Is God a cruel tyrant? The scriptural record might seem to confirm this indictment. The Bible records that God kicked a third of his angels out of heaven for questioning his leadership. The biblical record is widely believed to teach that God demands perfect obedience of his subjects on pain of death. And there is the not so vague indication that God arranged to have his only son murdered on trumped up charges.
In the book of Isaiah Jesus is referred to in these words, We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted it pleased God to bruise him, he has put him to grief, to make him an offering for sin.1 What sort of a parent would consent to such a cruel arrangement? God would seem to make the worst despot look tame
Religious teaching would have you believe that He is a benign potentate, merely interested in upholding the righteous standards of his government. The theory taught is that God destroys only grudgingly and that the death of his son was a legal maneuver to avoid the necessity of condemning all of mankind to the horrors of hell fire.
Now if our own eternal destiny lies in the hands of such a God, if our future depends on a decision we must personally make about him, it behooves us to seriously ask the question, is God a cruel tyrant? This is not a frivolous question. We should carefully review the scriptural evidence regarding Gods relationship with us. We should examine the facts as the story is told in the Bible.
God is the source of all life; he is the Creator God. He created a perfect world populated by free moral beings. On the misguided advice of an enemy, these free beings chose to separate from him, to live apart from his life-giving presence. This separation resulted in inevitable changes in their moral nature. They became unable to differentiate between truth and lies. If left in this condition, if re-connection with their Maker was not forthcoming, they would perish.
So God came to them in the still of the evening, hoping for reunion and restoration of friendship. But they were afraid of him and attempted to hide. After listening to their excuses, God kindly and gently explained the consequences of their actions, but he didnt leave them hopeless. He assured them that He personally would take on their deceptive enemy and that He will ultimately restore both them and their beautiful earth home to its rightful state.
But in their separated condition, each successive generation found it difficult to believe him. While they hoped for restoration, they repeatedly failed in their attempts to live happy and productive lives. With each failure they become more and more convinced that God would not honor his promise of restoration; that they were beyond redemption.
One outcast and dejected group of mortals did presume to call upon him for deliverance. God heard their cry and brought them out of bondage with a miraculous display of power. A short time later, when He attempted to speak to them, they too were afraid and asked him to speak through an intermediary.
So, the story goes, Moses went up on to the mountain and received Gods message written with his own finger on tables of stone. God wanted them to know how to keep and maintain their new found freedom. Do this, He says, and you will live in peace, health and prosperity. All the nations of the world will come to you and ask, What kind of a God do you worship? And you will become a kingdom of priests, my ambassadors of good news.
But they misunderstood. When God attempted to explain that his rules were merely descriptions of reality, they believed his laws to be arbitrary restrictions. When he cautioned them that a break with reality would involve negative natural consequences, they called his pronouncement curses. They believed God to be an even stricter taskmaster than their previous slave-owners.
Nevertheless God was faithful. He would not give up on his children. He had made himself a promise, If I create them, I will take responsibility for them. He knew that all that stood in the way of their happiness was the lack of knowledge about him and his ways. If they could but know him, they could experience the abundant life that he wished them to enjoy.
He knew that if he could just get close enough to them, he could tell them of His loving concern. If he could just touch them, he could heal all the damage their moral and physical natures. If he could speak to them, he would open their mind to the truth about himself. Knowing this truth would enable them to make good choices, to recognize the deceptions of the enemy, and to become truly free.
But the obstacle was fear. A personal revelation would be necessary in order to remove this barrier and erase fear from human hearts and minds. So God became a man and lived among them. In the man, Jesus, God revealed his true self to humankind.
No longer would mortals need to be scared of God and flee from his presence. No longer could they claim that no one can see God and live. No longer would they worry about Gods attitude toward them. With Jesus, God and human beings lived and worked together, they ate and slept together. He was a welcome guest in their homes. He wiped the tears from their faces and they, without fear, kissed his feet.
