you hated the book – be like Mary and treasure these things in your heart.)
  3. SPREAD THE WORD. Thank you for helping me get the word out. Through social media, or just socializing, thanks for letting your friends and family know. (And if you would like a picture or graphic or banner to share on your social media, please contact me at bruxy@bruxy.com and I will be happy to share, or just repost or retweet anything you see me posting.)
  4. FEEDBACK RIGHT HERE. Lastly, for those of you who have been blessed by the previous edition (published way back in 2007), it would mean so much to me if you would offer your encouragement, endorsement, and feedback about The End of Religion in the comments of this blog post right here right now. By posting here, I trust you will be happy if I do repost your comments on my social media. This will also help people hear about the book.

That’s it! Thank you so much for your help and encouragement! Now, please comment away!

Peace,

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ApologeticsBibleGospelJesusReligionTheology

the origin, evolution, & end of religion (part 1 of 4)

Sacrifice_boar_Louvre_G112

PART 1: Mercy, Not Sacrifice (An Introduction)

Prolegomena: Before we dive into our main topic, here are two caveats…

  1. This new miniseries of posts expresses and expands on one sermon at The Meeting House – part 4 of our Origins series, called East of Eden. To hear that sermon, please go here.
  2. Some people use the word “religion” in a positive sense, the way Jesus uses the word “faith”. If you struggle with the pejorative use of the word “religion”, please see this post here.

Now let’s dive in!


When religious leaders asked why Jesus was befriending sinners and religious outsiders, Jesus responded:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
~ Jesus (Matthew 9:12-13)

Jesus came, not for those who think they’ve got it all together, but for the rest of us who know we don’t. Wow, that’s good news. And if we really want to understand how that gets worked out in the real world, Jesus tells us where to look. To the religious leaders who repeatedly misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied their own Scriptures, Jesus said: Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Jesus gives them, and us, some clear marching orders if we want to understand him and his good news better. Go back into the Bible, says Jesus, and focus your attention on figuring out the meaning of this one verse: Hosea 6:6. That’s what Jesus is quoting here. The full version reads:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
~ The Prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6)

Religious sacrifice – that is, offering vegetation, animals, and even humans to God or the gods in order to get their attention, procure their blessing, and/or remove their wrath – was ubiquitous in ancient religions. It amounted to a kind of religious magic, where practitioners arrange the right elements (often blood) in the right ways (shed on a sacred altar and/or applied to sacred objects) to manipulate cosmic powers for their benefit.

This is one of many ways the God of the Bible stands out. He says: I don’t need or even want you to sacrifice stuff to me. I simply want your heart, your love, your partnership.

The word for “mercy” in Hosea 6:6 is the Hebrew word hesed, which means loyal love, faithful friendship, caring kindness. It is similar to the Greek word agape, meaning unconditional love. God wants a real, intimate, ongoing relationship with us more than the petitioning and pleading rituals of religion. In fact, where there is already love and trust, ritual sacrifice merely gets in the way. Sacrifice suggests that God is far away and assumes he is either mad and must be appeased or fickle and must be persuaded to bless us. That’s not a step towards but a step away from the intimacy God desires with us.

Notice God doesn’t say, “I desire mercy along with sacrifice, an acknowledgement of God along with burnt offerings.” He wants one and not the other, relationship rather than religion.

But if this is all true, then why in the Bible does God command so many sacrifices? I mean, have you read the book of Leviticus? The answer to this question lies in what scholars call “THE PRINCIPLE OF ACCOMMODATION” and in the history of sacrifice in the Bible, which we’ll get to in future posts in this series.

For now, we can at least lay down this firm foundation: ritualistic religion, including the sad practice of animal sacrifice, was never part of God’s ideal for the human-divine relationship.

King David was called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David had a particularly intimate relationship with God, one that pointed forward to Jesus who was called “the son of David” (Matthew 12:23; 21:9, 15; 22:42; etc.).  And when praying to God, David says:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
    but my ears you have opened—
    burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
~ King David (Psalm 40:6)

God did not require, nor even desire, the religious ritual of animal sacrifice. The idea and impulse for the system of sacrifice came from somewhere else.

The author of the book of Hebrews paraphrases Psalm 40:6 and comments:

“Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 
(Hebrews 10:8)

Just to make sure we’re getting the point, the author of Hebrews reminds us that God was not pleased with the very sacrifices God himself was commanding. Let that sink in.

