In our family circle and house church groups we are always ‘debating’ relevant biblical and theological issues (I make no apology for the word ‘theology’: we all have a theology, i.e. an understanding of God – it may be biblical or unbiblical, good or bad, but we have a theology! And that theology affects the way we think and live, everything we are and do). One of these theological issues, mentioned before, is the one of balancing God’s love and holiness (I seem to remember Emil Brunner, the Swiss theologian, speaking of God as ‘HOLY LOVE’ – correct me if I’m wrong). A while ago I heard of a group in our city, consisting mostly of parents who had struggled with a drug-addicted son/daughter, called ‘TOUGH LOVE.’ They were convinced that ‘tough love’ was the key to dealing with addicted family members and friends.
A few days ago, when visiting at my son’s home and watching rugby, his wife said something like this, Dad, you remember that verse in Romans where it speaks of God’s goodness leading us to repentance? Well, you need to read it in ‘The Message!’ And so she read Romans 2:3ff (God’s righteous judgment on Jew and Gentile) from Eugene Peterson’s Paraphrase (Professor Emeritus, Regent College, Canada), You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
You see, it’s all about balance! The hardest thing in the world is to keep balanced. God is love, and He is holy – we need to always hold these in tension, otherwise we fall for a God Who is cruel or sentimental (the latter has implications for the present debate in evangelicalism on ‘universalism’).
By the way, speaking of God’s love and holiness, I just love Brennan Manning’s story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, You must be very close to God! The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, Yes, he’s very fond of me!