Daily Reading for July 3
The changes which have been taking place in our ideas about God have been mainly in the direction of a purified ethical conception of his character. We have been learning to believe, more and more, in the justice, the righteousness, the goodness of God. In the oldest times men thought him cruel and revengeful; then they began to regard him as willful and arbitrary—his justice was his determination to have his own way; his sovereignty was his egoistic purpose to do everything for his own glory. We have gradually grown away from all that, and are able now to believe what Abraham believed, that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
In the presence of a God who, I am assured, is a being of perfect righteousness, who never blames any one for what he cannot help, who never expects of any one more than he has the power to render, who means that I shall know that his treatment of me is in perfect accord with my own deepest intuition of truth and fairness and honor, I can stand up and be a man. My faith will not be the cringing submission of a slave to an absolute despot, but the willing and joyful acceptance by a free man of righteous authority.
Now it is certain that the belief of the Christian church respecting the character of God has been steadily changing, in this direction, through the Christian centuries. Enlightened Christians have been coming to believe, more and more, in a good God; and by a good God I mean not merely a good-natured God, but a just God, a true God, a fair God, a righteous God. The growth of this conviction has been purging theology of many crude and revolting dogmas.
It is a great deliverance which is wrought out for us when we are set free, in our religious thinking, from the bondage of unmoral conceptions, and are encouraged to believe that God is good. It is a great blessing to have a God to worship whom we can thoroughly respect. A tremendous strain is put upon the moral nature when men are required, by traditional influences, to pay adoration and homage to a being whose conduct, as it is represented to them, is, in some important respects, conduct which they cannot approve. All the religions, through the imperfection of human thought, have put that burden on their worshipers.
Christianity has been struggling, through all the centuries, to free itself from unworthy conceptions of the character of its Deity, and each succeeding re-statement of its doctrines removes some stain which our dim vision and halting logic had left upon his name.
From The Church and Modern Life by Washington Gladden (1908); found at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12290/12290-8.txt.