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When is God most God-like?

I have a friend who used to work in a larger city fire department who told a story about a certain Probie (new recruit) they once had assigned to their truck company.  The first few tours he was fitting in perfectly.  They hadn’t gone to an actual fire yet.  But they responded to a number of medical calls and false alarms, spent time checking equipment and cleaning the apparatus, and he was doing splendidly with all of it.  The third or fourth shift he worked, however, they were dispatched to an actual structure fire where their truck was first due.

As they pulled in front of the building, fire was blowing out of several second floor windows.  The rest of the crew jumped off the rig and started running toward the building.  The Probie took one step out of the rig and froze.  When the crew realized he wasn’t with them, they turned around and yelled: “What are you doing?  C’mon, let’s go!”  To which the Probie, pointing toward the burning building, replied: “What, go in there?  Are you crazy?  That building’s on fire!” 

Any firefighter who isn’t willing to run into a burning building, who isn’t willing to feel the heat and risk their life to save others, isn’t much of a firefighter.  No matter how well they might excel at every other aspect of the job, no matter the fact that most of the time firefighters aren’t risking their lives running into burning building but instead focusing on other tasks, running into burning buildings to save lives is what firefighters do.  That’s what is core to their identity as firefighters, what is central and essential to firefighting.  When they run into burning buildings, they are being most what a firefighter is.  They are being most firefighter-like. 

The same is true with police officers and members of the military.  Although they spend most of their time on other tasks, it is when they are putting their lives on the line to protect and defend others that they are being most true to, and thereby fulfilling, their identity as a cop or a soldier. 

Several years ago, I got into a heated discussion with a friend’s mother.  It wasn’t really heated from my end.  But, knowing that I was passionate about my Christian faith, my friend’s mother pressed me: “Why do you have to believe in Jesus?  All that matters is that you believe in a God of love and try to love others.  Why do you have to insist that Christianity is the Truth?  That only creates hard feelings and division—not what a God of love wants!  Besides, a God of love is what all religions ultimately believe in anyway!”

When Charlie Rose still had his TV show—before he got in trouble!—he was interviewing the editor of a well-known, national Catholic publication one night.  It just so happened that, much like things right now, Islam was in the news.  Many people were spewing hateful stereotypes about Islam and its beliefs.  So, to set the record straight, for ten to fifteen minutes this well-known Catholic editor waxed poetic about Islam and all its virtues.  In the process, he also stressed that all the major world religions have a unique beauty and validity to them.  He insisted that Christians need to recognize that there is great beauty and truth in these other faiths. 

As he continued to extoll the virtues of Islam, it was plain to see in Charlie Rose’s face that he was becoming more and more perplexed.  Finally, after about ten or fifteen minutes, he interrupted this Catholic editor and asked the question most people watching that night were wondering: “If you think Islam is so great, if you think all the world’s religions each have a unique beauty and validity, then why are you a Christian?  Why do you remain Catholic?”

The editor looked stunned.  Taken aback by the question, he sat in awkward silence for a few seconds, as if he didn’t understand why Rose would even ask such question.  When he finally began to speak, the words flowed out of him as if it was the most obvious theological point that could be made: “Well, I simply can’t believe in a God who doesn’t suffer with us.  God can’t be said to love us if He doesn’t suffer with us.  And the only faith that says God suffers with us is Christianity, in Christ.”

None of the other world religions would raise a finger to object to this point.  It’s not like they would protest: “Wait a minute, we believe in a God who suffers too!”  Never would they respond: “Gee, that’s a great idea.  Wish we thought of it.  Let’s adopt it ourselves.”  No, each and every one of them adamantly disavows belief in a suffering God.  Whether they see it as ridiculous or scandalous, they flee from it.  They either mock the idea as foolish or condemn it as blasphemous—or both.  No other world religion wants any part of a suffering God.

And that’s why no other religion can claim to believe in a God of love.

See, if you want to believe that God is love—and most people do—then you have to believe in a God who is with us.  In all things.  Including suffering.  That’s just what love does.  Consequently, being with us in our suffering, suffering with us, actually suffering Himself, is core to a God of love’s identity.  Central.  Essential.  A God of love is only true to His identity, only fulfills His identity as a God of love, when He suffers with us. 

Suffering love is what makes a God of love most God-like!

Like a firefighter who isn’t willing to run into a burning building, a God of love may “do” many other things well, may fulfill many other aspirations of faith.  But if you don’t believe in a God who suffers with us, then you can’t believe in a God of love.  And only one faith dares to claim that the Lord of the Universe became human and did suffer with us.    

That’s why it matters whether you believe in Jesus or not.   

So, do you think you can believe in a God of love without believing in Jesus?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  You can go to the “Contact E. J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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