8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Pastor Eugene Peterson has published a new contemporary language translation of the bible (called "The Message") and in his work the verses above are translated like this: ‘I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.’ ... ‘For as the sky soars high above the earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.’” Think about this for a minute. If God is truly God, that is if we really believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth, that God is incarnate in Jesus, that God is available to each and every one of us, then we have to acknowledge that God is ultimately outside our ability to understanding or even comprehend God’s immensity. But yet, we Western Christians have a knack for shrinking God to our size and making God into an imitation of slightly more powerful human monarch. This was true in times past and it is true today.
How many times have you heard other people speak for God? I hear it every day. It comes mostly in the shape of powerful pastors or bishops or well-known Christians who represent themselves as so devout that they know the mind of God and can speak for God. Now, I would not question their devotion, but it always strikes me as curious when the priorities and positions they claim that God holds are remarkably similar to their own positions and priorities. And by far the worst are those who would ascribe hatred to God. “God hates…. !” and you can fill in the blank. This seems to be a popular position to take. From the church in Kansas who is constantly protesting soldier’s and celebrity funerals spewing forth their hatred; to the mega-church with the outside billboard ascribing hatred to God, we see this way too often. Maybe we can agree with some of their positions, maybe we can agree that “God hates evil” – but this immediately raises questions for me. Even if we are convinced of our rightness – do we really have the authority to ascribe hatred to God? Really? And 2nd, the problem with a generic phrase like, “God hates evil,” is we don’t know how the speaker is defining the word “evil.” Is the “evil” God hates just things or positions or people who are different than we are? Jesus says, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
St. Paul writes in Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And he talks about himself as being evil and having evil desires and thoughts, and doing evil things, and then explains that this is the human condition. But a human condition for whom Jesus died so that we might be forgiven. When we start ascribing hatred to God we are really categorizing some people as being in with God and some as being out. The phrase “God hates evil” then means “God hates you” or “God hates me.” And hate is such a strong word. But “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…” to die for us so that we “might have life and have in abundantly.”
In our text from Isaiah, I am sure that the people of Israel felt as though God hated them. After all, they had been driven into exile and their land and homes were destroyed. But Isaiah calls to them – “Hey…. Come!” Come the banquet! Come and receive God’s bounty and love – free and unconditional. Come and receive God’s forgiveness – no strings. In the Gospel text Jesus challenges the culturally accepted notion that when bad things happen it must mean God is displeased and that those who are being punished are punished out of God’s wrath and hatred. Jesus, says No, No, No! And then tells them a parable about 2nd chances; and 3rd chances and 4th chances and so on. God’s grace and love and forgiveness know no bounds! After all God doesn’t think like we do – God’s ways are not our ways!
So, I want to suggest that we should retire the word “hate” especially as it refers to God. God is not a hater – God is a lover. And God calls us to be lovers. So instead of being so quick to ascribe hatred to God, let’s ascribe love: God loves those who are outside the mainstream; God loves those who are different; those who no one else likes; those who are angry or damaged; God loves those who are struggling with abuse or addiction or rejection or loneliness; God loves those who are coming to grips with loss and change and grief and bitterness; God even loves those who are themselves haters. And we can keep going – make your own list. But start with the words God loves… God loves you; God loves me – unconditionally, without cost and without restrictions.
And how do I know? How can I be so confident that God is a lover? Well I look up there at the cross – the cross with Jesus, God’s Son hanging upon it and then I lower my gaze and I see a banquet that has been prepared for you and for me; a banquet of bread and wine; a banquet that is for everyone. “Hey – everyone who thirsts, everyone who is hungry – Come – Come to the banquet of the Lord – given and shed FOR YOU!”