What is God’s reputation in your community? When the people in your neighborhood or workplace think about God, do they view God as having a good reputation or a bad reputation? I would encourage you to ask them. You might find it fascinating to hear what they have to say, and it just might lead to a spiritual conversation. To clarify, the question is not about the church’s reputation in your community. The question is also not about Christians’ reputations in your community. Of course the conversation might get into those very related topics. But the question is: what do people in your community think of God? In their view, does he have a good reputation or a poor reputation? And why?
If people answer that question negatively, or perhaps critically, it might be due to blaming him for allowing bad things to happen. Also, and this is where the conversation might drift into the topics of the church and Christians, people sometimes have a negative view of God because they have watched hypocrisy from Christians, or they have been hurt by Christians. Recently evangelicals have garnered a poor reputation for the way some of our ranks have behaved morally and politically. Studies have even shown that people don’t want to follow Jesus because his so-called followers don’t follow his teachings. Yikes. Is that true of you?
Prepare for negative responses by determining to just listen to people, to ask clarifying questions, and by avoiding rebutting their opinion. Too often we Christians have been argumentative as we have shared our faith. What we should do is follow the method of Jesus. Skim through the Gospels and notice how frequently he asks questions. Listen for how your friends and neighbors describe their opinion of God’s reputation. Try to learn from the opinions of people in your community. Why do they believe what they believe? What has led them to the conclusions they have arrived at?
I think it is also likely that people will have positive responses. As Gandhi once said, “I like their Christ, but I do not like their Christian.” Like Gandhi, people generally have a positive view of Jesus, and for good reason: Jesus was simply amazing, loving and genius. Sometimes people say they do not like what they perceive to be the legalistic, punishing God of the Old Testament, but they really like the gracious, forgiving, self-sacrificial Jesus. If you are looking for common ground with people who have a negative view of God, I suspect Jesus just might be that common ground.
I am asking what God’s reputation is in your community because it has everything to do with the next few chapters of Ezekiel. If you have an opportunity this weekend, take a moment and read Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. They are wild chapters. Then join us on the blog next week as we talk further about God’s reputation.