I’m re-reading A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak:
Last year, I gave a series of talks at a private Christian high school. I proposed that if God is real, then to call him God, he must be good, and the perfection of that goodness is seen in Jesus. I then shared ‘The Beautiful Gospel,’ which I will share later in chapter fourteen.
After the session a student approached me and asked for ten minutes of my time. We’ll call her ‘Jess.’ She started,
“I am Fifteen years old. I rejected Christianity when I was twelve. But what you’re saying makes sense to me. But I have questions. A lot of questions.” Her eyes were serious, waiting for me to flinch.
“Good,” I said. “Questions are good. Fire away.”
The teenager’s questions are the same ones I’ve been hearing for years. I’ve needed to work through them myself, and usually I treat them with a thorough, Bible-based response. But here was a teen with ten minutes and a heap of pain. Behind her questions were untold stories that were about to leak out. You might be alarmed by the frankness and substance of my answers, but the urgency of her situation warranted it. I hope you will stick with me as I explain how I could possibly say these things as this book unfolds. For now, here’s a glimpse of our dialogue.
Jess: Why does Jesus seem so loving and God so mean?
Brad: God is not mean. He’s exactly like Jesus. And Jesus is not mean.
Jess: Then why does God send people to hell to burn them forever and ever?
Brad: He doesn’t. hat would be silly. The God who is love, who is like Jesus, would never do that, would he? That would make no sense, would it?
Jess: No. But my Grandma was not a Christian and she died and now some of my family cry and cry because they say she’s in hell? [Ah, the story peaks out.]
Brad: Well, I can maybe imagine someone who was truly wicked perishing. Like Hitler. But would you say your was Grandma wicked?
Jess: [Tears.] No.
Brad: But Jesus shows us exactly what God is like, do you think you could leave your Grandma in his caring hands?
Jess: [No hesitation.] Yes. [In prayer, she puts her Grandma in his hands. Peace.].
Jess: [A lash of anger.] But why does God command people to commit genocide in the Old Testament? Why would he kill all those people, including their children? And then the 32 virgins that the priests kept for themselves. What do you suppose they did with them? [Oh dear. She’s been reading Numbers 31!].
Brad: Sex slaves?
Brad: If God were like Jesus, would he do that?
Brad: Well of course not. Because God is exactly like Jesus.
Jess: Then why does it say he did?
Brad: You tell me.
Jess: Because they didn’t know what God is really like? They just described him based on what they thought?
Brad: Sure. But can you imagine the Father in the Prodigal Son story, or the Father that Jesus prayed to, doing that?
Brad: Well, then I guess he didn’t. [Peace.].
Jess: [More tears.] I still have a lot of questions. God is the creator of everything and he’s in control of everything and causes everything to happen for a purpose, so …
Brad: Like rape? God causes rape? Rape is for a purpose?
Brad: No! Rape is just evil. here’s no lesson. That’s not how God teaches lessons. And he doesn’t do control. That’s why terrible things happen. But we wouldn’t want him to control us. Would you?
Jess: [Shakes her head no.]
Brad: So he never causes evil and he doesn’t use control to prevent us from doing evil. But he does care. He loves and cares and wants to come heal those who’ve been hurt by evil.
Jess: I have three relatives who were molested, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand because people always say God is in control and everything happens for a reason. [Ah, there’s the story again.]
Brad: So no, God didn’t cause that in any way. But if God were like Jesus, would you be able to put your relatives in his care? Just like you did with your Grandma?
Jess: Yes. [No hesitation. She does it. Peace. More tears.]
Brad: Can you see them there? [She’s nodding.] How are they? [More nodding.]
Brad: What are these tears about? Why are you crying?
Jess: Because I believe you.
Brad: So if God were like Jesus, could you put yourself in his hands, just like you did with your Grandma and your relatives?
Jess: Yes [No hesitation. And she does.]
As I read through that conversation again, I’m struck by how many huge boulders stood in Jess’s way to faith. In the space of minutes, she had bombarded me with devastating issues, including hell, death and Grandma, the Old Testament and violence, creation
and control, and then she threw in child rape. But through twenty years of pastoring, I can tell you that she is not exceptional. She fairly represents the sharp minds and broken hearts of up to ten million people who have let the church (in America alone) since the turn of the millennium.
I was also troubled by how simplistic and one-dimensional my responses sound. I haven’t even made a case for them yet. But I risk the vulnerability of sharing this actual conversation in order to make a more urgent case: the desperate need for a thoughtful
pastoral theology, an answer for our hope we have (1 Pet. 3:15).
From A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak.