Growing up, I had what you might call a “little-man” complex. My friends labeled me “Small Fry” at an early age, and I made it my mission to prove them wrong. While I loved soccer and running—which came naturally to me—I wanted to play baseball. But because I lacked the natural faculty to stay calm and stationary, my dad (rightly) insisted that I get my energy out running after a soccer ball rather than standing in the outfield and waiting for a ball to come my way. Thus, my high school baseball career found its only outlet in P.E. class.
During P.E., the students converged upon the diamond to choose up teams, which I hated. Yes, I was that nervous “last pick” impatiently waiting for the makeshift draft to end. When I stepped up to the plate, however, I wanted to overcome my little-man complex and so I would swing with all my might. I believed in swinging for the fence—go big or go home—but I always struck out.
Many Christians today believe in swinging for the fence. They want to be passionate, “sold out,” radical followers of Jesus, but they’re giving it their all for the wrong god. Just because someone is passionate doesn’t mean it’s healthy or right. When we invent a god in our image—like a divine buddy who is at times weak and needy—we are no longer talking about the God of the Bible.
The apostle Paul wanted to see his fellow Jews come to saving faith in Christ. But he was distraught that so many had rejected the gospel. He wrote to the Roman Christians, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:1–2, emphasis added).
You can have zeal and passion, but if it is not according to the truth of Scripture, you remain lost. This doesn’t mean that we can know God fully or completely, but it does mean that we can know Him truly. Having a right knowledge of God is key. As Hosea tells us, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). But because we sometimes feel (unnecessarily) uncomfortable by our lack of understanding of the true and living God of Scripture, we end up censoring out some of His attributes.
Our “Offensive” God
Part of our functional embarrassment over “offensive” passages in Scripture stems from a low view of God. We can’t imagine that God would kill people or, much less, send people to hell. American theology tends to promote humanity and demote God. We tend to think of ourselves as generally “good” and are confused when bad things happen to good people. Many self-professing Christians prefer a tame god to the actual God revealed in the pages of Scripture.
We’re embarrassed when we read that God “shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). Then—like a televised version of an R-rated movie—we bleep out the bad parts, “creating” a new god in the process. We see this “god” on the big screen, hear about him on the local country radio station, and invoke upon his presence during times of national tragedy. But is this the triune and sovereign God of the universe?
The Character of God & Difficult Passages
God says to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). If we stopped and anchored our knowledge in God as He is revealed in Scripture, we would have a better perspective on the many difficult and “offensive” texts we find in the Bible. Let’s look at one example.
In Genesis 6–8, we read about the worldwide flood during the days of Noah. When we think of the story of Noah and the flood, we typically think of the cute animals painted on walls of Sunday school nurseries with Noah and all his furry friends looking out the windows of the ark, smiling. It’s interesting what isn’t shown or talked about. Why? We’re embarrassed about the reality of God’s justice and wrath against sin. Rather than talking about the reason for the flood, we talk about the animals—two-by-two, one pink and one blue—and wonder how Noah packed them all in there.
But the story of Noah and the ark isn’t just about zebras and turtles; it’s about God’s justice and mercy. It’s about His justice against sin and His mercy toward Noah and his family. Was it wrong for God to wipe out humanity from the face of the earth? Can we bring legitimate charges of injustice against Him? Genesis 6:5 says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The wages of sin is death and sinful humanity received their just payment.
Should we praise God for killing wicked humanity? Yes, sort of. We don’t rejoice sadistically because people die. Even God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23). But we do praise God because He is glorified in the display of justice and the execution of His eternal decrees. He has given an appropriate and right punishment for their wickedness.
Praise will be Christians’ response when God judges the unbelieving world at the end of the age. From the book of Revelation, we read that Christian martyrs will plead with him, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The unbelieving world—symbolized by “Babylon”—rejects God and His Word. As for His people, God tells them, “Rejoice over [Babylon], O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her” (Rev. 18:20). Rejoice? Yes, because God settles accounts and makes the wrongs right.
A God-Centered Life
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) captured well a God-centeredness of the Christian life. He had what some have called a “God entranced vision of all things.” Edwards argued that God’s goal, His mission, is to be glorified above all else. The praise and worship of God is the purpose for which He created the world.
You might object at this point: “Well, if that’s true, then God is just a self-centered, egomaniac.” But if God were to pursue any goal other than His own glory, it would be idolatry. He would be elevating the creation above Himself, the Creator. It is necessary and right that God’s chief end is to glorify Himself, for our sake. Here’s what Edwards wrote:
Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication, or participation of these in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love, and complacence.
To glorify God is to treasure Him, praise Him, trust Him, love Him, and to value what He values (namely, Himself) above all else. Our chief end—as the Westminster divines expressed (1640s)—is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” And the primary way that we glorify God is to enjoy, treasure, and obey Him above all else.
We desperately need to reclaim the centrality, power, authority, glory, majesty, wonder, holiness, and sovereign grace of God in our preaching, teaching, and worship. We need to reclaim His wisdom and His design for our families and churches, our vocations, parenting, and ministries of mercy to the poor and the outcast. Our theology and faith need to be dripping with a humble joy in the greatness of God as He is revealed in Scripture. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), not the other way around.
 As seen in the problematic book by Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Anchor Books, 1981).
 John Piper and Justin Taylor, A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004).
 Jonathan Edwards, “Dissertation On the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1:120.
 Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Part of this is an excerpt from Brian Cosby, Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2015).