In his book A More Christlike God, Brad Jersak talks about the idea of ‘consent’. It’s really made me think. He refers to forced marriages and child-brides, which is repugnant to our western minds. It causes him to wonder about the image of God as a Bridegroom. Does he compel and coerce relationship with us, or does he patiently invite and romance? And what if you decline? God won’t make you say ‘I do’; but if you don’t, what about the ultimatum? Doesn’t the Bible itself threaten us with retributions? ‘Please accept my proposal, my beloved… or I’ll throw you in a lake of fire.’ Where’s the freedom in that kind of ultimatum? Where’s the consent?
He tells a very thought provoking story and then comments on it:
“Imagine there is a fabulously wealthy king who looks out of the window of his castle one day and, in the distance, sees a beautiful Cinderella-type peasant living in the slums. His heart is ravished and he thinks, “This is the perfect bride for my son, the prince.” Unlike other kings—wicked worldly kings—he cannot just abduct her and make her a slave-concubine of his son. He must genuinely invite her to take the hand of his son voluntarily. So, along with his entourage and his son, they make their way out of the palace into the squalor beyond the moat, searching hut to hut and through the markets until they find her. The offer is made:
“Young lady,” says the king, “this is my beloved son, the prince of this kingdom and heir to all that is mine. I humbly beseech you to come out of your life of poverty and oppression and to join my son in holy matrimony, enjoying all of the benefits that come with a princess’ life.” The offer seems to be too good to be true. All she needs to do is consent to the proposal.
But there’s a hitch. The king continues, “There is a deadline. If you don’t say Yes by such-and-such a date, we will arrest you, put you in our dungeon, where torturers will fillet you alive for endless ages, supernaturally keeping you alive such that your torment is never-ending. Moreover, after the deadline, your decision is irrevocable. No repentance is possible. The dishonour of your rejection is too great to warrant any second chance. The consequences of refusal are without mercy and utterly irreversible.”
As the king, the prince and their cohort leave, the prince turns and says, “Oh yes, please hurry. And always know that I will love you forever and for always … but only until the deadline.”
Is this our gospel? If it were, would it truly be a gospel that preserves the love of God, the freewill of humanity and the mutual consent inherent in and necessary to God’s invitation? I don’t buy it any more. Without going into great detail here, might I suggest that because God, by nature, is the eternally consenting Bridegroom, there are two things he cannot and will not do:
- He will not ever make you marry his Son, because an irresistible grace would violate your consent. Your part will always and forever be by consent.
- His consent will never end, because a violent ultimatum would violate your consent. Divine love will always and forever be by consent. Emphasis on forever. “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136). “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jer. 31:3).
I don’t believe the divine courtship involves wearing you down with his love until you give up. It’s simply that he’ll always love you, with a love that even outlasts and overcomes death (Song of Solomon 8). The Bible at least hints (Rev. 21-22) that the prodigal Father will wait for you, invite you and keep the doors open for you until you’re ready to come home. He’ll wait for you forever. ”
― Bradley Jersak,