Reading has been sparse for me lately, which is too bad because I am certain reading is necessary to my emotional well-being. [Let that serve as a caveat for the rambling that follows.]
I had just a few moments this morning to devour a few paragraphs of a current read, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. What I read was fascinating! And because I process by writing, I had to take a few more moments to jot a quick post.
Keller relayed a conversation he had with a woman who was offended by the notion of a judging God. He asked why she wasn’t offended by the idea of a forgiving God.
Here are a few snippets of his rationale:
Secular Westerners get upset by the Christian doctrines of hell, but they find Biblical teaching about turning the other cheek and forgiving enemies appealing. . . . consider how someone from a very different culture sees Christianity. In traditional societies the teaching about “turning the other cheek” makes absolutely no sense. It offends people’s deepest instincts about what is right. For them the doctrine of a God of judgment, however, is no problem at all. That society is repulsed by aspects of Christianity that Western people enjoy, and are attracted by the aspects that Westerners can’t stand.1
Keller goes on to argue that:
1) Unless we assume Western culture superior, we cannot hold our assessment of Christianity (that a judging God cannot be real) as the final verdict on its truthfulness.
2) Every culture will be offended by Christianity at some point because it is not the product of any one culture—it is the truth that permeates all cultures.
So which is more offensive: that God forgives people of their worst offenses or that God judges people for their worst offenses?
I want forgiveness for myself, to be sure. Even people who aren’t sure about the reality of God hope for forgiveness because their good deeds outweigh the bad. As for judgment? That is bothersome (offensive) because I don’t want it and would prefer to avoid it (and because of Christ Jesus, I am pardoned from it).
For those who have offended us, hurt us, abused us, betrayed us—well, then we think justice is due (administration of societal law, ruin of reputation, God’s wrath, etc.). And if forgiveness is suggested, our hearts scream that the guilty should receive what is due. Here, forgiveness is quite offensive.
Ultimately, both forgiveness and judgment are offensive—it just depends who’s on the receiving end.
1. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 72–73.