Todays CC Times has an article about a progressive spiritual symposium going on right now in Berkeley. The article cites one of the organizers, UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff, describing two different views of God:

He discussed how two views of God — the Supreme Being as a nurturer and as the authoritarian — have clashed in the past.

In today’s religious disputes, studies show the followers of the nurturing God, the progressives, outnumber the followers of the Old Testament God.

So apparently the “progressives” follow the loving, nurturing, tolerant God and the conservatives follow the angry, judgmental, authoritarian OT God. Right.

This is such a common statement about God that I just had to say something about it. The supposed contrast between the “authoritarian” OT God and the loving and “nurturing” NT God has been around for a long time. The only problem is that it does not really match what is actually taught in the Bible. The OT has a whole lot to say about God’s “lovingkindness” and His long patience with Israel. The NT has a lot to say about God’s wrath against sin. (Maybe professor Lakoff has never read Revelation!)

But it is not really OT vs. NT. It is about a popular view of God that sees Him as existing to encourage and care for us without any moral absolutes. It is really a designer god (here I switch to a small “g”) made after our own image. People have always wanted a god who would do nice things for them without asking anything in return. Why not just make up whatever god you want to believe in? But we can’t just invent our own reality.. we need to believe in th God who actually exists. (We have institutions where we care for people who insist on making up their own reality.)

The whole OT God vs. NT God thing is really a false dichotomy. A common rhetorical device is to give people two options, A and B, in such a way that A is a caricature of the position that you oppose and is described in a way that nobody would ever want. Choice B described in a very attractive way. So of course the audience immediately goes for choice B. This is an easy way to steer people in the direction that you want them to go (unless they take time to think for themselves).

The truth is that God’s authority and His nurture are not mutually exclusive. We can at least imagine (and some of us have experienced) a human father who loves and nurtures us but also exercises authority in the home and disciplines us when we need it. There is no inherent contradiction between these two qualities. They only appear contradictory to anyone who sees love as meaning that I get to do anything I want without any restrictions. But that is not what real love is like, as the parent of any 4 year old who prohibits him or her from running out into the street can understand.

The real problem is that people want to do their own thing without any interference from God. The name for this attitude is “rebellion.” We want to be our own gods, without any interference from the real one. Or as the Bible puts it,

10 As it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”

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