God seems to be at a disadvantage in the world today. His self-appointed biographer happily leaves people unimpressed with him at best and disgusted at worst. And this biographer—the “angel of light”—has an ambition to twist our view God whenever possible.
One of his twists is that God is necessarily distant from the creation. This portrayal of God as “incommensurate” to us shows up most often in the mystical wing of Christianity that relies on the Platonic themes of Plotinus and Proclus—both non-Christians. It was carried into Christianity by a mysterious figure we now call Pseudo-Dionysius. He earned his tag by claiming to be Paul’s Athenian convert of Acts 17:34. It was a lie: his writings were actually composed late in the 5th century and relied on Plotinus and Proclus, and not on the Bible.
The twist here is that God is eternally inaccessible to us as one who is “beyond being”—so he is only engaged by exposures to his darkness or unknowability. In other words we can never hope to know him but we can somehow still experience him. The secret is to “undo” our thinking and to engage in a three-stage ascent into this Unknowingness of a non-discursive “One” by taking steps of purgation, illumination, and—hopefully—union.
God, however, begs to differ.
God’s whole point in the creation is, instead, to invite us into the eternal communion of his Triune sharing—what and who he really is! Jesus is God’s “Word” who makes God known in terms we can grasp.
Jesus reminded followers of this in stunning terms: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Later in the same gospel Jesus set out the true basis of faith—versus claims of a passive mystical ascent: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3). Jesus is the true source of knowledge about God.
And the communion God shares in himself—as One God in three eternal distinctions—explains his creation and redemption purpose as a self-sharing love: “I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it know, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26).
Another misportrayal of God focuses on his wrath. This is a bit tricky because God is, indeed, furious at times and in his wrath he will eventually confront all those who oppose him. But the way this feature is marketed by his Enemy has a huge twist in it.
The twist comes when God’s wrath is presented as a quality of his essential being: as the fiery side of his justice. And God’s justice is linked to his holiness as if these labels are two sides of one divine coin.
The reality, however, is that before Satan and Adam came along God always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit: so he is eternally relational. He was, of course, always holy but before the fall nothing unholy existed. So, too, God was and is right or “righteous” in all his ways, but there was no counterpoint called unrighteousness to support such discriminations. Instead the label of 1 John 4:8&16—“God is love”—forever summarized his eternal communion.
So this is a second point where God begs to differ.
Why? Because he tells us that love was his motivation for creating and engaging humanity—not justice, holiness, or even glory. Consider John 3:16—“For God so loved the world”—and John 17:24—“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me.”
But what about the many biblical references to God’s righteousness, holiness, wrath, and glory? First, these aren’t eternal commodities. God isn’t made up of building blocks. Instead these terms speak of God’s triune relationality that only appear because of sin.
Holiness, for instance, refers to moral alignment in the Trinity: no disharmony or discord exists in God’s communion. Thus he is holy—fully harmonious and coherent as Father, Son, and Spirit—without any violation ever occurring. It is only when sin brought discord into God’s creation—a misalignment with God’s character—that unholiness emerged. It is not an eternal reality; and its counterpoint, holiness, made sense only after Adam’s fall.
Righteousness and goodness are also relational realities in God. He is always right and good as the measure for such terms. But rightness and goodness only come into view when sinful alternatives emerge. Before the creation God was not trying to satisfy a greater-than-God reality called goodness or righteousness.
Love, on the other hand, was always present in the Father’s heart toward the Son, and vice versa, as shared by the Spirit who searches out the depths of the one and reveals it to the other.
But, again, what about wrath?
Wrath exists in the context of sin as seen in John 3. There we find God’s love for the world has been dismissed by the world: “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (3:19). This was a realm where the Son is despised. The Father, properly jealous for his Son’s bride, warns that only one realm will continue into eternity: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (3:36).
The “angel of light” has other misportrayals in play. He treats God as a cultural misfit; as a self-absorbed narcissist; and as somehow fixated by his own power—to name just a few. Given his effective rhetoric we need to abide in Christ’s word where he begs to differ with the twists Satan continually offers.
He alone offers us the truth that keeps us free.