The great American statesman and president Thomas Jefferson was a man of science who did not believe in miracles but really liked Jesus. Unfortunately, right next to Jesus’ ethical teachings are stories about miracles—feeding five thousand people with a sack lunch, walking on water, curing blindness. Jefferson resolved this conflict in a very pragmatic way. He took a pair of scissors and cut out the miracle stories. He was left with the teachings of Jesus. He also snipped out some of those teachings that were a bit incredible. In the end he had just the Jesus he wanted.

It’s easy to do this. I suppose I do it in my own way, though not with scissors. I just skip over the parts I don’t like and camp out in the passages I do. This has not been a good strategy, however. I have found that in so doing I lose some important aspect of God or of the Christian life. And that missing piece can make all the difference. A person similar to Jefferson is the nineteenth-century theologian Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889). He did not like the notion of a wrathful God. Ritschl concluded, “The concept of God’s wrath has no religious value for the Christian.” So he reinterpreted the meaning of wrath. Wrath is the logical consequence of God’s absence, and not God’s attitude toward sin and evil. A lot of people liked this because it depicted a god who is above getting angry. This passive-aggressive god just gets quiet.

This god appeals to us because we have a hard time letting go of our human projections about both love and wrath. When we think of love we think of an emotion or a feeling that is often irrational. Most of the love songs we hear on the radio describe a torrent of emotions a person feels about their beloved, so much so that they would climb every mountain and swim every sea just to be with him or her. In actuality, they wouldn’t. After one or two mountain ranges the emotion would begin to diminish, and the famished lover might actually prefer a cheeseburger to their beloved. After swimming just one sea (even a very small sea) I imagine the fires of love would dim.

So we hear that “God is love” and make the assumption that God is crazy in love with us. But love—particularly the wonderful Greek word agape—has a different definition. To love is, in the words of Dallas Willard, “to will the good of another”; it’s not primarily an emotion. Love is a desire for the well-being of another, so much so that personal sacrifice would not stand in its way….In other words, the love of God is not an emotion that waxes and wanes.”

Soul Training – Take it Deeper:

Are there times where we cut or snip sections from the Bible to create the Jesus we are comfortable with? Why ?

What has been the result of this snipping?

Taken from The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.