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There is a conversation in church circles. Some Christians are asking other Christians, "How can you support Donald Trump?" Mr. Trump enjoys a high margin of popularity among some Christians groups. Other Christians regard him as possibly the most un-Christlike president in U.S. history. What's going on?

I have a hunch the different interpretations about Trump are related to different images of God. In some churches, God is the great lawgiver, the Sovereign Judge who executes justice upon sinful humanity, yet loves us enough to offer us an escape through the death of his son Jesus. In other churches, God is the great Lover, who pours divine life into all creation, and through Jesus shows there is no limit to God's love. Believers can use the Bible to support both images.

Churches who follow God the Judge tend to focus on sin and eternal salvation. The saved are those who have recognized their sin, repented and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When they die and appear before God the Judge, Jesus' holiness substitutes for their sinfulness and they go to Heaven. All others are lost and will go to Hell. That's why Christian lives are important. We are witnesses. There is only one way. Our life and words must be compelling enough to convert the lost to salvation.

The preaching in these churches is often personal and passionate. The stakes are life and death. A strong preacher will convict your heart of your personal need for repentance and will move your heart to accept with joy of the gift of salvation. You will feel the cost of your sin in the sacrificial death of Jesus, who took the divine judgment when he was innocent. He died in your place. Jesus loves you and saves you, giving you blessed assurance of everlasting life that you didn't deserve. Believers are motivated to live lives worthy of the love and sacrifice of Jesus and to share the message with those who have not accepted this salvation. The focus is individualistic.

Churches who follow the God of love see salvation as God's wonderful, mysterious presence in the here and now. Out of love God created everything that is. God continually holds all things in love through the Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us the human face of God.

When we look at Jesus, what do we see? We see love incarnate. Jesus shows his disciples that law is fulfilled by love: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus heals the sick, welcomes the stranger, blesses the poor, seeks the outcast, comforts the afflicted, loves the enemy. In the name of compassion he challenges the powerful, the comfortable, and the wealthy. Jesus reaches beyond boundaries of religion and of state to give his same gifts to all. He lives humbly, nonviolently, and dies as an innocent victim, speaking words of forgiveness from his execution cross.

Followers of the God of love tend to see God's loving presence here and now in everyone and everything, including people of different religions, and including the Earth, its environment and all living things. They tend to emphasize the unity and oneness of creation. The focus is corporate.

Some followers of God the Judge see the world in stark contrasts. Saved/Lost; Us/Them; Right/Wrong. We have the one Truth. All others are false. Softer believers find ways to feel compassion for those "others." But there is a harder form of this tradition that regards Muslims and even progressive Christians as threats, false prophets and heretics who must be defeated. They often draw sharp boundaries in both religion and politics. Donald Trump knows how to draw those boundaries. Even though his moral life is questionable, these believers see life as a fight, and Trump fights for their side.

I've always dwelt in the church of the God of love. I've never quite understood the other church. But I know good people in that tradition. Sometimes I'll ask, "If you were God and had all power, would you send your non-believing family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends and all non-Christians to Hell to suffer forever?" They always say, "No!" Why, I wonder, would they worship a God who is meaner than they are? Why would they support a president who is meaner and less moral than they are?

Commentary on 07/30/2019

Print Headline: Heavenly meanie?

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