All The Hell We Can Stand

There are few guarantees in this world, and I’m not offering an ironclad one now, but it’s close: Do whatever you wish to do – without limits – and you will have no trouble from God whatsoever. 

If you are like me, you may have inherited the image of an angry, agitated God. He, always he, was a “bad cop” lurking in the rearview mirror, waiting for us to violate the slightest rule of the road. When we did, inevitably, he busted us and secretly hoped we would resist arrest so he could exercise his itchy-twitchy trigger finger. 

I’m not exaggerating. The God I knew as a young person did not like me – he didn’t like anybody – so words about God’s love sounded insincere. Jesus, for whom I had immediate affection, was the “good cop.” He was the only one who could convince God to accept us. Of course, God had to kill Jesus for us to enjoy such acceptance. This only reinforced the image of a blood-lusting deity eager to exterminate us.

The “God of my understanding,” to use a 12-Step phrase, has changed over the years. I now see the above description as harmful, diabolical even. It seems to me that Jesus did not have to convince God to love us; Jesus has to convince us that God already loves us! Jesus did not come to save us from God, but to save us from ourselves. God is only “out to get people” in on grace, not to do anybody in.

So, back to that pseudo-promise: Do whatever you wish to do, and you will have no trouble from God whatsoever. Is this a license to commit evil? Are we free to become hedonists? Can we indulge ourselves, hurt others, and forsake moral restraints? Sure! If we are willing to bear the consequences.

The worst trouble most of us will get into will not be what someone else does to us – and certainly not what God does! It will be what we do to ourselves: When we refuse wisdom, become selfish and stubborn, when we follow our half-baked ideas about things. It will be when we take “the way that seemed right in our own eyes,” but leads us to destruction. This is the creation of all the hell we can stand: The consequences of our own decisions. 

Where is God at such times? Where God always is: Eager to restore, not abuse; to forgive, not punish, for the outcome of our poor decisions is usually more punishment than we can bear. And how does God restore and forgive? Folks in the 12-Steps say: “We accept hardship as the pathway to peace.” 

We take our self-inflicted lumps, learn from them, and then get on with it; because no matter how badly we have harmed ourselves, there’s no redeeming value in wallowing in it. God stands ready to restore us, and if God can forgive us, maybe we should try to do the same.