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The Zen of Lent: He is more than a God who smites


Are you feeling joyful as we enter the season of Lent leading up to Easter? If so, try reading Leviticus 20, 24, and 26 where God tells his people the penalty for sexual deviance, blasphemy, disrespect, and disobedience is death. From such a reading of the Scriptures one’s ebullience can quickly turn to depression. One could also develop a distorted perception of the nature of God. You see, the Bible contains an abundance of verses that describe God as a hard person to get along with. Have you ever encountered a harsh person? Maybe it was a parent, teacher, or boss. You know the type: a real . . . jerk (yes I was tempted to use a special word from my vast secular vocabulary, but the penalty could be death). For some people the only God they ever knew growing up was the strict hard-handed God. Unfortunately many strains of the Christian church promoted this one-sided image of God, and still do today. This incomplete picture of God is the reason why many people, when they were younger, walked away from God and the church. The only God they knew was the all-powerful God who would smack them if they screwed up.

Certainly it is possible to make God angry, though I do not recommend you try. And certainly he has been known to allow his people to experience unpleasant consequences to help them learn and grow out of toxic and/or sinful ways of living. And just because we now live under the umbrella of New Testament grace through Jesus, I seriously doubt that God is entirely out of the smiting business. (Clearly a just God smote the haughty Carolina Panthers in last week’s Super Bowl.) Yet we who are fortunate to have been churched where we learned about the complete God know that he is much more than a smiter. But what about the people who walked away before they had an introduction to the God of love and grace? I believe there are millions of people in the world who have an incomplete comprehension of God. Perhaps the crushing cares of this life have made them ripe for an introduction to the complete God, the God who longs to shower love and grace on everyone who seeks his heart in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Maybe you or I could be the person who makes that introduction to one of those who ran away from the scary God before they really got to know him. Of course that would require that we not be scary ourselves.

Reflective reading: Psalms 103:8-12
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.