As a pastor, I often worry that some Christians do not seem to have a very Christian view of God. My fear is that far too many people have never allowed the Triune God, revealed in the person of Jesus, to redefine their beliefs about God’s own character and nature. Instead, we grasp on to our preconceived notions of what God must be like and struggle to understand how his actions fit into our already-formed theologies. All this to say, I think we should learn to be much less surprised by God’s actions and much more surprised by his character.
For instance: Christians celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation, the act of God becoming man. We are surprised to find God growing in a womb. We are surprised to find God lying in a manger. We are surprised to find God calling Mary his mother.
But what if the real surprise of Christmas is not that God did something extraordinarily out of character?
What if the real surprise of Christmas is that God’s character is extraordinary?
Perhaps the manger is not an anomaly in the life of God. Perhaps the manger is an expression of who God is from all of eternity – the Triune One of self-sacrificial love, committed to the life of his creation regardless of the personal cost. The One who stoops down in humility and gentleness to be with and rescue his people – perhaps this is who God has been revealed to be [John 1:14-18].
Likewise, Christians celebrate Good Friday, the crucifixion, the day when God died. We are surprised to find God being spit on and mocked. We are surprised to find God being nailed to a cross. We are surprised to find God take his last breath.
But what if the real surprise of Good Friday is not that God did something extremely unusual by dying for his enemies?
What if the real surprise of Good Friday is that God is extremely unusual in that he recklessly loves his enemies?
Perhaps the cross is not an anomaly in the life of God. Perhaps, as Philippians 2 states, he does not die “in spite” of being God but “because” he is God. Perhaps the cross is an expression of who God is – The Triune One who, by his very nature, is committed to loving and offering forgiveness to his enemies even while they kill him? [Luke 23:26-34]
I wonder, have we truly let God define himself? I’m not always convinced. But I have developed a test to determine whether or not we have really let our view of God be shaped by his own revelation: what will Jesus be like when he returns? Will he come to kill and destroy or will he come in the spirit of the manger and of the cross? I’m not suggesting that we ignore Revelation, I’m just suggested we read it well, cognizant of its literary devices, purposes, and canonical context. I’m suggesting we finally let go of our own dreams for a violent and tribal God so that we won’t be surprised when the Crucified One returns.
Christmas is over. Good Friday is on the way. And I am… surprised.