The Judgement of God and The Life We Live

Some time ago I read and reviewed the book The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan, 2004). Famous for including the statement “cosmic child abuse”–with reference to the understanding of the cross as penal substitution–it caused the Evangelical Alliance to release statements clarifying their theology of the Cross. In the book, Chalke claims:

[T]he Church has time and again failed to communicate, even to understand, this greatest and deepest of all truths [that God is love]… they have universally failed to explicitly set out the sublimely simple statement found in 1 John 4:8… [the fact that God is love] has become one of the worlds best kept secrets. (p. 55-56)

He then refers to Jonathan Edward’s classic sermon Sinners in the hands of an angry God as just such a failure, as if for a preacher to proclaim that every person is held under condemnation for their actions is dishonest and thoroughly unbibilical.

He laments that:

People still believe that the Christian God is a God of power, law, judgement, hell-fire and damnation. (p. 56)

And this simply is not good news. People don’t like this message. It isn’t appealing and so it must not be right. It must be a misrepresentation of Jesus, because that’s not the Jesus I know.

People don’t want to hear that they walk in judgement, distanced from God and broken under the burden of sin. Nobody will hear Jesus if all they hear is that God holds them in contempt. Your congregation doesn’t need to know this message.

Remind them that they are loved by God, made in his image. He loves them and so holds them not in condemnation, but embraces them. The judgement they may feel is man made, not from heaven.

I think Steve Chalke will have a harder time convincing anyone of that than Jonathan Edwards, telling his listeners that they are alienated from God and held out of the flames of hell only by his grace.

You see, anyone can understand that we live in a Genesis 3 world. But rarely do people believe we were ever in Genesis 2. Rare is the hopes of the fulfilment of all their deep desires and common is regret and remorsefulness.

Dallas Green sings:

So here’s to living life miserable.
And here’s to all the lonely stories that I’ve told.
Maybe drinking wine will validate my sorrow.
Every man needs a muse and mine could be the bottle.

Maybe then I could sleep at night.
I wouldn’t lie awake until the morning light.
This is something that I’ll never control.
My nerves will be the death of me, I know.

Finally, I could hope for a better day.
No longer holding on to all the things that cloud my mind.
Maybe then the weight of the world wouldn’t seem so heavy.
But then again I’ll probably always feel this way.

Coldplay’s classic Trouble mourns:

Oh no, I see,
I spun a web, it’s tangled up with me,
And I lost my head,
The thought of all the stupid things I said,
Oh no what’s this?
A spider web, and I’m caught in the middle,
I turned to run,
The thought of all the stupid things I’ve done

The ever talented Mumford and Sons (link is explicit):

Weep for yourself, my man,
You’ll never be what is in your heart
Weep, little lion man,
You’re not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head

Steve Chalke wants Dallas Green to know that God suffers with him in his sadness and regret; That God empathises with the broken heart of Coldplay, tangled up in the web of bad choices; that Jesus is the one weeping for the man who will never be what he is in his heart.

But is that the real weight of this story? Does that even compound a sense of angst, that there is nothing and nobody who is fully sovereign over my shame? Maybe these musicians are more in tuned with reality than the well meaning Chalke.

I’m not convinced that Chalke’s Lost Message is the one people really want to hear. It is not the news they need.

I’m not saying the understanding of the cross he advocates is wrong, but that I think when we disbelieve in a God of judgement, our suffering suddenly becomes pointless and merely demonstrates that there is nobody in control of our universe. It only compounds grief.

If all God does is weep with the hurting and broken, then he is powerless to do anything about any of the suffering in this world.

Genesis 3 tells us that the futility with which we presently live is God’s judgement upon us. He cursed the earth, that it would not give us what we needed from it without toil.

This isn’t the make-believe rhetoric of an angry preacher. This is the reality which all people experience all the time. In fact it may even be more unbelievable that this could ever be better. The Gospel is far harder to grasp.

