The Scandalous God (Part 3)

This is my final post on this particular series, The Scandal of God. You can click here for the first post and here for the second post. In these few posts, I’ve been looking at how God, or the God whom Scripture presents to us, is a scandalous God.

This is not your typical description of God as found in systematic texts explaining the nature of God. Could you actually imagine the adjective scandalous next to immutability and holy? But, if one takes a look at the 66 books of the Bible, I believe you can only walk away with such a view. Yahweh is scandalous, meaning His words and actions cause public outrage and bring severe criticism from all corners, even from His own people.

And while, in my last post, I briefly looked at the scandalousness of God as seen in Noah, Abraham, the Psalms, the Song of Songs and how God chose women to be the first to know about the resurrected Christ, none of these really compare to the pinnacle of God’s scandal. This one is the crème de la crème.

His name is Jesus of Nazareth.

When one undertakes a simple reading of the Gospels, there are many things valuable we can gather from such. There are words of encouragement, words of healing and words of challenge. And, most of the time, Jesus seems to play nice. He plays according to the rules, or our rules, that is. But He doesn’t always.

Two examples come to mind:

1) Jesus had a spitting ministry. I promise you He did. It’s recorded three times in the Scriptures, that is, God’s inspired Word! And you know that good ol’ Bible verse:

Every matter [is] established by two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16)

 

So, Jesus must have had a spitting ministry.

Mark picks up on this twice, as found in 7:31-37 and 8:22-26 of his Gospel. In the first account, Jesus takes a man aside, puts his fingers in the guy’s ears, then spits on his hands and touches the man’s tongue. Ok?! I’m not sure I’ve heard of Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley doing that one.

In the second instance, Jesus has the audacity to spit into a blind man’s eyes. Then, if that’s not enough, John gives us another account where Jesus spat into the ground to make some mud and then used this mud to ‘anoint’ the guys eyes.

Oh, this is good. This would fit nicely into our Sunday gatherings. I can see the order in the bulletin: Welcome, 3 songs, Announcements, Sermon, Lord’s Table, Anointed Spittle and Mud. Yep, that would go over real well.

2) Jesus’ outrage at those making money of God. After seeing a handful of people making a few bucks, or drachma, off God, Jesus goes into the temple courts and does a little spring cleaning by pouring out the coins of money-changers rather than collecting them for His own ministry. He, then, goes on to overturn their tables. And, to help with such a task, he strands together a nice whip to frighten the masses (see John 2:14-16). Sounds more like Indiana Jones than Jesus meek-and-mild. Jesus must have forgotten to do His devotional that morning from the best-seller Your Best Life Now.

No doubt that both of these accounts left quite a few in outrage while also bringing down a boat-load of criticism. And, He’s going to get nailed to a cross for it.

But, though these two accounts, and numerous others, stand as a testimony that our God, and His Son, are quite the scandalous team, none of these compare to the scandal of God as expressed in those three most important events we read about in the Gospels: Christ’s incarnation, Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection.

The Incarnation
Most Christians love to focus in on the cross and resurrection of Christ, and rightly so, especially in this Easter season. They are the high point of Christ’s mission, and I’ll come on to those in a moment. But there is a sense in which the indignity of God is displayed in great measure at the birth of Christ.

Think about it. Christ, the divine Son, comes into the flesh as a helpless babe, nestled snugly in a feeding trough for animals. Think about it! God comes as a drooling, crying, pooping infant. Oh, and don’t forget the constant spitting up. I don’t think the Christmas carol, Away In A Manger, got it correct in one of the stanzas:

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

Remember, Christ was a real and authentic baby in real and authentic human flesh. Don’t even try and claim He never cried or pooped or spit-up as a baby.

Though we have sort of an advantage viewing these things in retrospect, if we consider them from a correct perspective, they can leave us quite uncomfortable. Why is the divine God-Son being entrusted to a young teenage girl and her not-much-older husband? And, do we really need Pampers for this one?

All we can muster up would be these words: Undignified! Scandalous!

The Crucifixion
If God coming in the form of a pooping babe isn’t demoralising enough, then there is the reality that, some 30-plus years later, He ends up crucified on a cross between two thieves.

