God according to my imagination

A friend of mine told me a story today that got me thinking. Four friends in a coffee shop saw a guy with a t-shirt that said, “Smile, there is no hell.” They decided to share their faith with him and quickly found out that he too once called himself a believer, but had since left the faith because he had come to the conclusion that, given the sad state of events in the world with its violence and rampant cruelty, God did not exist. He then directed their attention to Numbers 31 as evidence of the cruelty of Christianity’s God, to which the four friends responded, “We never knew our God did that.” Five guys at the table, four professing believers out to share their faith and one who had de-converted from Christianity, and I’m not sure that any of them really knew Jesus of the Scriptures. That unsettles me.

As I hear stories like this, I become increasingly aware that maybe we’ve done a disservice to folks in our approach to sharing the gospel in recent decades. I believe that in our zeal to share our faith and “win others to Christ” that some (not all) of us have presented a Jesus who fixes problems, who provides a passport to heaven and who is generally good for what ails us, but when that version of Jesus doesn’t come through during a difficult time (i.e., job loss, marital problems, kid troubles, pain and suffering in the world) then our “converts” conclude (and rightly so) that the Jesus they believed in isn’t real. They haven’t trusted in the Jesus of the Bible, but a figment of their imagination. How many folks have fallen into that trap?

The gospels are constantly forcing the disciples (and the reader) to expand their view of who Jesus is. He’s more than a great teacher. He’s more than a prophet. He’s more than the Messiah they expected. He is God in the flesh. And it’s interesting in the book of John where belief is such a key issue that even some who are said to believe have a faith that doesn’t allow for Jesus to be God. They’ve believed in a version of Jesus, but have rejected the real thing. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that the same thing is happening today.

I’m seeing more clearly the need for catechism in the church, of defining what it means to be a follow of Jesus – the Jesus of the Scriptures – and the high call of discipleship. I long for the day when a follower of Jesus doesn’t have to say, “I didn’t know my God did that” but that they would have a reasoned response for the faith that they hold and that they would share a clear picture of Jesus who came not just to provide eternal life in the future, but now. Who calls us to be agents of His reconciling work during this period of waiting until He returns.

Until next time, stay salty my friend.

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