To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you…And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” (Gen. 3:16-17).
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4: 7-8).
I recently listened to a podcast in which pastor Greg Laurie commented that God is a happy God. His statement caught me a little off guard — I’ve never thought of God as happy.
My earliest childhood conception of God was of a man clothed in white, with long white hair and white beard, sitting in a control booth of sorts in the sky, watching carefully over His creation. In front of him was a panel with hundreds of small buttons that he was furiously but thoughtfully pushing one after another, so that just the right thing at the right time in the right place would happen to the right people in just the right way. After all, that was His job — running the universe and calling the shots.
I never thought of Him as loving or intimately involved with the humans He had created. The God in the control booth actually seemed rather aloof to me now that I think back on it (of course, I didn’t know what aloof meant when I was five years old).
As I got a little older and began reading the bible on my own, God began to seem like more of a judge to me — a big, huge Judge-in-the-Sky ready to pronounce sentence on anyone he saw misbehaving (see the verse from Genesis above).
Love? That didn’t seem to be what God was all about. He was surely too busy telling all the birds which way direction to fly and managing thunder and lightning to be concerned with much else. How could He find time to love and nurture us?
Why have I always struggled with this particular image of God while others see Him only as loving and kind, like a good earthly father?
I’ve actually been pondering this question for some time now. Of course, in reading the New Testament we find numerous verses describing God’s love for us. In particular, we read that He loves us so much that he allowed his only son to die for for our salvation.
Even so, it just never really clicked into place that God loves me personally, that He cares for me, or that He gazes down from Heaven at me with a gleam of love and compassion in His big eye — like my father might have.
Then one day my mind drifted back to my early bible reading days. When I was in elementary school I had a Living Bible my older sister had given me for Christmas. As I pictured that big old bible with its soft, green cover I had a revelation. If I were to go find that bible right now and look at the edges of the pages, I would notice a clear demarcation between the more worn, dirty pages and the cleaner, white pages. That division would be close to the beginning of the bible, somewhere near the latter part of Genesis.
It would be clear from even a quick glance that most of my reading from that bible had been from the very beginning of the scriptures. Over the years each time that I had decided I needed to start reading the bible I started at the beginning, Genesis, just as I would read any other book.
In the beginning is where we find a representation of God not only as Creator, but also “Judge of all the earth” (18:25). Besides the story in the Garden of Eden referenced above, we find the account of the tower of Babel where God disperses the prideful people and confuses their language. We also read how God sends fire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin, and He turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she looks back at the destruction of the two cities.
However, in Genesis perhaps the most powerful image of God as a Judge is found in the account of the great flood. God sees that man has a penchant for wickedness, so He says, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (6:7). After reading the story of the flood I vaguely remember wondering how God could kill all of the living creatures on the earth. That seemed so mean and cruel to my young mind.
Furthermore, God’s love is not very well-represented in Genesis. The word “love” is found several times in the book, but only once is the word used of God: “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love…” (Gen. 29:31a).
I recently attended a discipleship class led by a very godly man. He exuded peace, and I could tell by talking to him, even briefly, that his walk with God was of utmost importance to him.
During one of the sessions I happened to glance down at his bible. Even sitting several fee away, I couldn’t help but notice that its pages were worn and dirty beginning about 3/4 of the way through, roughly near the beginning of the New Testament. I certainly have no idea of the entire history of his bible reading, but one thing was certain — most of his reading in that bible had been from the New Testament.
I suspect that this man’s underlying image of God is quite different from mine.
I’ve heard new Christians (or those investigating Christianity) told to start reading the bible at John, not Genesis. As a small child, what if I had done the same? As an adult would I now have a significantly different image of God?
I’m betting I would see God as a happy God, just as my discipleship class leader sees Him, and just as Greg Laurie describes Him.