There’s an old joke (which isn’t mine), about an old man sitting on a park bench with a dog lying near his feet. A passer-by walks up and asks, “Does your dog bite?”, to which the first guy says, “No”.
The visitor goes to pet the dog, and is met with a nasty snarl and a bite on the arm. “Wait a minute”, he says, “You said that your dog didn’t bite.”
The old man looks at the stranger (who is now nursing his scratches) and calmly says, “Ain’t my dog.”
There has been much said about what people think that God is like these days, and it’s not a new phenomenon. Some people think that God is just a vague concept, or a permeating entity (like the Force in Star Wars). Others believe that God is just like them, and only supports people who look, think, and act like they see themselves. Still others think of the God of the Bible as judgmental, harsh, and angry.
In the same way, beliefs, churches, or this abstract concept called “organized religion” are talked about a lot – often disparagingly. On the other hand, some say that they believe in something, but it doesn’t seem to have any impact on their lives. Others insist that one’s faith must remain distinct for our actions and choices (which is pretty weird, if you think about it). There are those who lump all churches (or even all faiths!) together, and suppose that a bad apple (usually on TV or the Internet) represents all believers of that faith, or the true, pure principles of that faith. A favorite word of the critics of Christianity is “hypocrite”, suggesting that sinners who admit their sins and realize that they aren’t good enough without God’s gift of salvation aren’t, well, sinners. Debaters pick apart moral points with word tricks or logical fallacies, and some probably prophecy the demise of the Christian faith, even while others seek to achieve that by force.
Now, I fully agree that Christians share much of the blame for not keeping a clean house in the family of God. The Bible has clear instructions on how to root out and exclude false teachers from having influence in the church, but a desire to make people happy (even if it’s artificial) or a lack of will to do hard things seem to have left us with a lot of groups who get away with calling themselves Christians, without demonstrating a faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps if we could help others understand that not everyone who claims to follow Jesus is really doing so, this discrepancy would make sense to those who haven’t yet gotten to know Him:
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Matthew 7:21-23 NLT
However, sometimes when I hear claims made about the church (which I know to be the body of Christ and the family of God), I have to just say, “I hear what you are saying, but I just don’t recognize it.” I watch those in my congregation (along with many others who usually don’t make the headlines) serve others, seek restoration and reconciliation, and try to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit (along with the teachings in the Bible) as best as they can. I see wayward members of the body being rebuked or disciplined by the church in love, and I have even observed those who are repentant (upon being lovingly disciplined by the church) find new hope.
In addition, as I learn more about God (not from my own innovation or imagination, but through what He has shown and told me – along with the rest of the world – about Himself), I have to shake my head at some of the descriptions of Him. With a view of the Bible as a whole (and not just a few isolated passages), the whole nature of God comes into view. His plan becomes more clear, and He is shown to be fair and righteous. His love exists in harmony with His justice. His holiness brings both kindness and wrath, with responses that perfectly fit each situation.
So, I ask you: are your understandings of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit based on someone’s opinion? Or, are they based on the truth of how God has revealed portions of His nature and His plan to us (even though we are created by Him)? In the same way, do you recognize derogatory descriptions of the Christian church as being typical of your own life (and/or your local congregation), or does it seem like some people are describing another faith entirely?
Ultimately, God should be evaluated against who He really is, and those in the Christian faith should be compared against how well they are following the teachings of Jesus and placing Him first in their lives.
However, if you feel powerless to change the tone of the conversation when it comes to God and Jesus Christ, don’t give up. While we live in a fallen world, where evil forces are allowed to have some power, we can each continue to get to know God – the real God – better, and seek to align our own lives with His plan. Then, when someone describes a deity with attributes that you don’t recognize, you can say about this incorrect portrayal, “Ain’t my God!”.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.