Again, David says in a recorded prayer:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.
~ King David (Psalm 51:16-17)

The real “sacrifice” that God desires is our hearts, not the blood of bulls and goats. (Along these same lines, also see Isaiah 1:1-20; 43:25; Jeremiah 7; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Amos 5:21-25.)

David knew this truth down to his bones. He had committed the sins of adultery and, indirectly, murder. And catch this: there is no sacrifice for these sins in the Torah. The Law of Moses prescribed sacrifices primarily for unintentional sins (see Leviticus 4-5) and some lesser intentional sins (Leviticus 6). But for the most serious sins like murder and adultery, the prescribed response was not sacrifice but the death penalty. If there was any hope for David to receive God’s forgiveness, religious sacrifice was not the way. For someone who committed the most serious of sins, their only hope was to cast themselves directly upon God’s mercy and to invite his forgiveness, apart from the religious system.

All of this raises loads of questions. Doesn’t God need blood in order to forgive sins? If not, why did God directly command blood sacrifice in the Old Testament? And what is the nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross?

My hope in this post has been to simply set the table for this series. We’ve begun to “go and learn” as Jesus instructed.  In future posts, we’ll look at the principle of accommodation, the nature of the human religious impulse, the origin of sacrifice, and the way God enters and ends the entire system through Jesus.

I’m looking forward to your feedback, questions, and comments!

Peace,

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Gospel

gospel refresh (part 2): your turn

Gospel Blog Part 2

WARNING! INTERACTIVE BLOG POST AHEAD!

In my last post I talked about how taking time to intentionally refresh my soul with the gospel was used by God to save my faith. The words of Jesus are “full of the Spirit and life“(John 6:63). When I let the core message of Jesus sink into my soul, I find my faith increased to the point of no return – I simply can’t believe that anything else is more true than the gospel. So in this post I’m inviting you to join me in this process as a kind of spiritual practice for our mutual edification (which is just a fancy word for building each other up and helping each other grow).

To help ourselves experience this kind of “gospel refresh” I think three elements are important:

  1. Learning and loving the words of Jesus themselves (acknowledging that we don’t have the actual words of Jesus in Hebrew/Aramaic since the gospels were written in Greek and now translated into our language). It is important to get the gospel inside us as it is articulated in Scripture. Our gospel cheat sheet can help you with this.
  2. Hearing and cherishing the various ways other believers have articulated the gospel in their own words, with fresh terminology and analogies. This second stage is only valuable if we are committed to the first. But once we know and are committed to returning to the gospel in the words of Scripture, hearing other voices rephrase the same truth in different ways helps us get it into our bones. In fact, even when we find ourselves disagreeing with how other Christians paraphrase the gospel (which I often experience, including an example I’ve listed below), even that mental interaction, theological objection, and cognitive reframing is helping us deepen and develop our understanding of the gospel.
  3. Articulating the gospel in your own words, speaking it back to yourself as well as to others. This is something the early church did regularly: they reminded each other of the basics of the gospel over and over (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Peter 1:12-15), and they preached this good news to others (e.g., Acts 17:22-31), while using fresh language and imagery to communicate the same timeless truth.

I was listening to New Testament scholar Craig Evans recently talk about Matthew 13:52 where, after teaching in parables, Jesus goes on to say:

“Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Jesus)

Evans sees this as Jesus encouraging his disciples to learn how to articulate the gospel both in familiar ways from Scripture and also in fresh expressions of the same message, through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that his disciples didn’t really know his teaching if they could merely repeat his teaching. A trained parrot can do that. To really get to know a message, we need to do more than memorize it; we need to do the work of developing our own expression of it. When we expand and contract a teaching, rearrange the presentation, and find new words and images – this process helps us better understand and communicate the same message. (This, by the way, explains why the apostle Paul and other New Testament leaders tend not to quote Jesus as often as they rephrases, expand, and apply the teaching of Jesus in their context. That’s what true disciples are supposed to do!)

I’m convinced that learning to express the words of Jesus in our own words is a key element for our gospel refresh and our continued discipleship. Wanna try?

For step 1, as I’ve already mentioned, I recommend our gospel cheat sheet for an overview of gospel scripture passages to review.

