Teddy Bear God

It is my belief that at times, modern Christians seem to be in danger of turning God into a teddy bear. I don’t mean that we’re starting to worship a stuffed toy, I mean that we’re in danger of turning God into a safe, small, easy to handle object. We turn to God for love and cuddles and all things lovely. We’ve twisted the idea of God’s incredible, divine love into a pretty, pink parody of the Bible’s teachings. This is not what the Bible teaches. Where is the challenging Jesus? The Jesus who rebuked the haughty and the proud? Where is the God whose jealous rage rose against the Israelites when they turned to idols? Where is the God, called Faithful and True, who will ride from Heaven on a white horse to consume his enemies? We have tamed God in our minds, and, as C.S. Lewis writes, Aslan ‘is not a tame lion’.

I’m not enough of a scholar to know when exactly it was that we started emphasising God’s love over all other aspects of his character. I’ve read that the idea of unconditional love actually started in the hippie culture of the USA in the second half of the 20th century, but I don’t know if this is true or not. I can verify from my own reading, however, that God’s love is never called unconditional in the Bible. Let me just take a moment to make myself clear. I am in no way saying that God’s love is not important – it is, to take away God’s love is to take away a significant part of the gospel. What I am trying to do is to redress the mental balance a bit, to make people remember the other aspects of the character of God that have been cast into the shadow of love. I want to make people aware of God’s holiness, justice and sovereignty. My king is a sovereign king and what he says goes, whether we like it or not. We cannot choose the parts of God that we like and ignore the rest.

God said this: ‘Be holy, as I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16). God is holy. What is holiness? It’s purity, it’s the ultimate standard of perfection. Of course, we can’t achieve perfect holiness, that’s why Jesus died for us, but we can strive to achieve it, otherwise God would not have given this command. We can give our all and strive to run the good race. But the bit I want to make clear here is that God is holy. Sin is anathema to him. It is completely against his nature. Anything living in sin has to be cast away from that holiness. In various places in the Bible, examples of sins are listed and they are normally attached to people who will not see the inside of the kingdom of Heaven. It’s become something of a mantra that God ‘hates sin and loves the sinner’. So let’s actually take the first part of that seriously. God hates sin so much that he underwent crucifixion in human form so that we might be free of it. That’s powerful. This also means that justice must be fulfilled when all things come to a close.

What is this justice? We were talking about Hell in the Christian Union today (yes, we talk about cheerful topics) and we were discussing the idea that Hell has to exist for God to be just. How can justice be done without punishment? If sin is completely anathema to God, and, given his holiness, we have to believe that it is, surely the just punishment for those who have chosen sin in life is to spend eternity separate from God? How can the two exist together? The only option is complete cleansing. Here’s the power of the cross: Jesus, who had no sin, took our sins upon himself in order that we might spend eternity with the holy God.  Wow. When we truly try and get our heads round that, we can start to see why rejecting the sacrifice of Jesus is such a big deal in Christian teaching. It is, in effect, rejecting the one thing that can make you holy before a holy God. Without the death of Christ, there can be no cleansing of sin because no man is able to achieve holiness and if God does not punish sin, then he is not a just God. We may not like the existence of Hell, but we have to accept it if we accept a God of justice. As Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians: ‘God is just.’

The final point I want to address is this: God’s sovereignty. Part of being a Christian is saying to God ‘your will be done’. We have to renounce ownership of our bodies and minds to our Lord. This is a scary, even impossible concept for some people, I know that. In our highly individualised age, we detest the idea of anyone having lordship over us but ourselves. How proud we have become! We simply cannot lose touch with God’s sovereignty, or we’ll start to turn away from God’s hand in our lives. I know I’ve prayed many a prayer where I try and tell God what to do. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. I’ve often heard my non-Christians say to me that if God would appear to them, they would believe in him. My reply is always the same: who are you to order God around? God chooses his own actions. As it says in Exodus, he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom he will have compassion. I know that this is a tough concept, it really is. I find that it helps to ask myself this: Who am I to question God’s actions? The critic may accuse me of blind faith, but I would say to that critic that if you acknowledge the existence of a sovereign God, you relinquish the right to a universe that revolves around you. We cannot control God; it is futile to try. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

I hope that this post has shed some light onto some of the other aspects of the Christian God. Yes, we should acknowledge him as a Father or a brother, but we should not forget his kingship. The Vikings struggled with the idea of grace; we struggle with the idea of punishment. We should not assume that God must be wrong if we don’t like everything he says. I will admit that this post turned out a bit harder and blunter than I intended, but I will not apologise for saying what I feel needed to be said.

God is not a teddy bear. God is awesome, in the original sense of the word. If he was anything less, he would not be someone that we could truly call King.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lenoxus says:

    Better a “teddy bear” than a genocidal God who drowns the world (except Noah’s family) and does a million other really horrible things.

    The problem is that people have become, in many ways, better than we were. We recognize the evils of xenophobia, and the basic rights to religious freedom. We don’t think slavery can be tolerated, we are against genocide, and the notion of punishing someone (even a little!) for, say, worshipping an idol is rightfully repulsive to us.

    A mass murderer could give a speech where he says “Hey, I’m not some cuddly teddy bear” or “If it was up to you I guess no one would be punished for anything ever, huh?”

    Would that be a remotely persuasive argument?

    1. bengarry says:

      Actually, I’d rather facing up to the so called ‘genocidal God’ and ask why those things happened than reduce God to a teddy bear. I believe that there were reasons for things like the flood. If you look at it from my point of view, we’re God’s creations and answerable to him.

      You say that ‘we have become, in many ways, better than we were’. I actually disagree with that too. I think that humanity is no better or worse than it has been before, we’re just living in a culture. If we’re more tolerant, it’s simply because we have the advantage of established national boundaries that mean we’re not scrapping over land so much and the internet that lets us get to know people from different places better.

      You also say that punishing someone for worshiping an idol is ‘rightfully repulsive’. That’s because you’re not a god who deserves worship. No one’s taking anything away from you by worshiping an idol. But for God, that someone IS taking away something that’s rightfully yours: glory. You agree that we should punish thieves, right? Well maybe it would help you to think about God punishing idolaters as we would punish thieves.

      And now to your final point, a mass murderer could make those points and in doing so, he’d actually be saying that he is more dangerous than we’ve been making him out to be. That’s what I’m arguing for here. I’m not saying that God is a mass murderer, but I am saying that he is not the fluffy little cloud-man many people have reduced him to today.

      I know that my own view of God is quite hardline and uncompromising, but I believe in a powerful, absolute God and sometimes, we don’t understand everything that a God like that does.

      As Mr. Tumnus says in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “He is not a tame lion.”

  2. One Candle says:

    I recommend “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis. God’s love (Agape) is indeed unconditional. (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13, and more.) It’s very hard for us as humans to fathom a God who loves us just as we are AND wants to change us to be in His image, so we tend to choose one extreme or the other. (I lean toward the “teddy bear,” but I am fully aware of the lion!)
    Keep reading, keep writing, and keep your faith. I love your blog.

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