Q&R with Brad Jersak – “How can God both never give up & ‘give us up’?”

QUESTION

Hello Brad,

I am exploring the PTM website. My heart certainly wants to believe in full what you write, but then I find things that don’t, in my understanding, square up to other parts of the Bible:

Can you explain this? You say that “… the whole chapter [Isaiah 59] describes the Trinitarian love of Abba, Christ and the Spirit of Grace, in hot pursuit of children who suffer alienation.”  

I know God does indeed do this, for how else was I saved? But on the other hand, how can we reconcile God being in hot pursuit of his children with those verses in Romans that suggest three times that he ‘gave them up’ to the various sins they wanted (Romans 1:24-28)?

And yet, as I write that, I realize that his children can never escape His love!
But what of those who are not (yet?) His children? How can God be in hot pursuit of them while handing them over to their evil desires?

RESPONSE

First, while I’m glad that your “heart wants to believe in full” what we write, but I would also add this caution. What I write is woefully inadequate in expressing the good news of God’s love.

Rather, we are required by Ephesians 3 to believe that God’s love is ALWAYS higher, wider, deeper and longer than anything I write. But we can only get a glimpse of that great love through the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in us. And even then, Paul promises that the great news will always exceed anything we ask or imagine. I suggest reading Ephesians 3:14-21 and internalizing it as your criteria for Truth. Here it is:

  • 14 … I am kneeling down before the father, 15 the one who gives the name of ‘family’ to every family that there is, in heaven and on earth. 16 My prayer is this: that he will lay out all the riches of his glory to give you strength and power, through his spirit, in your inner being; 17 that the king may make his home in your hearts, through faith; that love may be your root, your firm foundation; 18 and that you may be strong enough (with all God’s holy ones) to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the king’s love – though actually, it’s so deep that nobody can really know it! So may God fill you with all his fullness.
  • 20 So: to the one who is capable of doing far, far more than we can ask or imagine, granted the power which is working in us – 21 to him be glory, in the church, and in King Jesus, to all generations, and to the ages of ages! Amen!

The Truth is a Love that is infinitely greater than what your heart wants to believe. That’s incredibly good news!   

Now to your question. Yes, you will find things in the Bible that are difficult to square up with the good news of Jesus and his Abba’s infinite love. Why is this?

The Bible is a complex book that cannot be harmonized so easily. Anything you want to believe is probably in there. And then when you figure that out, you will be able to find other passages that don’t line up with what you figured out.

That’s because the Bible was written from many perspectives, at different times, for different people and in evolving worldviews. So how then do we read it?

We read the Scriptures as a grand and epic story that points to and culminates in Jesus’ revelation of God as a loving Father who sends his Son to save the world.

With that in mind, we can ponder how to read both Isaiah’s God who never gives up on us (Isaiah 59) alongside Romans’ language of “giving us over.” (Ro 1:24-28). We must read BOTH types of passages through the lens of God’s infinite love story.

1. First, think about these divine revelations: What does ‘his mercy endures forever’ mean? What does ‘truly, mercy and goodness shall follow you all the days of your life’ mean? They mean that God is always for us and always with us and never abandons the search for his lost ones. Indeed, Jesus said that the Good Shepherd seeks after his lost sheep ‘until he finds them.’ Period. And he is a GOOD Shepherd because he is so kind but also because he is very good at being a shepherd, good at seeking, good at finding. Our God is a relentless, redemptive genius! 

2. In that light, what does ‘gave them over’ mean in Romans 1 (and elsewhere)? I discuss this under the topic of “love as divine consent and participation” in my book, A More Christlike God.

What does ‘gave over’ mean in the context of God’s enduring love and faithfulness? In that context, it means that God’s love is better than coercion. Indeed, Love will never force us to obey. Love dignifies our choices, even our defiant and rebellious choices. Love knows that our transformation can never happen through compulsion to conformity. Love plays the long and painful and risky game of allowing us the dignity of experiencing the fruit of our willful choices until we will willingly come back to the Father’s House. So ‘giving them over’ is not ‘giving up on us.’

In fact, Abba “gave over” his Son to the world and he too experienced the painful consequences of our rebellion. Miraculously, God in Christ used that very means to bring about our salvation! 

So in this model, Christ walks with us even while we resist him. He doesn’t handcuff the human will, even when it’s so defiant and dysfunctional. But he is always with us so that at the very moment when our pain does its work and offers us a moment of clarity, we find Christ is already there with open arms. I have personally known many people who resisted him all the way down into the abyss of life a dumpster, solitary confinement or a near-death overdose … then like the younger son in the Parable of the Generous Father, they woke up and experienced the grace that had never once left them.

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