For step 2, below are a couple of my own paraphrases of the gospel plus one I’ve heard used by another Christian church from a different tradition.

For step 3, I’m going to invite you to craft your own paraphrase and, if you’re willing, share it with the rest of us as a comment on this blog post.

But first, here are some examples to help you with step 2…

EXAMPLE 1: The Gospel in Thirty Words

Jesus is God with us, come to
SHOW US God’s love,
SAVE US from sin,
SET UP God’s kingdom, and
SHUT DOWN religion, so we can
SHARE IN God’s life.

EXAMPLE #2: The Gospel of Love (from the last post)

  1. The creative Force that is the Source and Sustainer of all things is pure Love. We were made by love, and we are kept alive by love. It’s always relating, always engaging – it is the pure spiritual light of Love. This is what we call God, our Source and our Sustainer. That’s the universe we live in.
  2. That Love made us in his own image and likeness, to reflect and magnify this love to each other and to all creation. All people, Christian or not, are made in the image of God and have the potential, if we live in tune with our Source and Sustainer, to amplify that love around the planet. He wants to work in partnership with us because that’s what love does.
  3. We have distorted our own calling and have wandered off the path of our purpose. We have turned love into a selfish thing rather than other-centered service. We have used creation and we have used other people to serve our own agendas. We’ve reversed the polarity on love, increasing our separation rather than unity.
  4. Jesus is The-God-Who-Is-Love come to us in our own form to lead us home.  Jesus is the place where God and humanity experience (re)union, and he embodies for us the way of love, peace, simplicity, and grace. Grace, that great irreligious concept of God coming to us and gifting us with everything that religion tries, but fails, to accomplish.
  5. Right now, we can trust this good news of Jesus and receive his life and love as a gift. We can begin to live loved, because we are. And we can pour out divine love to others and to all creation, because God himself is empowering us through the Holy Spirit to be fully ourselves, the image bearers of pure love.

EXAMPLE #3: The Gospel of salvation from sin and wrath

God is a righteous, just, and holy God. We are his creation and are responsible to him. There is coming a day when everyone will be judged in righteousness. All of us will be guilty on that day of judgement because all of us have broken God’s law. We have lied, stolen, lusted, used God’s name in vain, etc. He knows every sin we have committed in word, thought, and deed. God is good and just and therefore must punish our sin. The penalty for sin is eternity in hell.  No amount of good works, apologies, or confessions can erase our sin. But God, in his mercy, has provided a way for his justice to be satisfied and our sin to be forgiven. In love Jesus Christ came, fully God and fully man, and lived a perfect sinless life. He was murdered on a cross and rose from the dead on the third day. Christ, though innocent, bore our sins on that cross, satisfying God’s wrath against our sin. God commands you to repent, to turn from your sin and turn to Christ in faith, trusting that Christ died in your place. If you will do this, the Bible says that Christ will bear your sin and give you his righteousness. You’ll be made new and you will have peace with God and have eternal life. When you face God it will not be in judgement but with joy. Repent and trust in Christ today, and you will be forgiven of your sin, reconciled to your Creator, and will enjoy him forever in heaven.

Three very different summaries, eh? So now it’s your turn! Here’s what I’m asking: please take some time with this as a spiritual discipline. Refresh your thinking with Scripture. Meditate on the examples above, interact with them, disagree with them, think through them. Then, write your own, and, if you would be so kind, please post it in the comments! Then check back later and see what other gospel summaries have been posted as well. We can help one another interact with and deepen our understanding of the gospel by sharing our own formations of this message, the good news of Jesus, for seekers, saints, and sinners.

Let the gospel refresh begin!

Peace,

 

 

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gospel refresh (part 1): how the gospel saved my faith

Gospel Refresh

In my early twenties I was ready to give up on Jesus. Not because of intellectual objections or disagreements with his right to be the Lord of my life. Rather, it was purely emotional—immature, childish, pouty emotion. Something terrible had happened in my life and I wanted to blame God, maybe even find a way to get back at God, to make him sorry for how badly he hurt me. I told you it was immature. To make matters more complex, I hid my emotional pain behind pseudo-intellectual criticisms, and one day I unloaded it all on my friend Tim.