Is it really so unappealing to talk of God’s judgement?

Or is it the story which we already find ourselves in?

The ugly reality,

That we are sinners in the hands of an angry God.

“And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God”
-Edwards

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6 Comments

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  1. Interesting change of pace/style from your usual. And the topic is interestingly broached.

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  2. good stuff Ian. Nice material drawn from a range of sources……therefore a good Cliff essay mark would be yours haha!

    Although some would claim my position is a cop out, I’m happy to wait and discover that God is different and most certainly bigger than expected. I rather hope that I have the basics of faith in place, and that God has indeed been in my life at the times when I thought he was……..if I sound a bit old and tired here, maybe I am!

    There are clear links to my view in the writings of what happened when Jesus was on the earth, but not yet in his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom. He wasn’t what people expected and later became an object of fierce confrontation with the ‘religious’ Pharisees and Sadducees……maybe put Rob Bell and Steve Chalke on one side and the evangelical alliance on the other in a modern version of this debate? I’m not sure Jesus is going to fully agree with either and certainly superseed both.

    I have a lot of time for Simeon…….and I both admire and aspire to Luke 2:25-30. What a way to go, the fulfillment of your life’s waiting: he was full of faith because all he did was hold a baby but knew/believed where it was going – at that time pretty much nobody else on the earth did.

    I’d be happier if some of the protagonists in this debate were to at least hold their hands up and say that God and his plans were bigger and in fact too big to see fully…….

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    • I’m not sure a good essay mark would come my way. I didn’t get a very good mark on my book review for Steve Chalke.

      I very much believe his views on judgement come more from white, middle class England than seasoned reflection in the word of God.

      I heard one person say that there has never been a liberal revival. I’m inclined to agree, as the notion of God’s judgement actually accounts for much of the angst and fear we experience and express. Hell and damnation connect with our souls in a way that a lot of people seem to miss. Without this story, I’m unsure there can be the radical Gospel impact that Chalke was trying to achieve.

      God’s plans are bigger than we can imagine, but there is a clear story the Church has been given and a clear task assigned.

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  3. “I’m not convinced that Chalke’s Lost Message is the one people really want to hear. It is not the news they need”

    Rarely do people want to hear what they need to hear!

    I was wondering about this sort of thing over the last few days. Jesus was incredibly attractive to people, something about him and how he lived and what he said (because there was nothing special about his appearance – “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” – Is 53:2)
    There was one thing he said that really repelled people, forced them away probably because they didn’t understand, like in John 6.
    He also spoke in parables to obfuscate his message to some people.

    “You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
    For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.”
    (Matthew 13:14+15)

    Saying that the church or certain church leaders making Jesus ‘more attractive’ to people, or seeming to alter the message or view of God to make God ‘more attractive’ and that detracting from the actual message, not only must be a point of fierce and unresolvable debate for years to come but also seems to miss the very fact that Jesus was incredibly attractive to people and a lot of churches just aren’t!

    I’m finding it hard to resolve that conflict.

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    • In one sense it is true that people are drawn to Jesus, for he said he will draw all me to himself. Thought that drawnness doesn’t mean they are enticed at the idea of something positive, or at least positive in their perspective.

      Yet in another sense there is something offensive about Jesus.

      Matthew 19, the rich young ruler, illustrates this.

      He was drawn to Jesus perhaps because he liked his talk of the new kingdom. He was offended and walked away when that message demanded he trust God for his treasure and follow Jesus.

      For me, I can’t imagine any reason I should believe in Christ other than him changing my heart, otherwise I should find him repulsive and his message abhorrent.

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      • I think I’m with you on the heart changing issue to a degree, but also, for me, the experience of the risen Lord and the intimacy of knowing that loving relationship is what keeps me believing.

        If I ever doubt, I just get a reminder of what and who I have felt and experienced and I can no longer deny or fail to believe.

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