One problem we will have to live with is the many tensions we find in the Bible. This is especially true when we try to understand the attributes of God’s, such as loving and merciful on one hand, and God’s justice and punishment on the other. If we come down too much on one side without taking into consideration the other, we have a distorted view of God. For example, some people reduce God to a single attribute according to what it says in 1 John 4:8 (NRSV): “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Yes, unconditional love is an attribute of God, but not the only attribute. If you come down too much on the side of “God is love,” then we discount the fact that God is also just, does not tolerate sin, and that we are all accountable to God. Too much love and we make out God to be jolly old Saint Nick – a Santa Claus figure. Too little love, and God is wrathful, mean, vengeful, and uncaring.
These are the tensions we live with, and that’s just what they are – tensions. They are not contradictions or inaccuracies, but simply tensions that are difficult for us, with our limited abilities, to come to terms with. Therefore, the best advice I can give you is to live with the tensions, and try not to come down too far on one side or the other in your understanding of God and God’s ways.
The important thing to remember is that the Bible is God’s gift to us, and God also has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read it and meditate on it. Before I trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, what little I knew about the Bible made no sense to me. Now that I have the Holy Spirit, I understand much more – not because I’m any smarter, but because I have the Holy Spirit to guide me.
Understanding follows faith: put your faith in Christ, and understanding will follow. So give God a chance to work in your life, by placing your faith in Christ and then studying the Bible to learn the things we discussed earlier. You’ll be surprised at what you learn and understand, and how your life will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.