Now, most crucifixes I’ve seen give Jesus a couple of drops of blood on His forehead, one or two scrapes on his knees, and then a nice red incision from the spear that was jabbed into His side.

Nope, not even close! Not even close!

Most of us have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Pretty brutal wasn’t it? The countless pints of blood that must have been lost, the flayed skin that had open up all across his back from the whip that had come down on it countless times. Many suggest Christ was hit with 39 lashes, as the Law prescribed no more than 40, lest someone be degraded (see Deuteronomy 25:1-3). But, we usually fail to remember that it was the Romans who were beating Jesus, not the Jews. The pagan Romans would have had no such law. So, who knows how many lashes Jesus actually received.

Spit at, mocked, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross with only a loincloth to cover Him.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your God.

Paul was right. This is absolutely foolish.

‘Come on Jesus, get angry like you did with the money changers! Call those legion of angels. Let’s make the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in the history of mankind.’

But He’s not interested. He never opens His mouth. He never lashes back. He never tries to scare them with the statement, ‘Wait til I show up next time.’

He takes it. And more than being bloodied and bruised, His Father is judging Him for the sin of mankind, the only time the Father and Son are at odds with one another. All because of a piece of fruit a long time ago. Even more, all because of grotesque sin that has stained us to the core. It’s all on the shoulders of an innocent Lamb.

Ridiculous! Scandalous!

The Resurrection
We know the end of the story. We know the whole story. It’s really not fair. It loses its shock value. It loses its startling nature.

But, on the third day, after some women had come to anoint Him, they realise that their bloodied Messiah isn’t in that cave-of -a -tomb anymore. He’s risen!

And remember, this is Jesus’ biggest day. He had just defeated sin, just conquered death, just put Satan down for the 1-2-3 count. And what does He do?! What’s He gonna do?!

He walks a seven-mile dusty road with two very disillusioned followers, that road to Emmaus, and breaks bread with them. He takes time to comfort His closest followers. He shows up on a beach early one morning and has a little breakfast. He gets a little one-on-one time with Peter, to restore the pain and brokenness over the abandonment and denial.

Absolutely shocking! What is going on here?!

I can imagine it if this had happened in the 21st century:

‘He’s out! He’s lose! Call CNN! Call the worship team! Get on your make-up! Oh, we can market this one real well! John, you head up the t-shirt campaign. Mary, you get the bracelets together. Peter, as long as you don’t insert foot into mouth, we’ll let CNN interview you.’

But that is about as far from the Gospel account as we can get. As long as the church in America and other parts of the world keeps on making God out to be Hollywood celebrity or a circus clown, the more we continue to estrange ourselves from the One we claim to follow.

Christ’s resurrection is amazing, the most important event in the history of mankind. Nothing matches it. But, in the economy of God, we find His Son evading all pep rallies. There is simply no shouting J-E-S-U-S. We even see foreshadowings of this after many of His miracles as Christ slips through the crowd so that they can’t crown Him king.

It doesn’t fit into our box of how it should have been done, at least if we had been God-in-the-flesh. For us, it’s a press conference for the world to know. For Christ, it’s back to the grind as if nothing had ever happened.

Outrage! Scandalous!

They could have made so much money off this one.

Christ, the sum of all God’s revelation, a glimpse at what the Father is really like, the initiator of the new covenant, Love in the flesh, the King above all kings. True. But the way He walks, the way He talks, the way He acts does not seem to line up with our expectations of what God is supposed to be like.

But, in all actuality, this is our God. This is the God that Scripture presents to us. The One who causes public outrage and calls down criticism from all. You know what they say: like Father, like Son.

This is our scandalous God. And I’m ready to follow in the next scandal.

The Scandalous God (Part 2)

I have started a short series which I have labeled as The Scandalous God. In the first article, I used this definition for the word scandala situation or event that causes public outrage or censure (Encarta World English Dictionary).

I also noted the fact that referring to God as scandalous will not make most Christians happy. It’s too risky to define God with such a word, almost blasphemous. But, if we stick with the definition for scandal set out above, then I don’t think it’s an out-of-the-question description of God, or at least the God presented to us in Scripture.

