Is your God a ‘policeman’, or an ‘accountant’ recording everything you do, punishing wrong and rewarding good, or …?
In part two of the Sermon on the Plain, we learn from Jesus what God is like. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back.” Then you will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for He himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. ” (Lk 6: 27; 35-36)
One can read this passage and the one that follows as a challenge to good behavior or as a list of God’s qualities. 37.“Stop judging … Stop condemning … Forgive…. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you give will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk 6: 37-38)
This is Good News, the Gospel, Jesus brought us. What a wonderful God we have! He is generous to a fault, lavishing mercy, gifts and forgiveness on us, simply because he loves us.
How is it that so many of us have such a negative picture of a threatening, punishing, vengeful God? For over a thousand years the Hebrews lived among pagan peoples, who believed that their “gods” had very little interest in their well-being. They feared dire consequences should the gods not be kept happy.
Scripture scholars tell us of early revelations of a radically different God. “But the Lord said (to Moses), ‘I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry.” (Exodus 3: 7) Unlike the Pagan gods, Yahweh is deeply concerned with our well-being. He tells Moses and us, “I will be with you.” (3: 12) God assures us, “I will free you.. I will rescue you.. I will take you as my own people.. I, the Lord, am your God.” (Ex 6: 6 – 7) “I will set my Dwelling among you, I will be your God and you will be my people.” (Lev 26: 11 – 12) This is the same God, who John tells us, “..became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn 1: 14) Our God has always been close to us and always will be.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament we find three characteristics of God. The Hebrew words are; “hesed” (God’s loving kindness, mercy); “emet” (God’s faithfulness); and “raham” (compassion; this word derives from the word for ‘womb’ and speaks of the tenderness of God’s love). God’s relationship with us is described in the same terms as a mother’s love for her unborn child.
“With everlasting love (hesed) I will have compassion (raham) on you says the Lord, your Redeemer … For the mountains may depart.. but my steadfast love (hesed) shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion (raham) on you.” (Is 54: 8, 10)
“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency (hesed), and will again have compassion (raham) on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins; you will show faithfulness (emet) to Jacob, and grace to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old. (Mic 7: 18 -20) 1
We come across these qualities of God hundreds of times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we have the story of the Good Samaritan showing compassion and mercy to an injured man. (Lk 10: 33, 37)
With such a loving, merciful and faithful God, it is strange that our behavior/responses should give God cause to cry out in pain “O my people what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you?” (Mic 6: 3) and in the Song of the Vineyard,… “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done?” (Is 5: 4)
In spite of our waywardness our God remains a shepherd, feeding his flock. In his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in is bosom. (Is 40: 11) He assures us that our offences are brushed away like a cloud and our sins like the mist. “Return to me,” he says, “I have redeemed you.” (Is 44: 22)
As we face the ups and downs of life, our God encourages us: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.” (43: 1)
- Fallon M; Gospel according to Luke, p44