The title of the lead article in USA Today on Tuesday, September 12, 2006, was: “View of God Can Reveal Your Values & Politics.” Sociologists at Baylor University conducted the new national survey of 1,721 Americans, consisting of 77 questions, with almost 400 answer choices. Although 91.8% of respondents reported a belief in God, a higher power or a cosmic force, they possessed four very different views of God. Baylor sociologists labeled these views as, “Authoritarian,” “Benevolent,” “Critical,” and “Distant.”
According to the survey, the respondents who view God in the Authoritarian (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) realm see God as an angry God. The Authoritarians view God as throwing His ferocious judgment down upon the unfaithful and ungodly. The respondents who view God as Benevolent (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) understand God primarily as forgiveness. In this perspective, the Benevolent God offers His people a second, third, fourth and fifth chance.
The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East), according to respondents, has His judgmental eye on the world, but remains inactive. The Critical God neither punishes nor comforts. This group possessed little inclination to attend church or affiliate with religious groups. Those who view God as “Distant” (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) see God as a cosmic force. Here, God, or a cosmic force, launched the world, but then left the world spinning on its own.
Our view of God is important. The Authoritarian view that God is going to zap you if you get out of line, creates almost a fear rather than a love for the Lord. On the other hand, the Benevolent God creates a view with little or no accountability, judgment or punishment. The majority of respondents rejected the Critical and Distant views, which stress God’s inactivity.
All four views possess a kernel of truth. God is Authoritarian and Critical in that he will judge and punish. Being the Lord of forgiveness, God is Benevolent. Even the Distant view has an element of truth, seeing God as creator. But, while all four views possess a kernel of truth, these views reveal a very limited understanding of God on the part of the respondents.
The articulation of these views in these specific terms may be new, but the views themselves aren’t new. I am sure that the same views existed among the Hebrews in the book of Exodus. I can imagine some of the Hebrews of Moses’ day saying, “We had better listen to Moses because God is going to zap us if we don’t.” I can imagine another saying, “God is like a giant slave master, ready to strike us with his whip if we get out of line” (the Authoritarian view). I can imagine some of the Hebrews saying, “God is good, everything is going to be all right, we are fine, we just need to name it and claim it, and we got no worries” (the Benevolent view). I can imagine others saying, “God is not going to help us. He is not going to intervene. There is no reason to go to worship – God does not care about us” ( the Critical view). I can imagine still others saying, “God is simply a burst of energy, a cosmic force. He does not care about our situation nor is he going to help. We are on our on. He either does not care or will not help us” (the “Distant” view).
These views are not new and, while each has a kernel of truth, none of those encompass everything that I think about when I think about God in the Old Testament and especially not Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament. God revealed to Moses,
God revealed to Moses that he is “merciful.” The word “mercy” comes from a root word in Hebrew which has an association with the womb, indicating the mercy or love that a mother has for a child. “Mercy” denotes intimate, personal, relational, and meaningful love. I once believed that the uniqueness of a mother-child relationship was an old wives’ tale told to humble husbands/fathers. But I have noticed a special bond which exists between my wife and our two children. I do not understand the bond completely but I recognize the distinctiveness of the bond. Moses visualized God as a merciful God.
Jesus was merciful.
God revealed to Moses that He is gracious, a beautiful concept in the Old Testament. “Grace” literally, has the meaning to be “inclined toward,” giving the idea of bending down. God reveals His gracious nature by “inclining” Himself toward humanity. The incarnation remains the greatest manifestation of God’s grace, that of God “bending down” in the form of His Son.
When an adult stands and speaks with a child, all the child sees is the adult’s chin, nose, and forehead. But if an adult bends down to the child, then the child can see the adult’s eyes, smile, and warmth of the adult’s face. The child can better communicate with the adult because the adult has lowered (“inclined”) himself/herself to the child’s level. God revealed Himself to Moses as a gracious God.
Jesus was grace-filled. John records the inspiring ministry of Jesus to the Samaritan woman (
Few people treated the woman of Samaria with the grace that Jesus exhibited toward her. Her society saw her in an undesirable ethnicity (a Samaritan), an unfortunate gender (a woman), and an objectionable social status (a divorcee). But Jesus treated her with grace.
