This page is a work in progress at understanding the history of the character of God issue. Some portions are represented by not much more than headings. I have included sources where possible. The hope is that others might come across more details of the history and be able to suggest how to fill in the blanks. Note that this website, to some degree, is meant to be a cooperative effort from various contributors. Contact me if you have more to add – Ray.
God Never Changes
So His character never changes. While God may interact differently with different people at different times in different circumstances, it is precisely because He does not change that He always does the most loving thing as required in a situation. Thus, He might appear to change.
But what has really changed is our perception of Him. We are the ones subject to change. So while God’s character is a constant, our perception of what He is like has changed over history and been affected by various forces.
It is interesting to look into the progression, over time, of the issue of how God’s character is understood.
God’s Character is Perfect
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him.” (2 Sam 22:31)
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
God’s Creation and Law are Perfect
When God built His universe He built it to operate in harmony with His own nature of love. The construction protocol on which God built His universe is known as God’s law and this law is the law of love, an expression of His nature and character.
Functionally, Paul describes this law as “love seeks not its own,” or “love is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). This means that love is selfless rather than selfish. Love is giving rather than taking and life is actually built, by God, to operate on this principle of giving.
A simple example of this law in action is respiration. With every breath we breathe we give away carbon dioxide (CO2) to the plants and the plants give back oxygen to us (the law of respiration). This is God’s design for life, a perpetual circle of free giving. It is an expression of God’s character of love, and life is built to operate on it. If you break this law, this circle of giving, by tying a plastic bag over your head and selfishly hoarding your body’s CO2, you break the design protocol for life and the result is death. “The wages [result] of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This circle of giving is the law that God constructed life to operate on.
(This section is from the Preface to The Remedy NT. As this source described some portions of this history quite well, it is quoted also in places below as The Remedy NT.)
Satan’s Charges Against the Character of God
Scripture does not reveal much detail here but we are told that Satan is in conflict with the government of God. The start of Satan’s rebellion is described by Ezekiel under the figure of the king of Tyre:
“Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.” (Eze 28:14-19)
Being an anointed covering cherub indicates that Satan (originally, named Lucifer) was one of the highest angels in heaven with a position in the throne room of the universe. Isaiah goes further in describing Satan’s aims – aims that put him very much in conflict with God:
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isa 14:12-15)
Revelation adds a little more:
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev 12:7-9)
The word “war” in verse 7 is translated from the Greek word polemos (Strong’s G4171) from which we get words such as polemics and politics.
If Satan intended to essentially take God’s place as ruler of the universe, he must have had a political platform and have conducted a campaign to gain support. It seems that he actually did finally win the support of one third of the angels:
“And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” (Rev 12:4)
A typical tactic in political campaigns (as we very much see in our world) is to attack the character of one’s opponent.
God’s Reaction to the Charges
Being primarily a political conflict, God did not use force to expel Satan. If it were such a war and if God was to resort to the use of force to solve it, the debate would have ended long ago. In regard to the question of using force, we have Jesus’ example. When confronted with the question of the use of force, He said to Peter:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:52-53)
God’s solution was to demonstrate to us and all the intelligent beings in the universe that His ways are the best. This was done largely through the incarnation, life and death of Jesus:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Heb 2:14)
Thus, as begin to understand the details, is the character of God revealed in contrast to that of Satan. That is the object of this website.
All the World is a Stage
How planet earth became the focus of the universe.
God’s Character Revealed in Jesus
The church, after Christ’s ascension, taught a theology that focused on the principles of love and therefore taught Christ’s mission was to reveal truth (John 14:6), defeat Satan (Hebrews 2:14), destroy death (2 Timothy 1:10), and restore the law of love into humankind (1 John 3:8). This is known as the recapitulation theory of atonement. (The Remedy NT)
Early Church History
Justin Martyr (A.D. 103-165) taught that Christ came to do three things: to overthrow death, to destroy Satan, and to restore humanity back to God’s design, thus providing eternal life to fallen humanity.
“[Christ] having been made flesh submitted to be born of the Virgin, in order that through this dispensation (1) the Serpent, who at the first had done evil, and the angels assimilated to him might be put down and (2) death might be despised.” (Robert S. Franks, A History of the Doctrine of the Work of Christ in Its Ecclesiastical Development, vol. 1 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1918), p21)
Robert Franks describes Justin’s theology:
“In fact we find in Justin clear indications of the presence to his mind of the recapitulation theory, afterwards more fully developed by Irenaeus, according to which (3) Christ becomes a new head of humanity, undoes the sin of Adam by reversing the acts and circumstances of his disobedience, and finally communicates to men immortal life.” (Ibid., p22)
Franks also describes the theology of Irenaeus (second century A.D.-202):
“We come here to the famous Irenaean doctrine of Recapitulation. The conception is that of Christ as the Second Adam, or second head of humanity, who not only undoes the consequences of Adam’s fall, but also takes up the development of humanity broken off in him, and carries it to completion, i.e. to union with God and consequent immortality.
