Is God Out To Get You?
My first impressions of God were not that great.
You see, when I was a kid, it didn't matter how much my parents told me that God loved me, or how many Sunday school songs I sang about how Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world...
I thought that God was basically out to get me.
I came by it honestly, to be fair. We attended churches where the sermons were almost always of the fire and brimstone variety. This meant that no matter what the preacher started preaching, the topic would quickly devolve into diatribes on the judgment of God upon sinners like you and me.
The message was simple:
You are a terrible sinner. God is angry at sinners. God is so angry, in fact, that Jesus had to die to appease that anger. Oh, and God is always watching you, pal. Think about that before you step out of line. Hallelujah.
Theologians call this line of reasoning retributive justice. And it's the kind of wrong-headed thinking that has ruined Christianity for so many people.
Retributive justice is basically a zero-sum game. Tit for tat. You step out of line... God smites you, and then some.
But when you read the Bible, the overarching theme is not retributive justice. God isn't out to get people--despite what some of the Biblical authors imagine at times.
Rather, the arc of the story in the Bible bends toward restorative justice. Theologian Richard Rohr sums it up like this:
God justifies things by restoring them to their true and full identity in himself, as opposed to retributive justice, which seeks only reward and punishment.If you have been living with an image of a God that is out to get you... If your faith was formed with the notion that Christianity is merely a series of rewards and punishments... Maybe it's time for a change.
God is not angry at you. God doesn't want to punish you. God isn't out to get you. God became you (think Jesus) in order to show you just how much God loves you.
And through Jesus, God took on the worst the world had to offer to show you how far God was willing to go to restore you, me, and all of Creation.
You should also know that it's God's desire that you be fully you--that you live into the fullest, most beautiful and abundant version of yourself.
May this good news fill you with joy today and every day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.