It was another morning waiting for dawn. The sky was murky. Occasionally the crescent moon found a thin spot in the clouds. The brightening in the east was hesitant, timid. Still, darkness retreated. Gray warmed toward orange, then gaps in the clouds leaped to life with pinks and purples and yellows and reds and oranges. For a brief moment the sky was gloriously aflame.
As the day advanced, the clouds would thicken. This was, after all, Seattle in January. Rain would come. But I carried with me all day the vision of that golden, fiery sky and the conviction it called up in the core of my being: we live in an ocean of divine favor.
My central ambition is to imbibe as deeply as possible this blessing, to take it in and savor it, enjoy it, relish it, allow it to suffuse my entire self, and then to share it, to pass it along, to pay it forward. This is the essence of my religion. It is a hopeful, radiant vision.
Always, I dream of expressing more richly the reality of God’s favor and grace. I aspire to exemplify in my own life the sweetness and generosity of the heavenly lover which means I can always imagine better, higher, purer. But since I am swimming in the ocean of divine grace, the space between what I have accomplished today and what I can imagine accomplishing does not haunt me with remorse or guilt. I have no taste of condemnation in my mouth. I simply keep alive the dream of living out ever more fully the divine favor that surrounds me.
That morning watching the dawn my enjoyment was qualified somewhat by another awareness. I know that many people who are precious to me live in an atmosphere of divine wrath. Like me, they learned from classic Christianity that all humanity is the target of a divine scowl. God hates sin. All humans are intrinsically, fundamentally sinful. So God has an essential hatred of our humanity. In this religious perspective, the default destiny of every human is damnation, a destiny that can be avoided only by mastering certain religious prescriptions. For some Protestants the requirement is believing a particular theory about the meaning of the death of Jesus. For some old time Adventists the requirement was flawless behavior, including eating a perfect diet. Old time Adventist perfectionists and American evangelicals are united in their conviction that humans live in an atmosphere of divine wrath. It is time to replace this fear of a dark and scowling God with a clear vision of God as light and life and love.
Hear the testimony of the Gospels:
Jesus pictured God as the abundantly generous supplier of sunshine and rain. The ubiquity of these gifts of the heavens is a statement about the character of God (Matthew 5).
Jesus pictured God as an attentive parent, someone who is aware of children’s needs and moving to supply them even before the kids themselves could think to ask (Matthew 6).
In Matthew 7, Jesus said the ordinary instinct of a parent to provide for the ordinary needs of their children is a reliable pointer toward the profound goodness and generosity of God.
While Jesus was preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man with an “unclean spirit” disrupted the service, shouting fear and belligerence at Jesus. In response, Jesus drove out the unclean spirit and left the man whole (Mark 1).
Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee. In the wild country on the far side, they encountered another victim of an “unclean spirit.” Like the man in the synagogue this man raged his fear and hostility. And like Jesus in the synagogue, Jesus rescued him, giving him back his sanity and his life. Without request, without permission. That’s just the way Jesus was. As Christians, we insist, that’s the way God is. (Mark 5)
In just one chapter, 15, Jesus gives three pictures of God. God is a shepherd who will not rest until all sheep are safe in the fold, a woman who will not rest until all her treasures are back in her possession, a father whose door is ever open to his sons. The shepherd is not scowling while he hunts his sheep. The woman is not frowning as she sweeps her house in determined pursuit of the lost coin. The father is not a “hazard” to be crossed in pursuit of “safe-at-home.” In each of these pictures, the “lost one” has nothing to fear from wrath. Because there is no wrath. Instead we observe divine hunger for restoration and return.
A young man was being carried out for burial just as Jesus was entering the town. Jesus did not ask permission. He received no request. He stopped the procession and resurrected the young man. It seems Jesus can’t help himself. It is his nature to heal and save. Indiscriminately. Prodigiously. As Christians we agree that Jesus is the best picture of God. It is the nature of God to heal and save. God is like the dawn.
I have discarded the dark doctrines of total depravity, “the close of probation,” “not one in twenty,” divine wrath, universal guilt, and “salvation only if _______.” (You can fill in the blank.) I have replaced all these gloomy conceptions of God with the Gospel picture of God as the radiant sun and vivifying rain. Let’s bask in God’s light. Let’s marinate our souls in the heavenly rain. Let’s enjoy this ocean of divine favor and pass it on.