You Might Need More Tension in Your Life

Yep. You just might need a more tension in your life. Not the “my job feels like a giant game of Whack-a-Mole” kind. Nor the “my child’s crying could be used as a sonic weapon” kind. Nothing like that. What I’m talking about is the right kind of tension in your understanding of God. The kind of tension that comes from paying close attention to what God has revealed of himself.

Maybe an example will help demonstrate the point. Suppose someone came to you and said something like the following: “Yes my boyfriend and I are having sex. But we really have something special together. In fact, we’re in love. And I don’t see how God wouldn’t approve. After all, God is love.”

[Understand that I didn’t pick this scenario because I think it’s particularly terrible in relation to other sins or mistaken views of God, but rather because (1) it’s fairly common, and (2) it’s a good illustration of the issue at hand.]

It’s certainly true that the Bible itself is the source of the statement “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). So I wouldn’t quibble with the claim on the face of things. But we need to think a bit more about what John meant—and what he didn’t mean—when he wrote those words. How do we do that? By allowing the entirety of Scripture to inform how we understand each individual passage. In doing this, we acknowledge that, because God is the ultimate author of every part of the Bible, it presents one unified self-portrait of who he is. In other words, we have to hold one biblical statement in the proper balance or tension with another.

Doing this keeps us coloring inside the right lines as we attempt to reproduce this picture. Returning to the example mentioned above, we may understand “God is love” as the equivalent of “he’ll accept and even approve of you as long as you’re doing what you think/feel is right.” Given the larger context of Scripture, however, this simply won’t do. Yes, God reveals himself to be gracious and forgiving—almost unfathomably so. But he also makes it clear that he hates sin—i.e., anything not consistent with his character and instruction to us. In fact, his holy nature demands he punish sin. In fact, that these both these things are true of God is what necessitates Christ’s death on the cross (see how Paul brings all these ideas together in Rom. 3:23-26). To elevate either God’s love or his righteous wrath at the expense of the other is to obscure either the necessity or the hope of the gospel.

The same dynamic tension is true in relation God’s other attributes. For example, God says, “For I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). And the author of Hebrews memorably offers, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And yet we see God expressing different kinds of emotions and responding differently to various circumstances. Recognizing these things leads us to understand that God is unchanging in his being, character, and promises, but he’s not some kind of static, abstract concept. He relates to us in space and time, interacting (still sovereignly) with changing situations.

Or consider those time honored philosophical conundrums: can God create a square circle or a rock that he can’t lift? Christian orthodoxy has long confessed that God is omnipotent—Jeremiah says of him, “Nothing is too hard for you” (32:17). It’s therefore absolutely true to say that God isn’t limited by a deficiency of power. But he is limited by his own nature. As the rest of Scripture makes clear in various ways, his nature includes rationality and order. This means that the aforementioned questions are not so much conundrums as they are absurdities. In the same vein, being the very definition of good, God is incapable of doing something morally reprehensible.

Another example: we confess that God is knowable; that is, the Bible is clear that we can have a genuine understanding of and relationship with him (Jer. 9:24, John 17:3). But it also emphasizes that we can’t come close to knowing him exhaustively. We can’t master or somehow solve God. If you doubt this, read the closing chapters of Job or consider Paul’s words near the end of Romans 11:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

His ways are indeed higher than ours (Isa. 55:9).

We could go on with similar examples. But instead I’ll close by suggesting that thinking through all of this is more than a mental exercise. What we believe affects how we live. Preserving the correct biblical tension in regard to who God is will have a profound effect on how we relate to him. If we grow in understanding God as we find him in Scripture, we’re more likely to embrace the good news of the gospel on a day to day basis. We’ll sit ill at ease with the sin that continues to be a part of our lives, even as we rest in the acceptance that Christ secured for us though the cross. We’ll seek to know God truly and more fully even as we sit in humble awe before his surpassing greatness and glory. We’ll seek answers to our prayers even as we bank on his unchanging character and promises. In short, we’ll live as we’ve been called to live, for our good and God’s glory.

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