I pastored a small church throughout my college experience. Gordon, well into his 60s when I met him, had been in church, periodically, all of his life. But Gordon did not know Jesus personally. I led Gordon’s daughter to Christ and she told me of her concern for her unsaved father. I shared with Gordon God’s plan of salvation and asked him if he would like to become a Christian. Gordon said, “Yes, I want to become a Christian.” Gordon met the grace-filled Jesus. Our small church had just installed a baptistery and Gordon, 60-plus years old, was the first to be baptized. His daughter followed. Jesus is grace-filled.
God revealed to Moses that he is “long suffering.” “Long suffering” renders a Hebrew phrase which literally translates as, “long of nostrils.” When a person becomes angry often, one’s nostrils flare. But Moses visualized God as one “long of nostrils.” God’s nostrils do not flare easily or quickly. God does not become angry easily or quickly. “Long of nostrils” suggests the positive quality of patience.
Moses must have tried God’s patience on more than a few occasions. God said, “Moses, go back to Egypt.” Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go back to Egypt?” God said, “Moses, go back to Egypt.” Moses asked, “Who are you?” God said, “Moses, go back to Egypt.” Moses said, “They are not going to believe me. They are not going to listen to me. They are going to say, ‘God did not appear to you.’” God said, “Moses, go back to Egypt.” Moses said, “I am a poor speaker. I am slow of speech and tongue.” God said, “Moses, go back to Egypt.” Moses said, “Send someone else.” Numerous episodes exist to support the premise that Moses must have tried God’s patience. But, time and time again, Moses experienced the patience of God.
Jesus is patient. Peter must have tested Jesus’ patience one more than one occasion. Peter denied him three times. Yet in
According to traditional Hebrew folklore, Abraham, sitting outside his tent one evening, saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham greeted him and invited him into his tent. There Abraham washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man, without prayer or blessing, began to eat. Astonished, Abraham asked, “Don’t you worship God?” The tried traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” Abraham grabbed the old man and threw him out of his tent. After the old man departed, God asked Abraham about him. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?” Jesus is, as The Message translation renders, “endlessly patient.”
God revealed to Moses that he is good. Translations reveal the difficulty in rendering this phrase. The King James Version translates this phrase as, “abundant in goodness.” The New International Version translates the phrase as, “abounding in love.” The New American Standard renders the phrase as, “abounding in loving-kindness,” while the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the phrase as, “rich in faithful love.” Translations differ but unambiguously communicate the message that God’s goodness does not end.
Jesus was full of goodness. All four gospels communicate the goodness of Jesus.
God revealed to Moses that he is faithful. On more than a few occasions, Moses stood before Pharaoh. But Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Moses stood before Pharaoh and announced the plague of frogs, but Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Moses stood before Pharaoh and announced the plagues of gnats and flies, but Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Moses stood before Pharaoh time and time again but Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Whatever Moses may have felt as he stood before Pharaoh (fear?, anxiety?), Moses never stood before Pharaoh alone. God was faithful to Moses. In fact, God revealed his name to Moses as, “I am who I am,” denoting the idea of “I am whatever you need.” When Moses experienced discouragement, God was faithful. When, to Moses, defeat appeared inevitable, God was faithful. When Moses did not know which way to turn, God was faithful. On Mount Sinai 40 days and in the wilderness 40 years, God was faithful to Moses.
Jesus is faithful.
My father passed away in 1997. He worked blue-collar jobs all of his working life, the last job in a textile factory that made clothing. These jobs created in my father a sense of faithfulness to the American worker. Dad purchased American-made products. Whether it was a shovel or a shirt, he bought American-made goods. Even if the American-made item cost more that a non-American made item, he bought American. Dad knew that the future of the American blue-collar worker depended on the faithfulness of the American consumer. Likewise, God revealed to Moses that He is faithful.
The manner in which we view God is important. Read these words and imagine (I asked my congregation to close their eyes, listen and imagine): “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. Above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Selected verses from
What view of God did these verses generate for you? God revealed himself to Moses as merciful, gracious, long suffering, abundant in goodness and faithful.
Kelvin Moore is Professor of Christian Studies at Union University in Jackson, TN.