At a recent evening out, my long-time friend Tony (not his real name) was eager to tell me about a woman hed encountered who he considered a religious zealot. He was put off by her alleged zealotry and observed bluntly that she didn’t realise God has given up on me a long time ago. Tony’s declaration had a tongue-in-cheek veneer, but I’ve known him long enough to know he was probably dead serious so I quickly countered, assuring him God’s abandonment was not a possibility. The evening went on and was sociable; my encounter with Tony got lost among the food and the laughs.
Waking up early the next morning, I couldn’t get our exchange out of my head. All I could think of was Romans 8.38-39
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
Nor things present , nor things to come, nor powers, nor night, nor depth,
Nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from
The love of God , which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It was as if God was saying to me Are you gonna let him get away with that? Why would I blithely allow Tony to state, unchallenged, that he was beyond the reach of the God of the Universe?
Knowing that simply speaking the truth to Tony would be fruitless (I’ve chatted with him many times about faith in Christ and he has remained unmoved), I determined I would pray two things. First, I prayed God would reveal Himself to Tony in power. Why power? Tony, like so many people I’ve encountered, would consider himself a hard facts sort of person. So faith in Christ is obviously for weaklings. Or idiots. Or maybe for people ready to believe anything in the absence of any real evidence. Second I prayed God would reveal Himself to Tony in compassion. God’s compassion – his grace-bias toward every person – stands in contrast to the dogmatic, rules-and-behaviour-oriented religion Tony grew up with. Then I asked myself how would it look if Tony had a life-altering encounter with the God of power and compassion?
It’s Christmas time; the time of year when Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild takes centre stage. The thing is – and it’s easy to forget this at Christmas time – Jesus grew up to be a radical, transformational, outspoken fellow who made dangerous claims about his identity and was not above name-calling: like those religious leaders he branded whitewashed tombs, full of dead men’s bones. It’s true: Jesus did come into the world as a baby and that rightly captures our imagination. But grown-up Jesus was also bold and badass.
Have we unconsciously come to believe that God is the God of the weak? He is, to be sure, but He’s also the robust, strong God of the high-functioning and powerful. I used to know someone who, when he prayed out loud, always prayed in the strong name of Jesus. No wimpy, weakling stuff there. Why are we afraid to declare the God of unimaginable, mind-blowing power, rendering any of our own power plays puny by comparison? Imagine what transformation the God of Power might demonstrate if He got hold of Tony – the impact would be nuclear (and perhaps not entirely pretty). I ask God to bring the transformation to pass, whatever the consequences.
Then there’s the God of compassion, who cares deeply about each and every person, and who desires passionately for each of us to know Him. The God who, alongside His power, is not only in charge but who loves. Somehow, in God’s economy, his compassion and his power dwell together comfortably; they’re not opposed, like some giant metaphysical oxymoron. Like a good parent who cares deeply for her child, yet exercises sometimes-painful discipline for the good of the child, God displays both his love and his omnipotence. Both are part of His character and we do well to hang onto both, however unsettling that may be.
Who do you know who needs to experience the Compassion of God? How about his Magnificent Power? Tony needs to encounter both and as you read this I invite you to take a moment now and pray for him and for God’s intervention into his pseudo-atheistic existence. And go ahead and pray for a friend of yours who may be in the same place. And be sure to pray in the strong name of Jesus.