The ironic thing about it all is that God is not really scandalous to those who understand His heart. But, for those who do not know the God of Scripture, or those who think they know the God of Scripture because they have played the game of so-called Christianity, God will usually come out as scandalous every single time, meaning He will definitely cause public outrage and, as a result, be given heapings worth of criticism.

Yep, that’s our God. Or, again, that’s the Yahweh we read about in Scripture.

I could go right through the Biblical text, all 66 books, to present to you our scandalous God (as if I needed to this on His behalf). There is the flood in which God chooses to only save 8 people, no more and no less. The gracious and compassionate one chooses to simply save 8, not 800 or 8,000. And don’t even try and pull out the card that says Noah was righteous enough and that’s why God saved him. The KJV got it right in its translation of Genesis 6:8:

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

The Hebrew word hen can be translated as grace or favour. So, the word favour (as it is translated in most of our English Bibles) does not refer to Noah meriting anything. It is about grace! And, in line with the layout of the whole text of Genesis, we see that verse 9 starts a completely new section describing Noah’s walk with God after receiving the hen, or grace, of God.

So God simply chose to save 8 people. I thought a gracious God would save more? Scandalous! Yep! But moving on….

God goes on to choose a Gentile by the name of Abram who would be the first to start the Hebrew-Jewish people, a reality that Paul takes up in his letter to the Romans (4:9-12). Whoa! God chose an unclean, uncircumcised Gentile to initiate His people. Outrage!

The scandalous one inspires quite a few songs scattered throughout the Psalms which we must label as complaints (see Psalm 13:1-2). ‘Wait a second. We are supposed to pray this way. We can only sing songs that say this.’ But the Psalms are actually filled with more complaints than praise. Uh oh!

And, of all things, to really cause the religious to blush, He has a sensually erotic love song dropped right in the middle of His Word (it’s called the Song of Songs).

I hear the critics rising up already. Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Oh yeah. There’s the reality that, in an attempt to dash all of our religious hopes, from those of the first century and twenty-first century, God has a few women show up to be the first to peer upon the empty tomb of Christ. Not the twelve (or eleven), not even just regular Jewish men. Dirty, filthy women. And, these women get to be the first apostles sent sent out on behalf of Christ! (Check it out in Matthew 28:1-8 and Mark 16:1-8.)

Not to mention that, time and time again, God keeps choosing the boneheads of the day, the down and out’s, the uneducated, the ignoble, the weak, whores, murderers, what we might simply refer to as sinners.

‘Ok, that’s enough God. Next time you do something, make sure you consult with me.’

We laugh, maybe even shake our heads at such a statement. But, most of the time, we are ready to chime in with such a chorus.

When I read systematic theology books, I get this sense that the God that is portrayed in such texts, and all subjects related to Him, doesn’t always have much to do with the God whom Scripture presents to us. Don’t get me wrong, I love studying theology. I love even considering the systems of theology (yeah, that’s my easy way out of hypocrisy). But, the more I grow, the more I realise that I cannot package God. I can’t even fit him into a 1,000 page book.

Can you imagine Grudem or Berkhof or Ryrie writing a chapter in their texts on the scandalousness of God? Maybe the section would be entitled something like this – Just When You Think You Have God Figured Out, He Comes And Screws You Over. We can’t imagine finding something like this in systematic texts. But maybe Lewis or Chesterton would have taken up that challenge.

And, so, God keeps stirring up one scandal after another. And following on from that is the public outrage and severe criticism, even from His own people. It’s been going on for millions and millions of years (or 6,000 years for the young-earth creationists). And it will continue going on for the rest of this age.

What, or who, is the greatest scandal of all time – Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not going to dive into this Jesus character just yet. I’ll reserve that for the next and final article. But, if you know the story of Jesus at all, the true story of Jesus as presented in the Gospel texts, you know that He is the greatest scandal of the scandalous God whom we serve. I can’t wait to ponder His story……(click here).

The Scandalous God (Part 1)

The Scandalous God – perhaps an offensive title to some. The word scandal is defined by one dictionary as a situation or event that causes public outrage or censure (Encarta World English Dictionary). Sounds so……ungodly.

