Living With the Tension

I sing to my children, “Jesus loves me, this is I know….” and “Jesus loves the little children.”

Jesus is love.  That’s the message in the melody.

I sing (more like chant): “God is so big, so strong and so mighty! There’s nothing my God cannot do.”

And there it is, the lesson of God’s greatness, His majesty and power.

I sing again: “God is so good….God is so good….God is so good, He’s so good to me.”

His goodness, His grace, His might, His love.  I sing them as lessons, I read them on the pages of Bible storybooks and bedtime devotionals and my kids soak these in, the stepping stones of theology and doctrine.

Somehow kids can take all this in, the vast array of God’s character, the completeness of who He is, and accept it without conflict or contradiction or competition.

But we age so often into adult extremists, wanting to shove God into ill-fitting categories, taking stands along divisive theological battle-lines, innocently enough most of the time.  We don’t realize it usually.  Generations swing wide from one dangerous cliff to another, rarely achieving the balance, and we swing along with them.

We’re rarely comfortable with the tension implicit in God’s character.

But this is who God is: Perfect, living as the only One who can balance the holy tension between the extremes in this spiritual tug-of-war.  Labels don’t fit Him.  Our pat explanations don’t always work.  Our well-reasoned arguments fall short.

In our churches, we see this.  In our Christian books and our favorite pastors, we assume allegiances just like the early church declaring, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos” (1 Corinthians 3:4 NIV), more comfortable following humans than following our enigmatic God.

In the past, we proclaimed the importance of righteousness and living holy lives, digging ourselves into trenches of legalism and creating a Christianity more focused on moral expectations than salvation.

Now, we praise brokenness, moving past the healthiness of confession and vulnerable living, setting ourselves up all comfortable and cozy with sin–because we’re forgiven, after all.  And sin is sin and we’re already saved, so why bother reaching for holiness?

We used to drag people to the front of a sanctuary to say the sinner’s prayer and voila, pronounce them saved for all eternity.

But we’ve moved away from “cheap grace” without discipleship or fruit or revolution and now we’re “fruit” judges, examining people’s finances and the size of their homes and the cost of their shoes to determine if they’re radically committed enough to make it into heaven.

We preach messages of encouragement to one another, reminding burnt out, hard-working Christian servants that God loves us for who we are, not what we do.  We don’t need to perform for Him, don’t need to DO anything to earn His affection or merit forgiveness.

Then we tell them the church needs workers and salvation displays itself through service and how are you working for the Lord?

We categorize God into Old Testament ogre of divine retribution and New Testament Savior offering grace.

Which is God?  What is true?

Does God desire righteousness or brokenness?psalm108

Does He save us by grace alone or should our faith work itself out with fear and trembling?

Does God love us regardless of how we perform or does He want us to be working for Him?

Is God holy, just, big, good, and pure?  Or is He gracious, forgiving, all-loving, and compassionate?


Not either/or, one or the other, this or that.

But yes and amen.

God is perfectly able to inhabit this place of holy tension.

In our faith, we “become like little children” (Matthew 18:3 NIV), simply trusting Him, accepting the truths without turning them into combat zones.

Our God is holy and gracious, just and compassionate, saving us because of His grace and calling us to serve.

We return to Scripture and see that even in the Old Testament, God is characterized by grace.  He enacted a long-established plan to save us; it wasn’t an invention of the Gospel writers of the New Testament.

Because of His great love for His people Israel, He disciplined them with captivity.  Yes, even in discipline there is love.

Jeremiah the prophet declares:

“It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT)

and he reminds them of God’s promise:

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.  With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The prophet spoke of punishment and grace, captivity with the promise of freedom, destruction with the assurance of future restoration and hope.

Because this is who God is, this is His perfection, this His greatness that is beyond our capacity to understand—but that we worship.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

2 thoughts on “Living With the Tension

  1. Linda Meredith says:

    Thanks for your wisdom and sharing what you understand about God and
    who he is. I “know” some of these things, But you help me really “understand”!

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