Many years later, one of his close associates would pen these words. We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually heard and saw with our own eyes: something which we had opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, something of the Word of life! For it was LIFE which appeared: we saw it, we are eyewitnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us.2
This person, Jesus of Nazareth, became known as the Great Physician, the Master Teacher, and the Friend of publicans and sinners. None who came to him were turned away. Children found a ready place on his lap. The only criteria of admittance to his inner circle was a willingness to listen.
The prophets had proclaimed that Gods commands were simple that His expectations for humans were clear. All He asked was that they do justice, love kindness and daily walk with Him. The prophets taught that the sacrifice acceptable to God was a broken and contrite heart. Repeatedly they emphasized that love is the fulfillment of the law. God, they said, merely requires humans to love each other as he loves them, unconditionally, unreservedly. Jesus studied these Old Testament teachings about his Father and he made them the bedrock of his ministry.
Jesus taught that God was a kind and benevolent deity who made the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. He explained that God was a generous and loving Father who delighted in giving good gifts to his children. He even taught that God would not be offended were He to be called by the familiar term, Daddy!
One day Jesus told his closest friends a story. It was about a Father who grieved for his lost son, a son who had left him and was living in a far country. When the son finally returned home, the Father ran to met him, dressed him in his own clothes and restored to him all the rights and privileges of sonship. He even threw a party in his honor. This, Jesus said, is what God is like. This is how God wants to treat you.
No way, replied one of his chosen friends, Tell us what God is really like. A crest fallen and disappointed Jesus sadly replied, Youve been with me all this time and you still dont understand? To see me is to see the Father. 3
The enemy hated Jesus for revealing to human beings a picture of God that he had sought to obliterate from their consciousness. He hated the way Jesus spoke of his Father, so loving and accepting. So he sought to have Jesus arrested and sentenced to death.
Now evil hates good and will always seek to destroy it. Jesus was goodness personified; he was God-ness made flesh. Jesus opened the window on divinity and bared himself unabashedly, knowing all the while that by doing so he was exposing himself to mortal danger. God did not desire the death of his son. He did not need his son to die in order to forgive mankind. But God did need a trustworthy witness and Jesus was faithful even unto death.
Since death cannot exist in the presence of the Life-giver, in the garden of Gethsemane God slowly began withdrawing his presence from his son, leaving him to cling to the ground in agony. Father He pleaded, Is there not another way?4
On the cross as the separation became complete Jesus cried out, My God, why have you forsaken me?5 For the very first time since the entrance of rebellion, the on-looking universe watched in amazement as a created being experienced the excruciating agony of total separation from its Maker, an agony so painful that the cruelties of the crucifixion were barely noticed.
When God came to earth in the person of Jesus, it was to reveal his character to humankind. It was to make himself known. He choose to enter this world as an infant, because he knew no one would be scared of a baby. He allowed himself to become vulnerable and helpless to show that he is not a fearsome deity. By his life among us, Jesus demonstrated that friendship with God was not only possible but desirable, that closeness to God was not dependent on a perfect character but on a willingness to listen and to sit at his table.
By the death of his son, God demonstrated before all humankind and before the on looking universe that he was not a God of vengeance and destruction. The nature of Christs death confirmed the truthfulness of His warning to Adam and Eve in the garden that life apart from the Life-giver is impossible.
The wrath God poured out upon his son was one of separation. Jesus who had been in intimate union with God from his conception endured the complete withdrawal of his Fathers presence. He became completely identified with the condition of the human race, separated and alone. But before God would allowed even one of his created beings to experience that awful hell of being totally independent, totally alone without hope, eternally separated from Gods life-giving presence, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, took his own medicine. He was willing to die that horrible death as a revelation to all of the ultimate and inevitable consequences of rebellion. God will respect the freedom of all who do not desire his companionship and he will let them go.
What an amazing picture! A God who respects human freedom, a God who desires human friendship! Certainly he is not the tyrant some have made God out to be.
1 Isaiah 53:4,10
2 1 John 1:1-3
3 John 14:8,9
4 Matthew 26:39,42
5 Matthew 27:46