by James D. Witmer
[If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.]
– Voltaire, Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)
Voltaire was a French writer/philosopher whose mockery of human nature is uncomfortably incisive.
Here Voltaire shows why God repeatedly told the Israelites that He is holy. God is set apart (the literal meaning of holy) from us, but we are more comfortable with gods who resemble us.
We imagine – sometimes we pretend – that He really is like us. But the result is not comfort.
One horror in particular follows quickly: If God is like us, then He is not gracious. There is no mercy. If He is like us, He does not, can not, love the unlovely.
But he does!
The New Testament shows a God who welcomes sinners like a father welcomes wayward sons; who even in the smitings of the old covenant was moving His people toward redemption and reconciliation with Himself. St. Paul put it this way:
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 5:7-10)
The message is clear. God is not disappointed in us – He never had any illusions about us in the first place. He sloshes deliberately into the pig sties of our lives, looks into our surly faces and calls us “beloved.”
I believe this and, when it is alive in me, vibrating through the tissues of my life, what a man I can be! My wife feels cared for without pressure to validate my efforts. My friends find me thoughtful, curious, and hard to offend. My children are free to be raucous, to be pensive, to be children without risking my disapproval. They are free to obey, or free to defy; free to hurl themselves against unmovable justice wrapped in tender, unconditional love. What an amazing father they have – for about seven minutes at a time!
The problem is that I believe this, but I often forget. I forget God is holy, and act as though He is like me. And because I forget, despising people for their faults comes naturally, with the ease of long practice. Because I forget, I hate myself – often savagely – for mine.
It takes humility to set aside my perspective, which makes so much sense to me, and accept that the Creator sees me, and everyone else, differently. But it also takes faith. So I pray with a hapless father from long ago:
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”