As Christians, we carry a wonderful blessing and a frightful concernment in that we represent God to the world. Most specifically in the extent that the name of Christ is contained within the very name we take – that of Christian. It is both a magnificent gift and a harrowing reality that we portray the Maker and Ruler of the universe and Savior of our souls to rest of living humanity. Sometimes God’s presence and representation of His attributes shine brightly through us. Other times we royally screw up and it is embarrassing to even remotely connect God to the things we have said and done.
Throughout the history of this blog, plenty of Christians, especially pastors and leaders, have been called out for bad behavior. Behavior that is sometimes committed in secret and other times boldly in front of an audience, but in the end is a disgraceful representation of Christ by those who are more visible and have a higher level of responsibility due to their position. Sometimes I’m glad that I’m a nobody and so my dirty laundry has a lesser reach in besmirching the name of Christ.
Beyond our behavior, however, we also portray God by the words and descriptions we use to tell others about who He is and what He does. When speaking of or about God, I want to portray Him as accurately and faithfully as I can. Although I am sure I often fail in giving a fully correct depiction of God, my desire is to do my best in any given circumstance to properly represent God. Since I am not a trained theologian I at times will be circumspect in what I say for fear of misrepresenting God due to my own dearth of knowledge. Others are better equipped to speak in meticulous detail.
Additionally, I am usually pretty cautious in making statements like “God told me this” or “God is doing this”. I fully believe that God speaks to us in ways that aren’t necessarily audible or documentable, but in varying intimate ways He communicates to our hearts and minds and souls. I also fully believe that we are fallible beings and sometimes our own biases and desires may dupe us into thinking something is coming from God when it is just our own creation. And for that reason, I am often leery of those who regularly say things like “God told me this” or “God is doing this” on items that are beyond what is already plainly communicated in Scripture.
This whole topic was brought to mind in the advent of the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma and they way I saw one well-known Christian speaking about them. In short, he basically said that God was showing His power through the storms and He was doing it to cause us to respond in humility and repentance. And I thought, here we go again, another famous Christian speaking authoritatively as if they’ve been given some special revelation as to what God is doing with another earthly tragedy. Now, this wasn’t as egregious as some have spoken before, saying such things as God is bringing judgment through specific catastrophes for America’s acceptance of homosexuality or their lack of support for Israel, but it is still a similar scenario, just more generalized.
As for myself, if I’m ever going to say that some disaster is God’s doing and give the reason for why He’s doing it, then I darn well better have gotten a direct revelation from God, Himself, telling me this, or else I’m keeping my mouth shut. Do I believe that God could cause or allow some great adversity to occur for a specific reason? Sure. But again, unless God has directly and clearly disclosed the details to me, I’m not telling the world what God is doing with definitive certainty. (And I’m not looking at this moment to go down the theological rabbit hole of God causing something versus Him allowing something. That can be a discussion for another day.)
So when I see a fellow brother or sister in Christ saying that God sent a particular tragedy to humble us and cause us to repent, it saddens and frustrates me because I believe God is not being represented fairly or properly. All the more so when it is done by someone with a large audience and the misrepresentation is far more reaching and impactful.
On the other side of the coin, I have seen other Christians react to this specific incident or similar incidents in the past by declaring that God would never do such thing. That He has never done anything like it and is incapable of anything like it because God is love. Therefore, God never has and never would have anything to do with any tragic or traumatic happening except to be there to love the people going through it. He may not even have any control over it. And He would never be involved in the sending of any tribulation or exhibiting any type of judgment.
And I agree that God is love. But what about His justice, and holiness, and omnipotence, and sovereignty, and righteousness, and so on and so on? Does not God teach us such things and many more about Himself through His Word? Yes, God is love, but He’s also much more than just love. And what of all the times in Scripture we are told of God manifesting his judgment? What of the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah or the final judgment at the end of the age? To what point can it continue to be claimed that our understanding continually evolves to a higher level where we can see what parts of Scripture are actually God’s Word and true and determine the other parts to be inaccurate and untrue and unauthoritative, etc., etc.? Or to essentially redefine what those terms even mean? There are tons of technical particulars and nuance when it comes to Scriptural interpretation, far more than I know or am even aware of. But beyond all the art and science of biblical interpretation there would also seem to be a pitfall where we can rely more on our own fallen and biased reasoning and desires to make God out to be who we want Him to be rather than trusting that He has communicated accurately and truthfully through His Word.
So on this other side of the coin I am just as saddened and concerned by what I also see as a misrepresentation of God. And just as much as these Christians have an audience, they can give an, at least partially, false picture of who God is.
One side claims to know God so well that whenever something tragic happens in this world they can assign God as the cause and for what specific reason He caused it. The other side claims to know God so well that they know He never has been involved in any such calamity or hardship and never has or would execute his judgment upon man.
I am not espousing that we never say anything about God for fear that we get something wrong. We are called to live out and speak of our faith. God uses us as instruments to spread his message of salvation and tell people about who He is. It is a great privilege that we get to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is also a frightening proposition knowing that by our words and actions we are representing the great and holy King over everything. And that our words and actions often fall woefully short of giving an honorable representation.
We need to find a manner where we can enthusiastically share about God but also do it in a responsible, honorable, and accurate fashion. Some of us are filled with a great passion to share about the things of God but sometimes lack good understanding or discernment. Others of us may be quite diligent in gaining a healthy understanding of God but are light in the enthusiasm department or lack the needed care and thoughfulness when sharing.
Whatever our strengths or struggles may be, may God help us to represent Him honorably and with devotion, and may we find refuge in His grace when we fail to do so.