Rev. Malone Gilliam shared with us in Sunday School last week that he grew up in a church denomination where God inflicted punishment on those who disobeyed. Rev. Gilliam related it to the plight of an abused dog. An abused dog cowers when it first meets us because all it has ever known is a beating. Even though we aren’t the one that inflicted the wounds, the dog cowers. It isn’t until we get down on his level, talk softly to him and over time slowly inch our way towards him that he will let us pet or cuddle him. It takes a long time to erase those early beatings from his memory.
A few years ago a friend offered to dog-sit when I was out of town on business. The next time I saw my friend, my dog cowered when she recognized him. I don’t think that he beat her, but enforced a gruff discipline with her instead of love. He doesn’t dog sit anymore.
What about our view of God? If we view God as a God who is only waiting to catch us doing something wrong so that he can punish us, we start to cower too. We can’t face God because we are afraid of another beating. Or sometimes, we can’t take it anymore and we run away to remove ourselves from the tortured relationship, running away from God because we fear his retribution.
What about our human relationships? They mimic our relationship with God. When we view God as only waiting to punish us, we treat other people that way, punishing them for their shortcomings and ridiculing them, hopeful that by making them feel inferior, God will see us as superior and reward us. But in the long run, others try to avoid us, or dig in and fight back by putting up armor to deflect the onslaught of our punishment.
Rev. Malone talked to us about another point of view. What if we really believe that God is a God of love? God demonstrated his love for us by sending His only Son to die for us in Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read that God acted out of mercy and love when he was dealing with the taxcollectors and prostitutes. He didn’t ridicule and punish them for their sins; instead he promised them a better life. It is not for us to judge and condemn others, but instead to extend grace and mercy to others because God has given us grace and mercy first.
When we begin to see God as a God of love, we quit cowering and instead want to draw near to Him, drinking in his unlimited love and sharing our joys and sorrows with him as a loving Father.
What about you? Is your God a God of punishment or a God of love? Has your heart turned cold because of repeated beatings? And how do others see you? Do they run to you with joy or cower trying to protect themselves from the next beating?
First you have to believe that God really loves you, and then you can experience the joy of loving others in your life.
Blessings, my friend,