Matthew 23:13 – Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (NIV)
Jesus never hesitated to pronounce scathing indictments against those who were pushing people away from God — like the leaders who burdened consciences with endless "shoulds" and "ought-tos". In spite of Jesus' sharp words, Christianity has retained this very bent, and God is sometimes seen as an unapproachable tyrant.
This is what almost destroyed the medieval monk, Martin Luther. He said: "I hated the just God who punishes sinners. … Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the gospel; and through the gospel threatens us with justice and wrath?" Luther had been shaped by his medieval culture, and so he assumed that he could appease God's wrath only through self-contrived holiness. It made Luther miserable. His conscience would not let him simply trust in God's grace — until, through a bold step of faith, Luther encountered the God of grace. That changed his entire outlook — not only on God, but on the Bible and even the entire world. He saw God's delightful promises everywhere. Nothing could stop Luther from declaring this "new theology" to the world: justification by faith. It was a spark that would rock Europe with the Reformation. Yet Luther's spiritual discovery was quickly eclipsed by political zeal and stagnant religious ritual; and then God was no more approachable than before. Nevertheless, sixteenth century reforms produced Bibles and literature for all, enabling many to discover the approachable God of promise.
Today, people still react against the church's past failures. Fearful of again portraying God as an exclusivist, demanding tyrant, they shift towards an accommodation of the faith, rather than conversion to Christ. And again, God becomes distanced and unapproachable.
Seeing our inclination to distance God is disheartening; but that can also be a seedbed of hope. By fixing our eyes on the God of promise more than on human failure, we nurture hope and assurance. We see that God's love is far too potent to give up on humanity.
Today, countless people still seek and find God. Deep in their souls, they echo the psalmist's prayer:
Psalm 90:14 – Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (NIV)
Likewise for you and me, when we open our hearts to God, we discover Him to be intensely approachable.
Prayer: Lord, we invite You to work in our hearts and in our lives, that we may enjoy Your approachable presence and that we may be a testimony to Your true nature. Amen.