Fill in the blank (with one word): “God is .”
If you already know how the Bible completes that statement, good for you! But I’m sad to report that you are among a minority of religiously-inclined folks in the United States. While the vast majority of Americans profess to believe in God, a majority of Americans don’t have a very positive view of the God they believe in!
Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion wanted to know what Americans think about God. So, in 2005, they hired the famous Gallup polling organization to find out.[i] A 400-question survey was filled out by 1,721 adults, and the Institute began releasing the results in early 2006. In part, the survey instructions said, “We know that a lot of Americans believe in God, but we want to know what you think God’s personality is like and how engaged God is in the world.” After reading the results, I can only say that most Americans who believe in God don’t know Him as well as they should or could.
The researchers discovered that Americans believe in four “Gods”:
1. The Authoritarian God—judgmental but engaged with the world (31.4%)
2. The Critical God—judgmental and not engaged with the world (16%)
3. The Distant God—completely removed from engagement (23%)
4. The Benevolent God—not judgmental and engaged with the world (25%)
Only 25 percent of those surveyed (#4) believe in a God who approaches, on a personal level, the God of the Bible: a positive God (“not judgmental”) who is willing to engage with those He created. The rest of the respondents see God as either totally absent and/or judgmental (negative) toward those He created.
Out of the four names given to the four “Gods” discovered in the survey—Authoritarian, Critical, Distant, Benevolent—only one of those words, “benevolent,” suggests that God is positive—a God who likes to say “Yes.” The other three suggest a negative God—a God who is most likely to say “No.”
The Job of God
But is it God’s job to say “No” to His children? Apparently, a lot of religious folks think it is.
Let’s go back to the fill-in-the-blank statement I presented earlier: “God is .” I think a lot of people might fill in the blank with words like “angry,” “critical,” “distant,” “negative,” “mad,” “pessimistic,” and “limiting.” They think it is God’s job to catch His children doing bad things and then to punish them for it. And the way to keep them from having the chance to do bad things is just to say “No” when they ask.
And guess what? People who view God that way are, based on my decades of observation, likely to be people who say “No” themselves. Recent studies are even more negative regarding church attendance and faith in our country citing that the number of people belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque dropped below 50 percent to 47 percent in 2020, down from 70 percent in 1999. The study attributes this to the increase in Americans who have no religious affiliation, and those who do have a religious affiliation aren’t becoming members of a church.[ii] How did God, and we His people, get this negative rap and rep(utation)? We may deserve it, but God certainly doesn’t.
How does the Bible fill in that blank? This way: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). In other words, God is the God of “Yes,” not the God of “No.”
But let’s be biblical here: Does the God of love, the God who is “Yes,” ever say “No”? Of course! But He does it like we do with our own children: “Yes, I want you to have a wonderful and fruitful life. So I say ‘Yes’ to everything that will help you become who I created you to be. But I reserve the right to say ‘No’ to the things that I know may hurt you and cause you pain.” In other words, God’s occasional “No” is always within the context of His loving “Yes.” With God, we can assume “Yes” unless He says differently—not vice versa.
If you are ever asked to describe God in a word, I want you to be able to shout, “God is love!” and He wants to bless you—that is encompassed in this word, “Yes!”
David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, and the founder and host of the Turning Point for God broadcast ministry. For more information about Turning Point and David Jeremiah, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org
[i] http://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=41678 (accessed November 8, 2013).
[ii] Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time,” Gallup, March 29, 2021, https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx .
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