I’ve been thinking about this, and I think in some ways, Christians were too good at getting the message out about who God was.
I know nothing about history so I have no idea how true this is. I think there’s a book called God: A Biography that might be interesting. The author is very well regarded. But anyway, my hypothesis is this: in times past, God was seen as being a stern figure. And if not God, then whichever gods people worshipped. The gods were stern and sometimes whimsical, which made them objects of fear.
I think this aspect of God is in the Old Testament a lot. A God who is all powerful and brings judgment and everything. Of course, when you look at it closely you see the other aspects of God in the OT also, of what His real plan is, His plan for missions and His love and all that. But there is a very real sense of a stern God, I think.
So it must have been radical when Jesus came and the Christians started spreading the news about who God really is. And that God is love. In light of how everyone viewed God or their god, it just must have been shocking. That there is a one God, and that He loves us, enough to send His son to die for us. Utterly shocking.
I’m guessing Paul played with this. I think I read that that statue he talks about in some city for a unknown God is so that if they missed a god that god wouldn’t be offended. Wait, is that in the scripture itself? Not sure. But anyway, yeah, that must have been the conception of the divine at the time, based in fear. And in light of that, geez, the gospel really must have been good news.
I think a big problem nowadays is that Christians have gotten the message out too well. At least in the U.S. Just, a lot of people know that “God is love”. The problem is, now they don’t think God is loving enough. Because He doesn’t match their conception of what love must be like.
So like, people can’t believe that a God who is supposedly love will save some people but not others. Some people react by changing their theology. They start with man’s conception – love must be like this, and God is love, so God must be like this. Like, all men will be saved, or something like that. And others react by just rejecting God. If God is love, but He’s like this, and that doesn’t jive with my concept of love, there can’t be God.
I dunno, would there be this kind of problem if people didn’t have the phrase “God is love” in their minds? I bet people used to be shocked at the gospel, that a God could be so loving. But Americans nowadays seem more shocked that a God is so unloving, according to their preconceptions. I just think it’s odd.
Actually, maybe the problem is just that Americans have this sense of entitlement. I’m guessing it wasn’t always that way. I think in the past America was viewed as the land of opportunity – now it’s the land of entitlement. And because of this, I think the hangup with Christianity is that people feel everyone deserves God’s love.
This kind of came up with 9/11. A lot of people asked how God could let this happen. Implicitly saying that America deserves God’s protection, regardless of how they’ve treated God, something Anne Graham Lotz rightly pointed out. I dunno, I’m just of the attitude of Daniel now – we don’t deserve anything, even if it’s salvation from an unjust death. And if that salvation happens, it’s because of God’s mercy, not anything we deserve.
But yeah, no one thinks that way anymore, because they feel entitled. And if the Christian conception of God doesn’t match their sense of entitlement, not just for themselves but for all people, they can’t accept God. And that just seems strange to me. That people think that God is not loving enough.
So yeah, I think in some sense getting the word out that God is love has worked against us. But I dunno, just a random thought.