Tim was an older mentor in the faith. I told him that he had one chance, one final conversation to talk me out of walking away from Jesus, otherwise I was ditching discipleship to Christ. (Such a drama queen!) Tim listened patiently to my objections and accusations about faith in Jesus, and then he offered me his wise response: he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Huh. I hear you. But what else are you going to believe?”

That was it? That was it! That was all he had to say? Yup—and it was perfect. That was just what my stubborn, skeptical, questioning mind needed to hear. I then went through a season of life trying other belief systems on for size. And nothing came close to the beauty and power and relevance of Jesus.

When many disciples walked away from Jesus in John 6, Jesus asks the twelve disciples if they want to leave too. Peter responds:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Peter, John 6:68-69)

To whom shall we go? What else are we going to believe? What better option can be found out there in the world of ideas? Peter didn’t claim to understand everything Jesus taught, or even to agree at first pass (remember when Peter rebuked Jesus for saying that Jesus had come to die?), but he did believe that Jesus’ teaching was our source of life. As Jesus himself had said earlier in that chapter:

“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (Jesus, John 6:63)

Sometimes I like to express the gospel, the good news of Jesus, the core message of his ministry, back to myself in fresh words to help me appreciate it all over again. And then I ask myself, “Is there anything better than this that I could believe?” The answer is always “not even close.” I did this again last week and now I’d like to share my fresh version with you and ask you the question, “Is there anything else you could believe?”

This is not meant to be my best articulation of the gospel (for a more robust walkthrough of the Gospel from Scripture, see our Gospel Cheat Sheet), but it’s how I reflected on it this week. Here you go:

  1. The creative Force that is the Source and Sustainer of all things is pure Love. We were made by love, and we are kept alive by love. It’s always relating, always engaging – it is the pure spiritual light of Love. This is what we call God, our Source and our Sustainer. That’s the universe we live in.
  2. That Love made us in his own image and likeness, to reflect and magnify this love to each other and to all creation. All people, Christian or not, are made in the image of God and have the potential, if we live in tune with our Source and Sustainer, to amplify that love around the planet. He wants to work in partnership with us because that’s what love does.
  3. We have distorted our own calling and have wandered off the path of our purpose. We have turned love into a selfish thing rather than other-centered service. We have used creation and we have used other people to serve our own agendas. We’ve reversed the polarity on love, increasing our separation rather than unity.
  4. Jesus is The-God-Who-Is-Love come to us in our own form to lead us home.  Jesus is the place where God and humanity experience (re)union, and he embodies for us the way of love, peace, simplicity, and grace. Grace, that great irreligious concept of God coming to us and gifting us with everything that religion tries, but fails, to accomplish.
  5. Right now, we can trust this good news of Jesus and receive his life and love as a gift. We can begin to live loved, because we are. And we can pour out divine love to others and to all creation, because God himself is empowering us through the Holy Spirit to be fully ourselves, the image bearers of pure love.

This past week I’ve been sitting with this truth, letting it really sink in. And I have reaffirmed to myself that I am far beyond the ability to believe in anything else. The beautiful good news of Jesus has, once again, won my heart.

How about you? My guess is, if you think you could believe something else, you probably should. Otherwise, don’t hold back reaffirming your commitment to Jesus as the one who holds the words of Spirit and life, and let that reignite your desire to share that good news with others.

 

 

 

 

 

This blog is an excerpt from Jesus by John: The Bread & the Blood, Part 1 – The Scandal.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE FULL MESSAGE

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ApologeticsGospelJesusLoveTheology

god’s gutsy love

God is Love

 God is love.
~ The Apostle John (1 John 4:8, 16)

I believe these are the three most beautiful words strung together in the English language: God is love.

However, to say “God is love” only communicates accurately if we know what love is. Is love an emotion? A sentimental sensation? A philosophical value? The Greek word used for love in 1 John 4 is agape (the Hebrew near equivalent would be hesed), which means an unconditional, honouring, and active engagement with a person. Agape is the will to work for the good of someone; it invests energy person to person. One chapter before John says “God is love,” he makes sure his readers have the right idea of what love is. John defines agape like this:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
(1 John 3:16)

Two things worth noting: first of all, John breaks the expected grammatical logic structure, which we would expect to be “Jesus laid his life down for us, so we ought to lay our lives down for him” (I can remember many a youth pastor saying “Jesus died for you, so the least you can do is live for him”). Instead, John says that because Jesus loved us, we ought to love other people. That is the repeated flow of New Testament ethics – when we are wondering what is the right way to treat someone in any given situation, we first ask, how has God treated us? And when we love others like God loves us, God is honoured. (See this ethical pattern in Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14; 1 Peter 4:8; James 2:8; 1 John 3:14-16; etc.)

