Saturday, May 02, 2015
My buddy Brad Jersak has a new book out, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel that I'm really excited about. As the title suggests, the book’s premise is understanding God in the light of Jesus. That may sound at first glace to be a really basic premise, but in fact it is quite radical. I say this for two reasons,
First, while there is a clear renunciation of humans killing in the name of God in the New Testament (in contrast with the Old Testament where this is presented as a means to bring about God’s purposes and specifically commanded), the New Testament does—at least in some places—still maintain the idea that God can and will use violence in acts of judgment. We see this in places like the story of Ananias and Sapphira, and of course with the entire idea of hell understood as “conscious eternal torment” for the unrepentant.
So to understand God as Christlike means stretching ourselves even beyond where some New Testament authors were able to go. We can argue that in so doing we are moving further in the direction they point us in (I would certainly), but still that requires some courage to more forward towards that new territory—even when we do so believing we are doing it as an act of faithfulness. I personally think it is something we desperately need to do, which is why Brad’s book is so important and needed.
Second, it is radical to understand God as Christlike because this undoes the way we think of God in terms of power and force and strength. If we really get this, we will understand that this applies even to people who don’t believe in God at all (meaning it is not just something that matters to religious folks but to everyone) because it has to do with what we value, how we understand power, how we understand success. Brad understands this deeply and works out in A More Christlike God what it means to re-think who God is in the context of the weakness of the cross. This is, again, a scary and brave thing to do, because it means facing our own helplessness and weakness.
Because of this, A More Christlike God is not a book about detached theology, but a book that cuts to the heart (which is what good theology is supposed to do). Ultimately it is a book that deals with the question of theodicy—if God is loving and all-powerful, why is there so much evil and hurt in our world? Most attempts to deal with this question end up being apologetics that seek to explain the problem away. It’s because of free will... it’s a mystery... it’s for your good... and so on.
That’s not the approach Brad takes because he has spent too much time as a pastor among people who are hurting—parents reeling from the death of a child, people who have survived abuse or rape—in short, among people encountering profound and devastating trauma and loss. There in the face of that kind of pain our best intellectual explanations just ring hollow. What we need instead is a way to face our real pain—to face the reality of suffering in our world—and at the same time be able to open our hearts in hope and trust and love.
This is where Brad takes us. Written with the wisdom of a pastor’s heart, familiar with the reality of people’s real trauma and grief, Brad lovingly helps us to face the pain and darkness of our suffering head-on by showing us a theodicy of the cross that faces the problem of human suffering with brutal honesty, showing us that it is precisely there in that place of brokenness that we encounter God in Christ.
This is a conversation we desperately need to have, and you really could not find a better guide to walk you through this than Brad. So go get yourself a copy of A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel.