I grow increasingly ambivalent about celebrating the Fourth of July in the United States. Are we truly free in the US? Racism continues to plague this nation, educational and medical debt enslaves many of us to economic hardships, freedoms for our LGBTQ siblings are being threatened, and we seem to be enslaved to a spirit of hostility that runs throughout the nation.
The Fourth of July often gets me thinking about the concept of freedom. And I have been helped a lot when it comes to God, humans, and freedom by Brad Jersak’s wonderful book called A More Christlike God.
Brad is one of my favorite theologians. He has helped me deal with a lot of difficult questions, including questions of heaven and hell, God’s “power,” and violence in the Bible. If you struggle with these questions too, I highly recommend Brad’s books and his many YouTube videos.
In A More Christlike God, Brad emphasizes one major point and comes back to it from different angles. That point is that God is like Christ.
Notice that the point is not that God is like the Bible. That was not the point of the New Testament authors. Their point was that God is like Christ.
One New Testament author explained it like this, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
The New Testament does not say that, “In the Bible the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” It always refers back to Christ when describing God.
For me, this has important practical implications, including when it comes to God’s “freedom” and God’s “love.”
There are theologians that emphasize God’s “freedom.” Calvinism tends to claim that God is free to do whatever God chooses. For Calvinists like John Piper, this means that God can decide to do anything and it is good because God decided to do it. If God decides to command genocide against certain people, so be it. It is part of God’s larger plan and God can do whatever God wants to do because God is God.
This view of God’s freedom brings up all kinds of theological problems and ethical problems. For example, it leads to the idea that God is the actor behind every event in the world, including evil events. Brad quotes John Piper as claiming that 9/11 was enacted by God in order for a higher good – that higher good being that people who fear God.
If that kind of theology makes you want to throw up, I am with you. Where is the nearest garbage can?
Brad doesn’t deny God’s “freedom,” but he says that God’s freedom is guided by God’s love. Or as the letter to 1 John says, “God is love.”
You might think about it like this – God is love, God is entirely free to love, and God’s love is Christlike.
To put it another way, God’s freedom to love creation is not dependent upon creation. I think this is what Jesus means when he says that God is kind and merciful to all people, including to the ungrateful and the wicked.
God’s love does not depend upon us acting or believing in a certain way. If God’s love was dependent upon us then God would not be free to love. God’s love would be contingent upon us. But Jesus reveals that God loves us even when we are ungrateful and wicked. In God’s divine freedom, God does not cause evil to happen. But in the cross and resurrection of Christ, we find that God absorbs human evil and offers forgiveness and love in return.
God’s freedom to love does not take away our responsibility to love others. In fact, I think it heightens our responsibility. We are not let off the hook for our harmful actions. But nor are we defined by them. We are defined by God’s Christlike freedom to love, which enables us to love our neighbors and ourselves with greater Christlike freedom, too.