I’ve written 24 letters to you now, in which I’ve shared my love for you, my hopes for you, and my advice for you. My last several letters have focused on truth . . . caring about it, seeking it out, and recognizing it when you have found it.
I think it’s appropriate, as your very first Christmas Day draws to a close, for me to share my thoughts about the One I believe to be the source of that truth. I’ve written several times in these letters about God . . . about how I believe He created us and seeks relationship with us. Today I want to share what I believe that looks like.
I believe God created us, from the start, built for relationship – both with Him and with each other. He recognized that it wasn’t enough just to create one of us, but after He’d created both man and woman, He described the result as “very good.”
I believe God created us with real freedom. He gave Adam real choices, such as the freedom to name the animals. And most importantly, he gave Adam and Eve the freedom to mess up . . . the freedom to tell Him “no.”
Which they did. It wasn’t God who severed the perfect relationship we had with Him. It was us. God gave Adam and Eve the complete run of the garden, except for the one thing He knew would bring them pain and suffering and regret. For their own protection He warned them against eating from the one tree that would harm them.
And do you know the first thing He did after they broke faith with Him? After they decided to believe a lie about His motives rather than trusting that He was acting in their best interests?
The very first thing He did was . . . showed up as usual for their regular evening walk together in the garden. It wasn’t God who hid from them. They hid from Him. He never stopped wanting relationship.
I believe He continued tenuously reaching out to us, gently drawing us back into relationship with Him. Look at the stories of the Old Testament . . . look at how it describes his interactions . . . His relationships . . . with Abraham, with Moses, with David.
So much of our common perception of the Old Testament is that of an angry God just looking to destroy this person or that person . . . this nation or that nation. But that’s not the picture I see there at all! I see a God who relentlessly pursues those He loves . . . but who is constantly being rebuffed. At Mount Sinai, God sought to speak to the Israelites directly, but they were too afraid and sent Moses to intercede for them instead. So God acceded to their wishes . . . and ended up having a relationship with Moses that was so deep, so personal that Deuteronomy describes it thus: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” And what of the rest of them? They didn’t want a relationship, they wanted to know what to do . . . how to appease the God who terrified them.
So where He wanted to give them Himself, He gave them the law instead.
After that, God kept reaching out to His people, continuing to seek relationship. Continuing to work through individuals like Gideon, Deborah and Samuel, but always seeking to directly interact with His people.
Then they decided they wanted a king. Once again, they wanted someone to stand between them and the God they feared.
So God gave them a king . . . several in fact . . . and with a few exceptions they turned out to be universally awful. After David, whom God described as a man after His own heart, God’s relationship with the kings over his people went steadily downhill. The early part of Solomon’s reign showed great promise, but the latter half saw a drifting apart of the early relationship. After the kingdom was split under Solomon’s son, the kings of the northern half universally rejected God, who ended up working through individual relationships with prophets like Elijah and Elisha. In the southern kingdom, a bare handful of the kings actually followed God’s rules, but most did not. And of the ones who did, only a couple: most notably Josiah and Hezekiah, actually sought relationship with God. As far as the following of rules, God told his people through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah that the rules weren’t the point . . . and that in fact, their sacrifices, ceremonies, and feast days . . . the one’s He’d told them to observe . . . made Him sick.
So He obliterated the two kingdoms, scattering their people across the region.
And what message did they take from their misfortune? 400 years later, when we pick the story back up, it seems that the message they’ve taken is “you need to do a better job following the rules.”
This time, God doesn’t send a judge, or a king, or a prophet. This time, He’s had enough of intermediaries . . . had enough of people not only refusing a direct relationship with Him, but refusing to listen to even his representatives and proxies.
This time, He shows up Himself.
That, I think, is the message of Christmas. God wants a relationship with us so badly that He came Himself, giving up His unlimited power to become the very weakest type of person . . . a helpless newborn baby.
And in that human form, He demonstrated the very empathy I’ve been talking about in so many of these letters . . . the creator of the universe put himself in a human body – a body capable of suffering wounds, of suffering hunger, of suffering temptation. A body capable of feeling.
And what does He do with that body? Most people interpret the sacrifice of Jesus as a story of that same mean old God of the Old Testament (the one who just wants to slaughter people), needing to beat up on somebody for the sins of the world. The role of Jesus, they say, is to step in front of a blow from our angry Heavenly Father that is intended for us.
I don’t believe that at all. I don’t believe the “Father” God wants to be to us is an abusive one. I believe He’s desperately trying to restore a relationship with us. The problem is, we’re sick . . . with a sickness that makes such a relationship impossible. The sickness of sin. Like the victim of some virulent infectious disease, we are quarantined away from the God who is free of any hint of exposure to the illness that is killing us.
But God isn’t called the Great Physician for nothing.
