When we’re faced with pain or trouble, it can be easy to start wondering what kind of God we follow.
The Vision and The Vow tells of how distinguished art critic, Robert Cumming, made a revolutionary discovery while studying one of Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi’s paintings.
The portrait of Mary with baby Jesus was on display in London’s National Gallery, but it had been frequently decried by art critics. Lippi’s skill with color and composition was impeccable, but his proportions seemed strangely skewed. The hills in the background appeared to almost curve over the figures in the forefront; the two saints on either side of Mary were kneeling at improbable angles, and the virgin mother bizarrely seemed to be staring at something on the ground between them all.
Suddenly, Robert Cumming had a jolt of insight. Lippi’s painting had never been intended to hang in a gallery; it had been commissioned to stand before petitioners in a church.
Self-consciously, the dignified critic took a knee in the public gallery. He then saw what art critics had missed for generations. From this new vantage point, Robert Cumming gazed up at a perfectly proportioned piece.
Viewers had to kneel before the infant Christ, and only then did the painting’s foreground flow naturally into the distance. The saints Dominic and Jerome eased into more realistic positions as Mary gazed benevolently down at those who had come to worship her Lord.
The painting’s perspective was fine. The perspective of its modern audience had been wrong.
The God of the Old Testament
Those who do not view God as our holy, perfect maker are likely to fall into the same perception of him as noted atheist Richard Dawkins, who described God as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
That’s quite a damning list of epithets, but they’re also born from a terribly skewed view of God.
If we take a correct perspective of the Lord, then we find our Father who refuses to force his children’s obedience like some kind of maniacal puppet-master but also loves his children too much to let them live in a toxic sin environment.
While Israel’s Old Testament law and even some New Testament rules seems harsh to us today, in reality they are extremely reasonable and gracious, particularly when compared to the alternatives.
“The Mosaic law is quite different in this regard, because punishment depends on the nature of the crime rather than the social class,” writes Pastor Marc Madrigal. “One of the most important reasons for this is that the law of Moses is not based on class sensibilities. Rather, it is based on the sanctity of each individual life created in ‘the image of God.’”
A generous portion of Torah law is dedicated to protecting society’s most vulnerable populations: women, children, widows, victims of abuse, survivors of war, refugees.
This mentality rolled seamlessly into the New Testament where a right relationship with God naturally led to constraints and rules where people were not allowed to harm one another and community could flourish.
Looking into the Heart of a Father
Despite this, many Christians feel like there’s a different God in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. The God between Genesis and Malachi seems harsh, grumpy, maybe even a bit vindictive. What kind of God sends venomous snakes among his own people because they complained about the food? Then we have Jesus blessing kids, healing sick people, raising a widow’s only son from the dead.
Do we worship a bipolar individual who’s loving one minute and punitive the next? Certainly that’s what we would say if we were looking at a person’s history, but this is God.
Maybe we have the wrong perspective.
In a devotional about God’s promises, David Wilkerson recalls Moses’ words to the Israelites. “’You know your fathers’ history. The Lord loved them so much that he bore them up in his arms and carried them, time after time. Yet over and over they murmured against him, grieving him.’
“Moses goes on, ‘He saw that they were committed to unbelief…. Their hearts were like granite, so God told them, “You’re going to turn around now and go back into the wilderness.”’
“Many believers today have let Satan convince them that they are not good enough, that God is still mad at them for past sins but….you have a promise awaiting you, just as there was for Israel: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
“The Lord saved you to bring you into a place of rest, a place of unshakeable faith and confidence in the Lord.”
Taking a Knee Before Our Lord
When God permits terrible things in our lives, when God doesn’t answer prayers, when God is silent, then we can feel as if we are facing a different Lord than the one we’ve known at other times.
But maybe we’re looking at our lives from the wrong angle.
“Doubt can promote greater revelation of God,” Gary Wilkerson pointed out in a podcast on this very topic. “I think it burns the idols away, the idols of ‘God will always give me whatever I want….’
“Then all of a sudden, God didn't give you what you wanted. Something went wrong. Your marriage didn't work out. You got a diagnosis that wasn't healthy. Now, there's doubt. It's like, ‘I thought God was always just answering every prayer I ever prayed in the affirmative. He's here to bless me, and keep me safe, and protect me. It doesn't seem like that's happening.’
Facing that moment of discovering God is either not who you thought he was or you’ve had the wrong perspective is very hard. The belief that God’s not as good as others seem to think he is can be tempting.
Gary explains how good the reward is, though, if we persist and trust God. “What comes out of that furnace is refined by fire. The Bible calls it pure gold, pure silver.
“What's left is a better image of God, a truer image of God.”