I’m hoping to write this in a vague enough way so as not to call out anyone specifically, but several people I care about have been delivered from sin into fundamentalism. It seems like certain types of sin, addictions like pornography and alcoholism, lend themselves to fundamentalist recoveries. Sometimes I wonder if the God whom I have experienced and gotten to know would be enough of a hardass to rescue me from a serious addiction if I ever fell into one. Can God be a hardass to some people and not to others according to what we need in our discipleship journey?
When I was a teenager, my grandpa paid for me to have flying lessons with an instructor named Melton Dean. He did a whole lot of yelling which was kind of what I expected from a flight instructor. The problem with it was that it made me scared of situations where I needed to have confidence instead. So when I went out to Victoria, Texas for my pilot’s exam, I failed because I panicked when the examiner put us into a tail spin instead of methodically doing the things that you do to get out of one.
When Dean found out that I had failed, he was flabbergasted. So he talked to my grandpa. And my grandpa said that Morgan is just different from other young men; he doesn’t respond well to getting yelled at because he’s more of a sensitive type; but if you explain to him why he needs to do something so he can understand the logic behind it, then he’ll do it. So Dean took me out again and we practiced tail spins and emergency cornfield landing approaches with calm explanations instead of yelling so that when I did a redo on the pilot’s exam after 30 days, I aced it.
It’s generally been my experience that God treats me more like Melton Dean did after I failed my flight exam than the way he was before it. I tend to be pretty ruthless with myself when I find myself caught in the same sins over and over, but it doesn’t seem to help for me to try to meditate on God’s hatred for my sin. I don’t think it’s because I’m projecting a Santa Claus God in my mind. Honestly, the scripture that He’s used to shape me over the years has just made me fall in love with His mercy and understand my own holiness in terms of how well I emulate that mercy.
When I’m convicted of sin, it’s not because I’m trembling in terror of His wrath against me, but because I feel like a disgusting farce when I try to talk to Him. 1 John 1:10 says that when we are in denial about our sin, “we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.” The thought of making a fool of a merciful God is what makes me not want to sin. I don’t want to be the ugly wart on the beautiful body of Christ. I want to be perfectly loving the way He is, and when His grace empowers me to act that way, the gift of those moments floods my heart with joy, though much of my time is spent panting like a famished deer for the joy of my salvation to be restored.
So when I see friends fill their Facebook walls with stern, sober proclamations from Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, and the like about God’s anger at the utter wickedness of humanity, it troubles me and I often suspect that those proclamations are performances that are supposed to prove something. And it makes me mad because I’m as zealous about telling the world how beautiful God is as others seem to be about telling the world how angry God is. And then I look at the New Testament and it’s hard not to see an analogy between the Pharisees whom Jesus accused of being performers and those today who like to talk about wrath and sin all the time.
But many of these Spurgeonites have in fact been delivered from very serious sins. And they do really love God. Do they just need an angry God to persist in their sobriety and deliverance? Is it a phase that they will eventually mature out of or a phase that I have not yet matured into? Would I be more disciplined if I could somehow hypnotize myself into conjuring up an angrier God than the One who has revealed Himself to me thus far? Or is God a tough-as-nails flight instructor for pilots who need that and a gentle, patient one with sensitive guys like me?
So I’m torn because on the one hand it feels obedient to the truth I have received to proselytize other Christians who cling to angry Gods. I do believe I am called to be an evangelist to the evangelicals. But what if what appears like an unnecessarily angry God to me is part of a theological system that another type of person needs to stay clean and healthy? That is my quandary.