Do you believe in God? Most Americans do. If so, what kind of God do you believe in? A recent study found that Americans believe in not one, but four, distinctly different gods: An Authoritarian God, a Benevolent God, a Critical God, and a Distant God.
Some believe in an Authoritarian God, who is “angry at humanity’s sins and engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs. The Authoritarian God is ready to throw the lightning bolt of judgment down on ‘the unfaithful or the ungodly.’”
Some believe in a Benevolent God, who is grieved by sin, but ultimately motivated by love to forgive prodigal souls and welcome them home.
Some believe in a Critical God, who cares about human affairs, but does not intervene. Those who believe in the Critical God live out their faith by conforming to the moral principles of God — not by participating in an interactive relationship with God.
Some believe in a Distant God who is not a Being, but an impersonal, cosmic force that gave rise to the world, but is not involved with it or us.
Which brings us to you. Do you believe in God? If so, what kind of God do you believe in? Is your understanding of your Heavenly Father primarily informed by how you were treated — or mistreated — by your earthly father? Or other primary relationships? Did you grow up in a “hellfire and brimstone” church? Or no church at all? Our life experience conditions how we understand God. If only we could know for sure. If only we could see for ourselves.
That’s what Philip wants: “Jesus, show us the Father and then we’ll be satisfied.”
To which Jesus replies: “I already have.”
“If you want to see the Father, you’re looking at Him. The Father is here in my words, my works, my presence. Stop searching. Start living. This is the heavenly moment. This is the Revelation. You have everything you need to know God right here in me.”
If that’s true — if Jesus is God’s fullest revelation, then that is definitely good news. The Catholic spiritual writer Richard Rohr says, “If God is Trinity, and if Jesus is the face of God, then God is benevolent.”
If the Word became flesh at Bethlehem; if the Incarnation is true, then we don’t have an impersonal, distant god. We have Emmanuel, which means: “God is with us” — participating in the fullness of life — and death — with us and for us.
And if that is so, then we do not have an Authoritarian, angry, lightning bolt throwing god like Zeus. We have a benevolent God who yearns to forgive, bless, and love us all.
If Jesus is the fullest Revelation of who God is — and if the Cross is the fullest Revelation of who Jesus is — then we have a God for whom love and forgiveness is the final word. Jesus’ last word on the cross was: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” If the final word of Jesus’ life was forgiveness, then the final word for our life is forgiveness.
We are forgiven — because “God so loved the world (John 3:16)” — because God so loves you.
The cross is not an ancient transaction. It is an ever-present transformation you can live right now. In the cross, the Holy poured out forgiving love for you to live today. The fallen ways of anger, vengeance, and cruelty and the dark powers of evil, injustice, and death were defeated by Christ once-and-for-all and for you. By grace in Christ you are forever free from those enslaving, dead-end ways in order to be a new creation: Fully alive in love; fully in love with God, neighbor, and creation. That’s the calling for which you were created — and in which your happiest, best life can be lived.
All of this is so because Jesus Christ is risen today. Easter means that these truths are open to you because our Savior lives for you. God is love; the world is good; and you are a new creation. Yes, you will have hardships, but you’ll never face them alone. Counterweight all anxiety and any despair by that glad Reality in which you forgiven, freed, and found right now.