Being Right With God
Romans 5.1 Now that we have been put right
with God through faith ...
I'm not sure that I want to be
"put right with God" or "counted innocent" before God. In saying that, I
don't intend to cock a snoot at anyone. Nor do I claim to be holier than
thou or perfect in any way. Nor do I intend to criticise or contradict
At one level I hope to reflect, however inadequately,
the unexpressed feelings and perceptions of many today. I suspect that
they, like me, might be Christians on the fringes of, or entirely outside,
Perhaps if more people did want to be put right with
this God, there might be greater pressure on the empty pews of many
congregations. Perhaps an increasing number of ordained men and women,
instead of experiencing isolation and a sense of futility in their
ministries, might feel more fulfilled than they often do.
Or, on the other hand, us exiles may have failed to
grasp the free gift of reconciliation which is ours if only we believe the
Gospel tradition once and for always delivered to the saints. Or perhaps
all we have to do is open ourselves up to God's Spirit and, as Paul once
was, we'll be swept up to Paradise (2 Corinthians 12.3).
But such options somehow don't feel right to me.
To put it another way: I share with many others a radical break from
how God has been thought of for many centuries. As far as I can tell,
until comparatively recently (thinking in terms of centuries) a large
majority has perceived God as an other-worldly monarch, a superior being
who regards us lower humans as servants or subjects. God lays down what we
must do and be. If we meet God's standards we are counted as good, judged
However, if we fail to meet God's standards and priorities, it seems we
open ourselves to divine displeasure. In extreme cases a person may be
condemned to separation from God (exile from "the Kingdom of God") or some
other punishment. In particular, if a person fails to accept Jesus of
Nazareth as personal saviour, the immediate outcome is likely to be
In such circumstances it's obviously important to be on God's side. As
Paul says in today's reading from his letter to the Romans, "Christ died
for the wicked" (that's us) and has now "made us God's friends." That is,
we're no longer enemies of the heavenly ruler. We can put aside guilty
feelings for having double-crossed the guy in the sky. We have been "put
right with God" provided we talk the talk and walk the walk.
This rendering may be a caricature. Nevertheless, it seems to me that
this or something very much like it remains when clever, elaborate
theological language is stripped away.
If I cut still deeper, I must admit that every fibre of my being
resists the idea of capitulating to God as if to a powerful monarch. Nor
do I wish to be disciplined or forgiven like an errant child by a heavenly
parent-figure. I don't think I'm alone in this. A God who requires from me
humiliating obedience, or child-like dependence, isn't attractive.
A Church modelled upon such a God-figure is repellent. That it also
tends to demand that I abandon good sense to believe in silly or
irrational teachings isn't good news for me. And I'm not surprised it
isn't good news for a host of others.
In summary, when I think of a traditional God, I don't want or need to
be put right with him or her on the terms quoted, thank you very much.
However, I do want to be right with God. By which I mean that I
want my life to be as far as possible in harmony with the universe. The
only God I know has been shown to me through my experience of the world
around me. To be right with this God is to strive to integrate myself with
the world in whatever way I can, to be on the same wavelength as the
creation of which I'm part.
Those who, like me, struggle to integrate with the way God does things
(in traditional language, be part of "the kingdom of heaven") will no
doubt often stumble and stagger in the attempt. Perhaps some will, like
me, experience more failure than success. Given our genes, upbringing and
personal choices over a lifetime it may often appear impossible to achieve
our aim. And there will be times when, with due deliberation, we will
consciously frustrate the way God does things on planet Earth.
The good news is that even though we may fall short of our
God-given potential, we're able count absolutely on the nature of the
creator of the world we live in. God need not be perceived as a vengeful
monarch demanding obedience, or an exacting judge requiring conformance
with laws of right behaviour, or as a stern parent teaching us the lessons
I am not required to abase myself in order to qualify for forgiveness.
The truth is that we are already right with God and always have been.
That's how things are.
And I'm a Christian because I take seriously the lead of a certain
Jesus of Nazareth. He was well-integrated as a person and with his world -
perhaps perfectly so. It seems to me that everything he said and did,
conveys one way or another the truth that we are all, without exception,
acceptable to God.
Jesus lived and died with that conviction at the centre of his being.