God’s character.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February 2023

No doubt you’ve heard of the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, for way too many Christians, they’ve only memorized Paul’s list Ga 5.22-23 and whether they actually strive to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. is a whole other deal. They know these are virtues, but too many of us are kinda just expecting them to appear spontaneously, rather than really work with the Holy Spirit on our character.

Okay. What are these virtues in relation to God himself? Does he exhibit them? Is he loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, etc.? Or have we never made any such connection? Maybe doubt we even should make such a connection, ’cause we’d rather imagine God as offended at humanity’s sins, mournful over humanity’s sins, ready to smite people over their sins, absolutely fed up over people’s sins, eager to offend and outrage people back (after all, they offended him first!) and so forth? Do we figure these traits aren’t in any way practical, considering God needs to be super-duper vengeful right about now?

In other words, do we figure humanity’s sins have flipped God over 180 degrees, and made him fleshly?

I’ll leave you to ponder that idea, and whether our ideas about the wrath of God haven’t somehow turned him into Zeus. But as you hopefully know already, if you wanna know what God is like; if you wanna identify God’s attitude and character traits, the best thing to do is look at Jesus the Nazarene. Does he exhibit the Spirit’s fruit? Or when you read the gospels, do you figure Jesus likewise is triggered and enraged and ready to call down fire because he has HAD IT with these maggot-farming Judeans?

If so, I don’t know what bible you have, or what sort of demented “Christian” movie you’ve been watching. Every bible translation I know of, reveals the Spirit’s fruit describes Jesus’s character. And since Jesus is God, the Spirit’s fruit describes God’s character. Christians think and act fruitful because the Spirit within us thinks and acts like that.

So this being the case… whenever we look at the LORD’s behavior in the scriptures, what attitudes should we attribute to him? Fruitful ones? Or fruitless and fleshly ones? Which traits sound like Jesus, and are therefore God’s?

…Unless of course you don’t believe Jesus is God. Not really. Plenty of Christians flub the concept of trinity, and imagine Jesus is only a segment of God, or a mode of God, or even isn’t really God; he’s just a really important creation—he’s the Son of God!—but not God himself.

And if Jesus isn’t fully God, then it’s understandable—even okay—if Jesus and God are entirely different individuals. Not one in purpose, will, intent, attributes, and character; two distinct deities, like Zeus and Hades. Who are playing a cosmic game of “good cop bad cop” with humanity: God’s the bad cop, eager to roast us in hell, and Jesus is the good cop, trying to get us forgiven and saved—not from sin and death, but from God himself. ’Cause God’s super murdery, but Jesus is more about peace and love than Ringo Starr.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow Christians express this demented idea. All sorts of Christians. Even people who went to seminary and studied way more theology than I have, and should know better! Christians who should know the apostles wholly meant it when they wrote in the scriptures how Jesus as the image of God, Cl 1.15 someone whose very nature is that of God, Pp 2.6 the only-begotten God who accurately reveals who the Father is like, Jn 1.18 and if you’ve seen him you’ve seen the Father. Jn 14.9 Who identified God himself as love, 1Jn 4.8, 16 and defined love by God’s gracious attitude towards us. 1Co 13.4-8 Yet despite knowing these scriptures, they still think God is wrath, and Jesus opposes him. God is the angry Old Testament tribal deity, and Jesus is the loving New Testament global deity… and of course they like Jesus way better.

But this twisted view of God is unbiblical and heretic. Again: Jesus is God. If you think God’s character is all bile and rage, you’re wrong. Get rid of that idea. God’s character is Jesus’s character. Jesus is all about peace and love; so is God.

“But God is also just.”

Whenever I describe God this way, I always get pushback from someone who wants to insist God’s not about peace and love. God’s not about grace and forgiveness and kindness. God might temporarily be those things, in times of good behavior. Whose good behavior? Ours. So behave yourself, or God’ll turn dark on you!

To these folks, whenever I say “God is love,” their knee-jerk response is “But God is also just.” And by “just” they mean vengeful. God loves people, but cross him and he’ll put a fiery sword straight through your face, and leave you a gorier mess than the bad guys in a samurai movie. He’s just itching to. Try him. Just try him.

Biblical justice isn’t vengeance. Isn’t wrath. Looks nothing like popular Christian culture’s ideas of bad guys getting their comeuppance. It’s about God setting things right, and making things fair for those who’ve been unfairly treated. Our criminal justice system is about punishment, but God’s justice is about restoration.

And it’s based on his love. And his other character traits of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so on.

Vengeful people don’t share those attitudes. They consider ’em impractical for their goal of gaining satisfaction. They have to redefine them quite a lot in order to argue they’re fruitful Christians despite their pursuit of vengeance. Love becomes “tough love,” peace becomes what you get after you’ve eliminated everyone who disturbs your peace, joy is likewise the joy you have of vanquishing your foes… and we can go down the list and detail all the twists and warps Christians use to distort the Spirit’s virtues into vileness.

Vengeful also project those traits upon God. They want him to smite sinners, and expect he’s gotta think like they do. Be just as angry and petty and fleshly.

Yeah okay, at some point God is gonna have to judge and sentence sinners. That’s gonna suck. I suspect the reason the End hasn’t come is because God really doesn’t wanna. No that’s not just wishful thinking on my part; there’s actual bible behind it.

2 Peter 3.9 NRSVue
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

He wants to save as many as he can. The patience of vengeful people has run out long ago, but God’s way more patient than they.

And considering God’s saved an awful lot of people who don’t deserve saving—grace is like that, y’know—it’s not realistic to expect him to be vengeful towards all the people whom you might imagine do need wrath. God’s forgiven way more people than we ever would!

So if you’re counting on God to destroy a whole lot of evildoers, you need to rethink that idea significantly. You also need to ask yourself how your godless attitudes are corrupting both your view of God, your interpretation of the scriptures, and even your place in God’s kingdom. No I’m not saying you’re going to hell; I’m saying you’re not ready for the kingdom, because you’re really not gonna be happy with all the people God’s letting into it. And I don’t just mean the whores and taxmen. Mt 21.31 Lots of people you don’t approve of. I admit—lots of people I don’t approve of either. But I’m aware God is way more gracious than I am. His justice is way less wrathful, way more loving, than Christians popularly imagine.