Throughout my life I have heard different promises made on God’s behalf. Some of them, I have found, were scriptural. Many were not. Here is a sampling:
- Once you have accepted Jesus, you will not feel the need any longer for all of that worldly stuff.
- Once you have accepted Jesus, all of that worldly stuff will become yours by rights, because God will give you everything you deserve and desire if you just believe hard enough.
- God hates the sin but loves the sinner.
- God hates anyone who doesn’t live perfectly according to the law.
- God hates people who don’t look and act and speak like (whoever was talking at the time).
- God hates.
We need to be careful about how we talk about the promises of God. Because promises can be broken. In fact, don’t we say that promises were made to be broken? Everyone has experienced it, in broken relationships, broken lives, broken hearts. God help us, some people have experienced it in broken bodies – bodies that we’ve broken ourselves, or bodies that have been broken for us by someone we trusted, someone who promised not to break us. So when we talk about promises, we need to be careful. Because everyone we meet has some experience with promises that have been made, and broken. And the question that they most likely have is, how is God different?
And the best answer I can offer is the cross. Not the cross as it is sometimes portrayed: as the site of the most epic story of child abuse that has ever been turned into a world religion. Not the cross as a glorified gore-fest of a Hollywood blockbuster. But the cross of Christ. The cross that reveals the lengths to which God will go to assure us of God’s love. The cross that tells the story of a God who loved the world by becoming a part of it, not by condemning it. The cross that points to a story of relationship and love and betrayal and death and new beginnings and redemption. A story that is so very familiar because we have all lived it. We all know what it is to live in this broken world, and to be loved and to be betrayed and to know that death is our end-game. And this is the very story that God stepped into when God became human.
God didn’t have to. God, being God, could have done, well, pretty much anything. But God chose relationship. God chose to come to us, to be in relationship with us, even when that led to pain and death, and then, God being God, God chose to show us how redemption can come even from betrayal. God chose to show us that death does not have to hold us captive, even if it is our end-game.
I don’t know if this exactly resolves the questions about God’s promises. I don’t think I can heal breaches that were made by others. But I do think that the cross undoes a lot of the ways that people want to co-opt God for their own agendas. Because there we see a major difference between human promise-breakers and God. God will give everything, even God’s very self, for the sake of a promise.