Secondly, Jesus is love embodied. He not only teaches us about love; Jesus shows us what true love is. Jesus is God’s “Show & Tell”.

Now back to those three beautiful words – God is love. On Sunday we walked through most of 1 John 4, the Bible passage that twice states the essence of God as pure, unadulterated, 100% love. The apostle John is the only writer of Scripture who speaks this directly about the essence of the Almighty, and he does so three times:

  1. God is SPIRIT, says Jesus in John’s gospel (John 4:24)
  2. God is LIGHT (1 John 1:5)
  3. God is LOVE (1 John 4:8, 16)

The Bible describes God as having other qualities, expressions, attributes, such as being holy, sovereign, and righteous, but these qualities are never described as God’s essence. The essence of God is the spiritual light of love.


Side Note: The author of Hebrews also says “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), which we will note is more metaphor rather than a plain labeling of God’s essence – and that “fire” is a vivid picture of the spiritual light of love. As King Solomon writes:

Love is as strong as death,
    its passion unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame.
(Song of Solomon 8:6)


Now catch this: To say God is spirit, light, and love is to describe the same essence in three ways, not to say that God’s essence is made up of three different substances or aspects. There is not a”spirit” part of God attached to the “light” part of God next to the “love” part of God. God is 100% spirit, which is 100% light, which is 100% love.

(I have no idea why this perfectly delightful graphic is so fuzzy – or have I just been looking at the screen too long? Let’s keep moving…)

This is worthwhile establishing since sometimes some Christians try to play one description of God’s essence off of another. They say things like, “Sure God is pure love, but he is also pure light” as though they have just pointed out something else about God that balances out the declaration that God is love. Most of the time they then go on to argue that the “light” of God refers to his holiness, or sinlessness, and maybe even his white hot wrath against sin. Now they have set themselves up to argue that God is love AND wrath at his very core. But the text of Scripture simply can’t support this. God is not love + anything. The spiritual light of God is love. God’s love is light. God’s light is pure spirit, which is pure love. No matter how we slice it, God is all spirit, all light, and all love.

Consider the graph at the top of this page. We are talking about the essence of the Almighty, the DNA of the Divine, the actual guts of God. God is not the sum total of many qualities, but God is love – a love that is expressed in different ways. This means that every expression, everything that God does, is love because everything that God is, is love.

So God’s “guts,” the actual “stuff” of God, must be what God is in and of himself, apart from anything or anyone else. To say “God is love” is to describe:

  • Who and what God was before God created anything.
  • Who and what God is now in our lives.
  • Who and what God will be forever in eternity.

To say that God is love is to acknowledge that this is what God is and not just how God behaves or feels or thinks. And what God is cannot be altered. This is really encouraging because it means that God’s love cannot be diminished in even the slightest way, for that would be the diminishing of God’s own self.

Think about this: the Bible says God is “holy” but not that God is “holiness”, as though being holy defines his essence, the way love does. If we try to say that God is “holiness” in his essence, we are actually saying something that is not only unbiblical but something that is, quite frankly, nonsense. To be “holy” means literally to be set apart from other things as unique or special or sacred. To be “holy” is to be different from that which is common. God is holy and forever will be because, among other reasons, he alone is the Creator and therefore is set apart from all else that exists because everything else is creation.

But now let’s rewind the clock to eternity past. before the creation of all things, to say that God was “holy” would make no sense. Before the creation of all things, God was not “set apart” from anything else. There was only God. Holiness depends on other things existing for it to be a true quality of God. Holiness, then, describes who God is in relation to us and everything else.

So yes, forevermore, throughout an eternal future we will properly relate to God as “holy” precisely because there is a “we” to relate to God. As God is to the angels forever, so is God to us forever – the eternal three times holy God:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”
(Isaiah 6:3; also see Revelation 4:8)

Even more obvious, God was not a “just judge” who was “wrathful” before the creation of all things. To be a judge is to be a judge over something or someone else. God was never a judge over himself. And he was certainly never wrathful about anything within his own being, and before God created all things, there was never anything external to himself to be wrathful about. God’s judgement of wrath is a concept that only makes sense after God created us, and after we went astray.