‘It was God recapitulating the ancient creation of man in Himself, that He might slay sin, and annul death, and give life to man… The Son of God, when He was incarnate and was made man, recapitulated in Himself the long line of men, giving us salvation compendiously (in compendio), so that what we had lost in Adam, viz. that we should be after in the image and similitude of God, this we should receive in Jesus Christ.’ ” (p 37-38)
Amazingly, the early church understood that Christ’s mission was to rebuild humanity back into God’s original design. They realized that God’s law of love was the template on which He built His universe and rightly realized that in order to save humankind the law on which life is constructed to operate had to be restored into humanity. Christ’s mission was to restore humankind back into harmony with God! (The Remedy NT)
A “Change” to God’s Law
But this truth was lost and another concept of law replaced it: Romanism. Imperial Rome’s concept of government and law infected Christian thought after the emperor Constantine converted. Prior to Constantine’s conversion, Christianity understood God’s law as the law of love: Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10, emphasis mine; see also Psalm 19:7; Proverbs 12:28; 21:21; Matthew 12:37-40; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
But after Constantine converted, the Christian church accepted Rome’s change to God’s law, and what was that change? That God’s law is an imposed law with no inherent consequence, thus requiring the lawgiver to police breaches in the law and inflict punishment, rather than the truth that God’s law is the natural law of love, the design protocol on which God created life to operate.
Eusebius (263-339), the first church historian, documented clearly how Christianity exchanged God’s law of love for an imposed Roman construct:
“There are no reserves in the stilted encomium [praise] with which Eusebius closes his history, no wistful regret for the blessings of persecution, no prophetic fear of imperial control of the Church. His heart is full of gratitude to God and Constantine. And it is not only his feelings that are stirred. He is ready, with a theory, indeed a theology, of the Christian Emperor. He finds a correspondence between religion and politics… With the Roman Empire monarchy had come on earth as the image of the monarchy in heaven.” (S. L. Greenslade, Church and State from Constantine to Theodosius (London: SCM Press, 1954)
Thomas Lindsay, in his book A History of the Reformation, describes this infection of Christian thought this way:
“The great men who built up the Western Church were almost all trained Roman lawyers. Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Gregory the Great (whose writings form the bridge between the Latin Fathers and the Schoolmen) were all men whose early training had been that of a Roman lawyer, a training which moulded and shaped all their thinking, whether theological or ecclesiastical. They instinctively regarded all questions as a great Roman lawyer would. They had the lawyer’s craving for exact definitions. They had the lawyer’s idea that the primary duty laid upon them was to enforce obedience to authority, whether that authority expressed itself in external institutions or in the precise definitions of the correct ways of thinking about spiritual truths. No Branch of western Christendom has been able to free itself from the spell cast upon it by these Roman lawyers of the early centuries of the Christian church.” (Thomas Lindsay, A History of the Reformation (Bibliolife, 2009), p. 168)
Christians lost sight of God’s law of love and instead accepted an imposed law system modeled after human governments. After all, if they still believed God’s law was the design law of love, like the law of respiration, then would they ever have thought a church committee could vote to change such a law (something the church did vote in committee to do)? But they could only vote to change God’s law after they first accepted the concept that His law is imposed, not natural.
Think of the Catholic churches claim to have changed the Law of God. This shows that there has been the acceptance of a change in God’s law from a natural law to an imposed law. If theologians viewed God’s law as a principle on which life is built, like the law of gravity, thermodynamics, and respiration, then they would not have been so foolish as to think or claim to change it. The fact they have “changed” it reveals the acceptance of a shift from understanding God’s law as natural to imposed.
This shift towards an imposed law with external punishments altered the view of God held by Christians and lead to such things as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and later genocidal acts.
By the time the Bible was translated into languages the common people could understand, the imposed law construct was deeply-ingrained orthodoxy. Essentially, all Bible translations have been done by people operating from the viewpoint of imposed law. What this means is that Bible translations artificially introduce imposed law with fear-inducing ideas about God. (The Remedy NT)
Martin Luther “The just shall live by faith.”
John Calvin, Calvinism
The First Great Awakening
In the 1730s and 1740s there was a Protestant religious revival (called The First Great Awakening) that swept Europe and British America. One preacher who made a big impact was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He famously preached a sermon on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The sermon was typical of many in that period with a strong emphasis on fire and brimstone meant to move people to repent of their sins to avoid the horrors of what was understood to be eternal damnation. And Edwards did all he could to make people want to avoid it. Here is a sample of his sermon:
“The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes that to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”
Of course, the main motivation with such an approach is fear. This does not line up with the Biblical message of love.
“We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Also, it promotes a very wrong image of the character of God as explained on this website.
The first Great Awakening was followed by the Second Great Awakening which began about 1790 and extended well into the 19th century.
Bible Students and the “I Did It” Idiom
Many Bible students in the past understood that there were many cases in scripture where God was said to have done that which He only allowed. Here is one example:
“God is often said to do that which he merely commands, causes, or permits to be done.” (Bush, George, Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Genesis, Volume 1 (Chicago: B. C. Greigs & Co., 1838, p. 88)
“He gave them up … that is, he permitted them to rush by their own will, or as impelled by the devil: for this signification of permission is extremely frequent in the Hebrew verbs …” (Melanchthon, Philip, as quoted in The Dark Side of Things: An Exposition” in The Evangelical Repository: A Quarterly Magazine of Theological Literature (Vol. 1) (Glasgow: Lang, Adamson, 1863, p100)
For many examples of this, largely from the 1800’s, a time of spiritual enlightenment and intense Bible study, go to this page.
Recently, there has been a great increase in the number of people from a wide variety of belief systems who are challenging the standard ways of understanding God and the Traditional Legal Model of the gospel.
This site was started in December 2015 as an attempt to further this message by providing resources on the topic and helping those who promote this message work together and learn from each other. See more about this site.