Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Darin Hufford's The Misunderstood God

Darin Hufford's The Misunderstood God is the book I credit for bringing me to Christ. While I've since delved into other important Christian books, and I don't have time to review every one, I felt I should at least take the time to discuss the importance of this one on this blog.

It is by the same publishers as those of The Shack, Paul Young's runaway Christian bestseller. According to one of the book's glowing enorsement quotes, it "scratches where The Shack causes one to itch."

At the time I first picked up this book in late 2009, I was still a skeptic (and a former "Christian"), who had grown disillusioned by secularism, in particular the atheist crowd on Sam Harris's forum. This book managed to dispel some long held and over-preached "truths" about God and Jesus that I've heard time and again since I was a college student. And to tell the truth, many of them helped drive me away from Jesus. Even when I considered myself a Christian and faithfully attended church and Bible study for years, it was lies like these that kept me form truely embracing the Lord. Among them:

God is angry and condemning to all those who do not beleive the "right" things about Him.

God is very proud and boastful, all thw while condemning pride as a sin.

God is vain and jealous, and demands our constant attention for his own ego.

God is emotionally insecure, and that is why he fordbids idoletry and forms of pleasure that aren't related to his worship.

And so forth. I had, unfortunately, developed a picture of God as an unfeeling, selfish jerk (perhaps the ultimate selfish jerk, if he condemned to hell for eternity those who did not worship Him, or did so in the wrong way), mostly thanks to the efforts of sincere, well-meaning Christians. This sorry portrait of god was probably not what they intended, but it is the definite impression of Him that I recieved from their counseling.

It is just this picture of God, I've since come to beleive, that Satan sells to us. The name "Satan" actually means "slanderer." And it is Satan's full intent to slander God. What better way to turn His children against Him than this?

Hufford helps to explode many of the slanderous myths Satan has used to tarnish the image of God.

Another very important issue Hufford brings up is one of sex. Why is it so taboo according to religion? As a secularist, I had developed a very liberal attitude toward sexuality. Like most on the Left, I saw sexuality as essentially liberating, and I think it shows in the mammoth Burroughs pastiche I wrote Jahlanna of Pellucidar. However, Hufford's recounting of the day his own father left his family, without a single word to him, I found heartbreaking. His father had fallen in "love" with a secretary at work. The reason for this gross act of immorality? The supposedly liberating sex drive. Because it, the author had his family torn apart and was forced to cope with years of emotional anguish. Sex is a primal instinct to reproduce. It is part of our genes; as such, it is not inherently evil; but it IS concerned with self-progation, and thus, almost by definition, unconcerned with the well-being of others.

And THIS is why Jesus preached about adultry in such overtly harsh terms. The libido is a drive, that, like fire, needs to be tamed and condition, lest it rage out of control and do terrible damage to ourselves and to others.

We tend to forget that sometimes, though. It is often implied that God forbids sex out of marraige because of His supposedly fragile ego, and/or that he is terribly jealous of any form of pleasure we humans may enjoy. In other words, it' all about Himself.

But we've got it backwards.

It's really all about us. God does not prohibit pleasure to feed his own ego to to spoil our fun. We really ARE his children, and as such God's sole purpose is keep us from harm, and from bringing harm upon one another. It's been an unfortunate but common argument among the New Atheists that Christians are concerned with morality apart from human well-being. And the most tragic thing is that a lot of Chistians do tend to define morality in exactly such a way. But Darin Hufford has helped to demonstrate why this is not so, and should not be so.

One interesting passage in this book has it that when the author asked some pastors what if, in heaven, they found Jesus conversing with members of other faiths, and with homosexuals, that would be angered.

Angered? Really? Such a response, especially from pastors, demonstrates wit utmost clarity that there is indeed a common train of thought among beleivers that regards Christianity is an exclusive club where outsides are not permitted. And such a picture of Christ contrasts strikingly with a hideously unforgiving passage I read long ago, penned by the late Christian author Roger Elwood, in regard to the fate of homosexuals.

But perhaps Hufford's strongest point in regard to our relationship to God is that He is a being of pure Love, and as such, the emotion of fear is totally antithetical to His nature. "God does not delight in fear tactics," Hufford writes. "Love simply never thinks this way. When we use fear either to convert people or to get them to follow rules, we are partnering with evil. All fear is evil. God does not delight in the use of evil to manipulate His children into salvation or repentance p. 132). And even more to the point, "Threats of hell were never meant to be the argument that drew people to God. The Holy Spirit draws people to God.(p.133).

Bravo, Hufford.

It was Holy Spirit that drew me to God. The same applies to any and all genuine conversions of which I am aware. The insistence upon hell to frighten converts has the almost inevitable (however unintended by evangelicals) side effect of slandering God. While my friend from an Arminian blog insists that a totally forgiving God "guts Missionary work," that argument is vald only is one is attempting to use fear to gain converts.

Hufford's book has, perhaps unsurprisingly, stirred up contoversy, as expected, mainly among the more orthodox crowd, the main criticism being that the book focuses entirely on God's love while ignoring His wrath.

While I disagree with these initial criticisms, I do beleive that Hufford emphasis on God as Love is indeed flawed in places. He writes, "God protects you because He loves you. Not because you are being good and following the rules" (page156). I think that statement is good, as far as it goes. However, it is not too difficult to discern how this statement can be taken too far. And this I beleive Hufford does when when he tells his readers "Know for sure that God will never, ever, lift His hand of protection from you! Your security is sacred to Him" (page 157).

This sounds virutally the same as the most common argument used by proponants of Eternal Security. And in fact I have since discovered that Hufford indeed subscribes to a soft form (at least I think it is a soft form) of OSAS. While Hufford's point that fear of a wrathful, vengeful God disrupts genuine trust in Him is a good one, it must be said that a caring father (as Hufford's argument assumes God must be) will also not take an all-permissive attitude of anything goes toward His children. There WILL be limits set, and there were be punishments, althought these will be corrective, not eternal, in nature. Another flaw in Hufford's beleif in the security of salvation is the same as other OSAS propoants: merely because God would never remove his hand of protection from his children does NOT mean his children are therefore held in his grasp against their will; on the contrary, any sheep is perfectly free to stray from the fold by his own design.

This particular breach of reason paralells OSAS preacher Charles Stanley's use of the parable of the Prodical Son to show God's unconditional love for all his children, seemingly ignoring that blatant fact that the son was perfectly free to squander his inherentice in the first place.

Nevertheless, Hufford's book desserves needed credit for exploding some dangerous and pervasive falsehoods about the nature of God.

"If you look to the flame of love you have in your heart for your child and consult it," Hufford tells us, "you will know how to act and react. Try it" (page 206).

I have and it works for me.

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