I try to be a diplomat, to err on the side of patience, when it comes to theological differences between Christians.
Reconciliation and peacemaking come natural. My wife says I stop sounding like myself when I'm hard-nosed or critical.
But recently, sitting across from a young man who heroin ("that boy") very nearly got the better of just days before, I lost at least a layer of my irenic self, lost a bit of my cool. When it comes to certain teachings, I'll not be as diplomatic in the future.
When are we going to stop teaching that the Father has to look on Jesus to love us? Why do we teach that the Father turns away from us, abandons us because of our sin? When are we going to stop teaching that the Father is angry with men and women or hates us (or stop projecting any other merely human emotion on to God?), conveying by our messages (verbal and nonverbal) that God despises that which he gloriously made in God's image?
The message we too often send is that Jesus must persuade the Father to love us, must plead with his Father not to forsake us.
The Bible knows nothing of this idea and tells a very different story about the reality of God. God is Love. God is a love we do not know apart from Jesus Christ. This is not a love that we know by fallen nature.
John tells us that the FATHER loved us BEFORE we loved the Father, before we even took notice, the FATHER sent the Son, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved by the Love these two share forever with the Spirit.
The Father loved us BEFORE the Cross.
The Father sent the Son among us, as one of us, to show us what it's like to be human again, as God intended us to be from the beginning, to live lives that reveal, like Jesus, Incarnate Love.
The Father welcomes us, adopts us, as God's very children. Jesus calls us brothers and sisters, tells us we are participants in the same relationship he shares with the Father and Spirit, now made partakers of the divine nature (as Peter says). Jesus teaches us to pray to his Father as Father, for we are born anew from above by the Spirit, made Christ's actual blood siblings by grace.
We know this love, we know the Father, because we SEE and HEAR the ultimate revelation of this divine love as we eavesdrop on a particular sacred moment of divine conversation: that moment we look upon Jesus in the Gospels, dying in unimaginable anguish, that moment we hear him as he prays from the heart he SHARES with the Father, knowing, as Jesus does, the Father's genuine heart of love toward us, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
Please, friends: ponder, consider, think — pray! — before you speak in the Name of Holy Love, before you are tempted to misrepresent the Father's compassion for creation, or divert God's gaze from those for whom God sent the Son to die out of God's love for them!
Yes, the Father's wrath (part of the Father's love) is revealed against all SIN — anything in us that destroys our relationship with God or with others, anything that does violence to God's image in us or others — but we must teach this distinction clearly so that people understand that the Father eternally regards all persons with an unfathomable love and constant eye. While we are yet sinners Christ dies for us!
My young man, crippled by a natural father who failed to notice or love him, walked away from that table with tears of relief and joy, beginning to understand this mysterious truth and seeking to walk in it. May we all know the Father's embrace and walk in it, may we begin to understand this mystery of love and walk without fear.
The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Mich.
Photo: Alone man,