A few weeks ago, USA Today ran a fascinating, front-page article about How America Sees God. The main premise behind the article was that, while most Americans admit to believing in God, more often than not, they don’t agree on what kind of God it is they believe in.
I’m not talking about Judaism vs. Christianity or Islam. Most of these people would identify with some form of the Jesus movement, but they are all over the map on what kind of God that Jesus represents.
In the article, there are basically four different views of God. The Authoratative God, the Critical God, the Distant God, and the Benevolent God. Now this may not seem like it should merit a front page article in USA today, but only because we don’t realize the implications of these views. Think about how much of our National politics come from this. From our National budget, to policies on war, to gay rights, most of these are worked out of what we think about God.
This survey, which comes from Baylor university, found that people who believed in an Authoritarian God were more likely to be politically conservative .The world was more neatly divided into good and evil for them. Believe in a Distant God? You’re more likely to lean left politically.
Now chances are, you probably already know what view of God you’ve got. It’s just not something that we step back and think of often, even though it informs a huge part of how we choose to live our lives. But just in case you don’t…
There’s a time in the Gospels, toward the end of Jesus’ life, where he has been betrayed by Judas, and even his closest friends have abandoned him. Peter, the guy who said he would always be there for Jesus…isn’t. He runs away, and eventually when someone corners him and starts prodding around about his past, Peter denies even knowing Jesus.
Which I think we all get. If Peter says, yeah I know this revolutionary man who is going to get killed, he will get killed too. So he lives to fight another day, even if it means he won’t be able to sleep with himself that night. But that’s when Jesus walks by. I’ll let the Gospel of Luke take it from here:
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Now here’s where it gets weird. I’d like to ask you to close your eyes and picture this scene.
What face is Jesus making here? Is it the one your mom used to make when she was disappointed? Is it the one that your dad gave you when you knew a whipping was around the corner?
Because what you think of when you picture Jesus’ face here, is probably your view of God. And since this is such a profound scene, with huge implications for our lives, let me make a couple of observations.
First, Jesus knew this was going to happen. He’d told Peter, not to warn him for prevention, he’d reached into the future for one of just a few times in his ministry to tell him that after this happened God wouldn’t give up on him. So Jesus isn’t surprised here.
Second, and this one is big. Jesus doesn’t say anything. This is an act of Grace. Peter had just denied Jesus to save his own skin, so what wouldn’t have been grace was Jesus saying, “Hey Peter! It’s okay. Shake it off.” That would have been a death sentence. Jesus in this moment is giving Peter one last gift.
I think he’s saying non-verbally, “Remember what we talked about Peter. This isn’t the end of you, even though you may be tempted to give up on yourself Peter, I am not done with you yet.”
And the reason this is so important is because this look is the Face of God.
I guess the people at Baylor University would say that I have a Benevolent view of God, and I think that’s true. Sure, I sympathize with the desire to make God distant, it would help him not bear any responsibility for things like Tsunami’s or cancer, I get the Authoratarian view of God too. There are plenty of places in the Scripture that make sure we remember that God is really, really big.
But underneath it all, is the face of Jesus. God who put on flesh. To show us what kind of God He really is, by letting us look in His face. And for me, every other text has to be read in light of Him.
C.S. Lewis once said that the times in life he wanted to die the most weren’t times when he was depressed or sad. It was times of great joy. For when he was enjoying the pleasure of this world, it pointed him toward the one who made them. In those moments he knew that there is a God. And He is good.
May we all.