Spirituality

God Is Not Nice

And obedience is hard...

The Lord calls you back, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, a wife married in youth and then cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you, but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.—Isaiah 54:6-8

I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling you have received.—Ephesians 4:1

A few weeks ago I was in a room full of 6-10 year olds, asking them to fill in the blank: “God is ______.”

“God is awesome!” one child declared, and I agreed.

“God is great?” suggested another. Sure is!

“God is nice!” And here I had to pause. Because God is not nice. Kind, yes. Good, loving, merciful. But “nice” would imply that he does what we want, what makes us happy. And a God who simply does what I want is no God at all. The trouble is, most of us have conflated this idea of God with the truth of his love and mercy. So we’re shocked by moral laws, by consequences to sin, by talk of God’s wrath. “God loves everybody!” we protest, and expect him just to smile indulgently at our sin.

That isn’t real love. Real love doesn’t sit back and watch the beloved destroy herself. Real love stages an intervention. Real love might shout or cancel the credit cards or go live with his folks for a while if that’s what it takes to help heal the beloved. Real love doesn’t accept sin, and it doesn’t pretend that sin doesn’t damage relationships.

But even though God’s love might be tough love, he isn’t going anywhere. Even if you’ve run off, made yourself feel forsaken and abandoned, he’s waiting with tenderness. He’s longing to take you back, offering enduring love to heal your broken heart. Even if his silence in prayer makes you feel like he’s still hiding his face from you, he’s there.

And if that’s true, your life has to look different. You need “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Paul reminds his readers that he knows what he’s asking. He writes them in chains, begging them to live with the dignity of children of God, whatever the cost.

The calling you have received is to freedom, to joy, to the knowledge that you are loved. But it’s also a call to action. You are called to witness, to forgive, to contemplate. You are called to love. Not to be nice, but to be loving. You’re called to sacrifice for love of the other, even the stranger and the enemy.

If you don’t, even if you force God, in his mercy, to hide his face from you, you will remain his. But because he loves you, he may reach into your life in ways that hurt. He may break your idols and pull away your safety nets and force you to confront your sin. He may give you a choice: live for him or stop pretending. He may, in short, ruin your life. But he always gives it back better, though sometimes it’s a while before that becomes clear.

At times like those, we would do well to remember the wisdom of C. S. Lewis, talking about his Christ figure in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “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.”

We don’t need a safe God or a nice God or a pleasant God. We need a good God, even if it hurts. We need to die to ourselves if we’re going to rise again. Praise God that he withdraws so that his enduring love can transform us into the great saints he made us to be. Even if sometimes it ruins our lives.

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Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog, “Held by His Pierced Hands,” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.