I must admit, I don’t believe the word scandal, or scandalous as an adjective, is a bad word to describe God. Rather, I believe God is regularly involved in scandal. I don’t mean He isn’t true or holy or faithful or good. But, what I mean is that God regularly likes to do things that cause ‘public outrage or censure’. (Censure means severe criticism.) Yep, God is in the business of scandal.

Ok, if the religious are having too hard a time with the word scandalous, then maybe we could label it as God is good at ‘ruffling feathers’.

Nah, I still like scandalous because the word ruffles the feathers of the religious.

I believe it was the Puritans that referred to God as the wild goose. And, wasn’t it that famous Christian author, C.S. Lewis, that reminded us that, ‘Aslan is no tame lion’. Yep, I’m still getting the sense that we have been redeemed by a scandalous God.

God doesn’t always play by the rules, or at least our rules that we think God should play by. Nor does God seem to fit into our formulas at times. You know, those formulas of moralism, legalism, super-star-ism, and whatever other ‘ism’ by which we might try and define this Wild One. And God’s probably not an American evangelical either.

Ouch!

Ok, relax. I’m still a Christian. I’m just trying to get us to think through these things.

I heard a story the other day about what author and theologian, N.T. Wright, used to do when he was chaplain at Cambridge University. [Thanks for the story, Phil.] He would always set up meetings with all of those who were first-time, incoming students. During that meeting, many students would feel the need to confess that they really didn’t believe in God. This was the chaplain of Cambridge, so let’s go ahead and clear the air, get it out in the open.

Wright would, then, go on to ask, ‘What God don’t you believe in?’ The students would follow up by describing the God they had rejected and, after doing so, Wright would rejoice with them and say, ‘I don’t believe in that God either.’ You can imagine the shock on these 18 and 19-year old faces.

I share this story because I think it points to the reality that many a people don’t believe in the actual God which the Bible describes. Because of our upbringing, education, and even church our background, we can have a very askew version of the God. And I’m not even necessarily referring to non-Christians. This is very much true of Christians today.

Maybe God seems like a pushover Santa Claus that always has gifts to give us, or an overly angry Gandalf, or a strict school teacher from the late 1800’s, or whatever. But we all have a view of God that is usually somewhat off, if not way off, from what Scripture actually teaches us about Him. And maybe that’s why we all got a little uncomfortable when we read The Shack.

Thank heavens that Jesus arrived on the scene stating, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). Yet, even with such an advantage of peering into the eyes of Jesus through the Gospels, we still can come out with an obscure view of God. Perhaps it’s because we either skip over certain Gospel passages or we explain them away to fit into those nice systems of theology.

Hey, don’t pick up stones just yet. I’m the chief perpetrator in this.

But if we are struggling to understand the heart of God, then let’s dip back into the Gospels. No, I don’t presume we will get everything from our next read through the Gospels. There is a lot to chew on there. And that’s good. It will keep us busy. But, I think it might be a relevant place to start.

Matter of fact, we can read the Scripture, and specifically the Gospels, for the rest of our lives and still not get a full understanding of God. So, I understand our dilemma as finite humanity.

But, if Jesus was really telling us the truth in John 14:9, and I think He was, then I believe we would do well to soak up as much as we can from the Gospels. And, from a regular reading of the Gospels, we might find the courage to jump into some of those harder portions of Scripture, for Christ and Christ alone will remain as the central key to understanding the rest of the text.

Singer-songwriter, Joan Osborne, sang a song in the mid-90’s called, ‘What If God Was One of Us?’ The whole song is a poem, maybe a kind of psalm, in which she wonders what God would be like if He became a human. Interesting question to ponder, no doubt.

But the answer is simply found in the Gospels. We can pull out the Sunday School answer card here. Jesus is what God would look like if He decided to become a human, for that’s what He did in Christ.

So, I thought I would just share some introductory thoughts on God being the scandalous one. I suppose I will write another blog article or two in which I hope to share more thoughts on this topic, put some flesh on it. And, yes, I must admit that I do have an agenda. That agenda consists of breaking down our boxes, the nice and neatly packaged boxes in which our idols……I mean, God……fits into.

But I do it for mine and our good. I do it so some of the junk can be stripped away that we might get a better glimpse of the God who came in the flesh.

To end I quote a passage from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Click here for part 2.