But wait. What about Bible verses that say God “hates” some people?

It’s true, sometimes we read that God hates specific people. Here are two examples:

 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
(Malachi 1:2-3; also see Romans 9:13)

There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
        haughty eyes,
        a lying tongue,
        hands that shed innocent blood,
        a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
        a false witness who pours out lies
        and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
(
Proverbs 6:16-19)

In Proverbs, at first we are told that God hates the body parts of a person that does evil. Then we learn that God actually hates the person who does evil. And what about poor Esau in Malachi and Romans – was he “hated” by God from birth?

First of all, we don’t deduce from these passages that God is partially love and partially hate. God is love – the spiritual light of love. This means that everything God expresses will be an expression of pure divine love, including what the Bible sometimes calls “hate.” In Hebrew thought, if love (hesed or agape) is a choice, a decision, an act of the will to bless, then hatred in these contexts means to not be chosen for that blessing or that special honour. Esau was not chosen for the mission that God chose for Jacob. Likewise, a sinner is not chosen for blessing, but is opposed by God. Yet, that act of opposition, of judgement, of discipline is always an expression of love, because God is love.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.
(Proverbs 3:11-12; also see Hebrews 12:6)

Everything God does is love, because everything God is is love. (To see more of what God “hating” Esau looked like – spoiler alert, it looks like love, just without the special calling on Jacob’s life – see Deuteronomy 2:4-6; 23:7; Amos 9:11-12; Hebrews 11:20.)

Jesus helps us see that, in biblical language, “hate” is not the opposite of love but a potential expression of love. When Jesus instructs his followers to make him their sole priority, to choose him above all others, including our own families, he puts it this way:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
(Luke 14:26)

We are instructed by Christ to hate those closest to us, and even our own lives. And yet we know that Jesus also says,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:40)

Jesus calls us to love all people – our friends, our neighbours, our enemies, and ourselves. So again we see that “hating” our families and our own lives does not mean that we are being unloving in those instances, but that we are loving Jesus first and foremost. God himself loves everyone, even the sinners that Proverbs says he “hates”:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-10)

God loves everyone, including the ungodly, the sinners, God’s enemies – because God cannot do otherwise. God is love. In the most well known Bible verse, God’s love for everyone is identified as the preceding motive behind God giving his son:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

God is love. And this means that every experience we have of God is an expression of love (James 1:17). Now keep in mind: not everything we experience comes from God. But everything that does come from God is an experience of love. Sometimes that love will be experienced as an encouraging embrace. Other times, when we are fighting back against God’s best for our lives, that love will feel like hot coals poured upon our heads (see Romans 12:20). Our experience of God’s love will be determined by whether or not we embrace or reject it, but everything that comes to us from God will always be love.

“But don’t we have to balance out our picture of God?” I’ve heard too many Christians reason this way. And the answer is – No! We never “balance” God’s love with some equal but opposite quality, a yin to the yang. The yin-yang is not a Christian God concept. God is love!

So now what? Do you want to embrace, even as you are embraced by, the radically imbalanced, lopsided love of God? Jesus is the key. Jesus is God with us, come to SHOW US God’s love, the essence of the Almighty (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is love incarnate, love in history, pure love walking and talking. This cannot be said of anyone else. There is no higher reality to study, teach, talk about, sing about, or meditate on than God seen in Jesus, because, as Jesus said:

The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.
(John 12:45)

And again, Jesus said:

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
(John 15:10-11)

Jesus is teaching us how to remain, abide, live, dwell in the amazing love that is the essence of God, and the way to do this is following, obeying, practicing the teachings of Jesus. When we not only read and listen and sermonize about God’s love, but really soak up, meditate on, discuss, and apply Jesus’ will and way of being in this world, we are living in and not running away from God. Jesus, his teaching lived out in our lives, is the key for us to see and experience the love that is the essence of God. And that experience is pure joy.

PS: For more on “God is love” in relationship to the idea of the Trinity, see this post… God’s Love Life: You, Me, & The Trinity. Also, check out chapter 7 in (re)union: the good news of Jesus, for seekers, saints, & sinners.

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