Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where is the Comfort?

More on the gospel of relationship...

So let's suppose Mr Bell is right - God is like a daddy running home with his infant, cherishing the time together as the two of them run through the storm. Does that really provide you any comfort?

I recently visited a correctional center and had the opportunity to listen to some of the residents tell their stories. Most children are afraid of monsters under the bed - one recalled screaming every night afraid that the monster under his bed was his father. Another, a girl, recounted tales of being raped repeatedly by her father. Others were sold to perverts by their mothers in exchange for a hit of cocaine. These people were incarcerated because their lives were as close to hell as one can get here on earth and they had no where to turn. They escaped their lives through drugs and alcohol. Their lives were in ruins as a result.

Put yourself in their shoes and then watch Mr. Bell talk about how he loved running through the rainstorm with his son, how he never felt closer and cherished the memory - kind of rings hollow, doesn't it? God could have saved me from abuse and heartache so bad that I had no place to turn but to that thing that I saw in my parents and hated? But he didn't? Because it made him feel special? Does that comfort?

Not in any meaningful way..

But what about a God who loved you so much that he sent his son to die for you so that all of the sin that has clung so closely to you is washed away. All of the sin that you wished to escape, but didn't. All of the sin that caught up to you and destroyed you just as it did your mother or your father. All of the shame that you feel because you have become the father or the mother that you were trying to escape. All of the pain that you feel because of it. He has made it his own. He became you so that you could become his.

There was a girl who told her story. She was so ashamed. She hid her eyes from any contact. All she could do was express the hope that nobody else wind up like her. She felt that she was too far gone to save. Not for Jesus. Not for Jesus who became her sin. Who claimed her sin as his own, who paid the price for her sin.

Middle to upper class families driving to their local mega church in their shiny mini vans might hear a "relationship gospel" and think it sounds novel and nice. But the "least of these", the sinners, the people Jesus came to save might think it hollow. They might even find it offensive. Sinners need more than nice sounding ideas. Sinners need the gospel.


  1. So you don't want to instill the image of God as Father because you're afraid that He might be seen as abusive but then the Gospel is a real abusive Father who murdered His own Son?

    That doesn't sound like it would offer much comfort. One can't have a relationship with a hidden God who can destroy us whenever He pleases. The relationship must be with Jesus who shared in our suffering. He is the only Way to the Father.

    So whether in a "mega church" or a house church, the Way does not change. But you would deny a relationship to Christ?

  2. Anonymous - thank you for the comment. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    How have I denied a relationship to Christ? I believe the problem I was addressing was that Mr Bell doesn't even offer one. Mr Bell doesn't even mention Christ. Therein lies the problem.

    Mr Bell offers us only "a relationship" with a "father figure" as though God as Father is nothing more than a metaphor for understanding our "relationship". In Scripture, God reveals himself to be Father; not as a connecting point so we can better relate to him, rather he gives to us the penultimate example of what a Father is and should be. Earthly fathers are abusive. Earthly fathers fail. Earthly fathers are selfish and self centered. The Heavenly Father is faithful, longsuffering, good, forgiving. The Heavenly Father sent his only son to be the sacrifice for our sin so that believing in him we might have life. This is not abuse, after all the Son went woefully, yet willingly. Mr Bell offers to us a "relationship". The Father of Scripture offers us salvation.

  3. Thank you for the clarification. I understand your analysis of Mr. Bell. Comparing the Almighty YHWH to a temporal father who may have been abusive can deter someone from hearing comfort without Christ as an intercessor. But in order to carry out your original argument to its logical conclusion the term "Father" would not be used at all. How can we address God as Father without conjuring up negative emotions about our own earthly fathers? I suppose one way is to contrast the two as you did above, but wouldn't just using the term "Father" still create a barrier?

    It's interesting that Mr. Bell even chose to use the term "Father" since he usually tries to walk softly.

  4. I think I would rather say it this way: God does not learn to be father by observing us, rather we learn to be father by observing him. He sets the standard for what a father is and should be. Earthly fathers learn about fathering through doing what God does as our Heavenly Father.

    To those who have suffered at the hands of an evil father, we can offer them the comfort that in God they do have a true Father who is not evil, but who is loving and who cares and provides for and protects them.