Monday, February 08, 2010

The Dynamics of Kindness, or Why Some Christians Are Cold

What kind of people are Christians? A  common perception is of coldness, judgementalism, arrogance and hypocrisy.

A stereotypical caricature often refuted by 'christians I know' but I know I can tend towards unkindness. Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.

Such coldness looks like Naomi in The Book of Ruth. She and her family go out from the people of God. Her confession in chapter 1 is that God is against her.

Bethlehem is celebrating Passover, before the barley harvest - famine is over, salvation is in the air - Naomi is the wet blanket and the grey cloud. Naomi's god is mean and she need to tell you. Her god is against her.

Only when she finds her home again under the saving wings of the LORD among his people does she begin to see that the LORD in his kindness has not abandoned her but rather lavishes kindness upon her.

Studying Ruth again recently with our home group, I've been struck again by the sheer kindness of the LORD in this romantic comedy (yes a Bible Rom-Com). The key picture is of refuge under wingsA bird diving for cover and comfort with its mother, it's warm and vivid and its life-giving
In the middle two chapters of the book, which are the ones that are actually about Ruth (Naomi seems more prominent in chapters 1 and 4), we find a widow who is a foreigner and a Moabite at that. The most excludable kind of woman.

Ruth is welcomed by the people of God, represented by Boaz. She takes refuge in the people of God (under the wings of Boaz) and under the wings of the LORD. As to the LORD, as to the people of the LORD.

These two actions seem inseparable, and no surprise because how could we expect someone to be able to say Your God Is My God if they can't also say Your People Will Be My People? The two go together, and are the way the experience of kindness is found.

Ruth experiences the LORD's kindness through his people. This side of the cross the same dynamic is surely at work - we experience the definitive kindness of the LORD at the cross through his people (and in our hearts by the Spirit).

Imagine the Christian who goes out from the people of God, and who says I'll just go solo, a lone-ranger off to win the world for Christ. 

If such a person detaches from the people of God then what do they win people to? 
What message do they have other than one of hell-avoidance? 
What kind of God do they believe in as they speak with no experience of relationship? 

The god of such evangelists would surely be more of a cold monad than Triune God - solo and unrelational.

Such evangelism soon becomes functional and not overflowing with kindness and blessing as the people of God are.

The god of such evangelism is soon one who stands over against people rather than for them with an invitation to warm fellowship with himself and his people.

I'm not saying don't warn of hell but does not the evangelist appeal on God's behalf with an invite to relationship more than anything else?

Such is the message of the cross. We're right to speak much of propitiation! But let us not think that penal substitution is just about mere wrath-aversion and hell-avoidance.

Propitiation is about a declaration that the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is now definitively, unchangeably propitious towards His People.

He will be forever kind and favourable, not on the basis of anything in his people but on the basis of the blood of the one under whose saving wings they're to take refuge. Favourable because of Jesus. Warm because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another. A invite to find life in the LORD among his people.

In the middle chapters of Ruth we're beginning to see the dynamics of experiencing the kindness of God fleshed out. We see the abundant kindness of the LORD: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his people.

God invites us into a marital and familial relationship. Its espousal theology (Sibbes), full of warmth and kindness, full of unconditional kindess for the LORD is kind.

A woman of noble character (Ruth 3:10, Proverbs 31:10-31) takes refuge in the kind LORD. As the church we've taken refuge, let us enjoy his kindness and the life of this expanding fellowship of love into which all are welcome to come - whatever ethnicity, whatever gender, whatever their sin - for the LORD is kind, right? 

Download Ruth eBook 


  1. Thanks. And doesn't hell begin to make sense as a bitter place of love spurned once we get this? I've always appreciated Stott's reply to Nietzsche, on "the grievous damage done by half-truths..." (p 115).

    "God's love is the source, not the consequence of the atonement. As P.T. Forsyth expressed it, 'the atonement did not procure grace, it flowed from grace'. God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God lovedus. If it is God's wrath which needed to be propitiated, it is God's love which did the propitiating. If it may be said that the propitiation 'changed' God, or that by it he changed himself, let us be clear that he did not change from wrath to love, or from emnity to grace, since his character is unchanging. What the propitiation changed was his dealings with us. 'The distinction I ask you to observe', wrote PT Forsyth, 'is between a change of feeling and a change of treatment...God's feeling to us never needed to be changed. But God's treatment of us, God's practical relation to us - that had to change.'
    John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.203

  2. Thanks for this. I love the book of Ruth.

    'Imagine the Christian who goes out from the people of God, and who says I'll just go solo, a lone-ranger off to win the world for Christ. If such a person detaches from the people of God then what do they win people to? What message do they have other than one of hell-avoidance?'

    And therein you have 'nailed' a great danger for evangelicals. Evangelism is individualistic, and the chief end of man is hell-avoidance. Sure, I'd take the lone ranger hell-avoidance individualist every time over the psa-denier or any number of other distortions of the gospel. But that doesn't mean we have to always settle for less than best just because that's better than downright falsehood.

  3. I can think of worse things than a right Christian bastard - I'll wack em you stack em.