Do you know how chemotherapy works? Chemotherapy is one of the few effective ways we have of combating cancer, like the cancer that killed my mother, your Grandma Pat. Chemotherapy works by poisoning the bad cancer cells that are killing the sick patient. The only problem is, the chemicals also poison the cancer patients themselves. The way it works, when it does work, is to kill off all the bad cells before it kills the patient. Many times, it doesn’t work because the patient isn’t strong enough to survive the process.
I think sin is like that. I think sin is a cancer that eats away at us. I think we are in desperate need of a cure, but the only thing strong enough to cure us is too strong for us to handle without it killing us.
Except for Jesus . . . God Himself in human form.
I think what He did in His life, and especially, in His death, was the equivalent of injecting Himself voluntarily with our infection so that He could create a cure without himself falling victim to the sickness of sin. As the antidote to the Lie to which we fell victim in Eden . . . the lie that said “you can’t trust Him,” He offers Himself as The Truth . . . not just “a truth,” or “something true” . . . The Truth. The Truth is a Person . . . a person who wants to share Himself with you, and with me. A person who, in the ultimate “power with” moment, became a man, giving up His “power over” the entire universe, so He could restore us to relationship with Him.
And now, in the final step toward restoring that long-lost relationship, He offers us the cure He has made. He offers us Himself.
Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor and author who worked behind the Iron Curtain of Communism, and who knows something about discovering truth amid a culture of lies, wrote this:
The Bible is a wonderful book. It is the truth about the Truth. It is not the Truth. A sermon taken from the Bible can be a wonderful thing to hear. It is the truth about the truth about the truth. But it is not the truth. There have been many books written about the things contained in the Bible. I have written some myself. They can be quite wonderful to read. They are the truth about the truth about truth about the Truth. But they are NOT the Truth. Only Jesus Christ is the Truth. Sometimes the Truth can be drowned in a multitude of words.
Like I said in my letter yesterday, I hope you are always curious; always seeking. Like I’ve said in several recent letters, I hope that when you seek, what you are looking for most of all is truth.
I hope you find Him.
Sadly, too many of us, even today, reject His offer of relationship. Others continue to look for an intercessor, someone to stand in between them and God and tell them what to do, and what to think. Still others remain locked in the “rule-following” paradigm. To them the Old Testament was a big rulebook, and Jesus came in and changed the rules, and left us with the New Testament . . . which is just a smaller, gentler rulebook.
For myself, I believe the Bible . . . all of it . . . is much less “Black’s Law Dictionary,” and much more, “Lord of the Rings.” That is, it’s not a law book given to us so we could know how to follow the rules, it’s a story! It’s the story of the grand sweep of Human history, and the God who has been desperately searching for His lost people the whole time! More than a story, it’s the archtype that has been followed by every story since.
I hope you can come to know The Truth . . . as well as the truth . . . in the same way I am learning to do myself. I hope you will not, as I have done for too much of my life, drown The Truth in a multitude of words. So very often we miss the point of Jesus: We think of him as a prophet, a teacher, a good man, a sacrifice to appease an angry God, a judge come to punish bad people and reward good people . . .
. . . None of these, though, capture the point of who Jesus really is. Some of them, in fact, get Him exactly wrong! His life, death and ultimate defeat of death by returning to life again, are God’s mechanism for restoring our relationship with Him! And like my relationship with you, the relationship He wants is not dependent on our being “good” by following some rulebook. Not only are the rules not the point, they never were! The relationship has always been the point with God! In my very first letter I told you, there is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less. My love for you is not something you can earn, and not something you can lose. My love for you just is.
That is the kind of love God has for us. There is nothing we can do, no rules or codes or laws we can follow, that will make Him love us more. He just loves us! There is nothing we can do, no evil or wickedness, that will make Him love us less. No matter what we do, He will pursue us to the end of the earth, and beyond.
He just loves us . . . all of us! Not just the ones who agree with Him, or do what He says, or follow His laws. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world! All of it!
And in the end, just as He has always done, He loves us enough to give us the freedom to choose. For those who choose a relationship with Him, that’s exactly what He gives them . . . a relationship with Him that lasts for all of eternity.
For those who choose not to have a relationship with Him, that’s exactly what He gives them . . . separation from Him for all of eternity. We usually think of this separation as a punishment for our wickedness . . . or at the very least, a punishment for not accepting Him. I think, though, that just as He did when He gave Israel the law instead of Himself, and later, a King instead of Himself . . . that final separation from Him for all eternity is simply Him giving us exactly what we ask for. It’s Him loving us enough to pursue us to the ends of the earth . . . and loving us enough to let us go when we give Him that final “no.”
I dearly hope that you come to love the God who, living outside of Time, loved you long before you ever were. I dearly hope that I as your father can model for you the love your Heavenly Father has for you, and wants to share with you.
I hope that a relationship with Him comes to mean as much to you as it does to me.