I was tempted to laugh when I heard that President Trump had told an audience in Ohio that the Democratic runner Joe Biden would 'hurt God' if he replaced him as President. It seems such a preposterous thing to say, given the gulf that exists between 'the created' and 'The Creator'.
The thought of any human being having the power to frustrate God's plans or overrule His will seems ludicrous in the extreme. In fact, the words of Isaiah the prophet immediately came to mind:
God sits above the circle of the earth.
The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!
He spreads out the heavens like a curtain
and makes his tent from them.
He judges the great people of the world
and brings them all to nothing.
They hardly get started, barely taking root,
when he blows on them and they wither.
The wind carries them off like chaff. (Is.40:22-25 NLT)
It's tempting to think that his words were 'Trumpian shorthand' of course, and that the President was simply suggesting that support for Biden would damage his political prospects and/or the favoured status that evangelicals enjoy at the moment.
I think my brothers and sisters in the United States need to take great care, though, because however much they applaud Trump's support for the causes they hold so dear, both the Bible and church history teach us that the church should be wary of getting too close to the state. Political authorities are at best God's servants and it is a dangerous delusion to think that He needs any political leader to ensure that either He or the Church can survive.
But whatever Mr Trump meant by the phrase 'hurt God', he was stating a truism because the God we encounter in the Scriptures and above all in Jesus of Nazareth is no dispassionate, unemotional being. In fact, the very reverse is true. When talking about God or the gods, the ancient Greek philosophers talked in terms of 'apatheia' (an inability to feel anything) and 'detachment'.
Christians on the other hand, believe in a God who feels our pain and is affected by our behaviour. Al Hsu puts it well in his helpful book, Grieving a Suicide.
'God's suffering,' he writes, 'is not theoretical. His knowledge of suffering is experiential. He does not just know about our suffering. Rather, He knows through Jesus' experience what human suffering is.'
Rejecting Him certainly hurts Him then, not least because of the catastrophic consequences that can follow this. The gospel writer Luke was familiar with pain because of his work as a doctor. He tells us that as Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, He was so upset that He simply wept over their refusal to listen to His teaching.
Persecuting His followers clearly hurts Jesus too. We need to remember this as we read the latest reports of persecution coming from all quarters of the globe. No one understood that better than the apostle Paul. Jesus didn't ask him why he was persecuting the church. He simply said, 'Why are you persecuting me?'
And given the readiness with which political opponents tend to rubbish each other, it might be worth recalling something Paul told his friends in Ephesus.
'Don't use foul or abusive language,' he said. 'Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.' (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)
We often say, 'Words can never hurt me,' but we know that this is not true. Words do wound, and slander can destroy someone's reputation, but I wonder if we ever think about the impact our words have on God. The Greek word Paul uses is uncompromising; the things we say can and do hurt Him - badly.
We'd all do well to remember that, even if we aren't budding politicians. We may not be able to frustrate His plans, but we can certainly break His heart - all of us, not just Joe Biden.
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.
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