Q&R re: A More Christlike God – Brad Jersak
I just finished A More Christlike God and was hoping you could answer some follow-up questions.
In the “restorative” version of the chairs gospel (chapter 14), it struck me how you used Moses as an example of how God never turns from us. But in doing so, you glossed over the 10 plagues that did so much harm to Egypt in order for God’s people to be set free. This just feels like a “God has favorites” thing to me, so I’m curious what your thoughts are on why the harm had to be done to Egypt for Moses and his people to be freed?
Yes, the plagues, and especially the 10th plague that wiped out Egypt’s firstborn, are problematic for any theology that calls God good and says “God is love.” Even Moses’ own revelation that the Lord is ‘gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness’ (from Exodus 34:6) runs into the apparent violence and favoritism of God (even in the rest of that chapter!). And these stories multiply through the Bible. What about the flood? What about Sodom? What about the conquest of Canaan?
Many commentators have tried to resolve this, but their responses often end up somehow calling good evil or evil good. I have attempted to respond to the problem in this article, where we must recall that Christ is the final Word (what God has to say about himself). All previous biblical narrators are doing their best to describe what they see, but from a point of view that is still developing toward the Incarnation, with all the limitations that their perspective and worldview include:
Your contemporary example of the restorative gospel (of the addict whose life was restored) was a beautiful miracle, but what do you say to the people who have turned to God but are still met with horrible things happening in their lives? I think I just struggle with anything that resembles a “turn to God and all will be made better” idea.
I am grateful for that beautiful story of restoration and healing that I recounted in chapter 14 of A More Christlike God (and in my live Gospel in Chairs talk). For those who’ve not seen it live, here you go:
But don’t forget that in A More Christlike God, I also thoroughly address and lament the realities of life where horrible things continue to happen in this world. As the chapter title says, even though we are convinced of the goodness of God, “Sh*t Happens” and will continue to happen until the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21).
I’d especially remind you of my treatment of the tragedies of both Lamentations and the Lisbon Earthquake. There can be no doubt that the human condition is not resolved magically in the darkness of “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 6:12).
But by sharing stories of hope and restoration, we testify to the following truths:
- That God is indeed Love, despite the ways evil and tragedy challenge that truth.
- That God is Love in this world, in relentless pursuit of those we might regard as lost causes or irredeemable.
- That God’s Love will win in the end, even as we all must pass through death into life.
- That the firstfruits of God’s ultimate redemption breaks in now as signs of hope.
I wish that the ultimate reign of God’s love would swallow up wickedness and resolve all affliction in this life. The sooner the better! “Even so, Lord, come quickly!”
It seems that the fullness of that reign awaits the end of the ages (described in 1 Corinthians 15). But in Christ and through his messengers of hope, we see hints of John the Beloved’s perspective in 1 John 2:8. It’s not just that we wait for a Light that has not yet arrived, but rather, “For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.”
Where? Yes, in dramatic stories like the one I shared in chapter 14, but more so, in 10,000 little transformations all around us, whenever we lend a compassionate ear to someone who takes a leap of faith to share their vulnerability. In every act of kindness that benefits someone else more than ourselves. In every opportunity where we orient ourselves to hope rather than despair.
These pinpricks of light in the canvas of our messy world shine like stars I suspect you represent one of those lights. . … But they also reveal a greater Light, already here with us and shining through for us.
Maybe God grant you a blessed 2021.