I get to listen to a lot of people, and the thing they most often want from me is reassurance of God’s approval.
Regularly, when I meet with a family to plan the funeral of a loved one, they want to know that God approves of the deceased, even though – they are clear – the deceased wasn’t one for church or religion, and neither are they. Regularly, when I meet with a family requesting the baptism of their baby, the parents and god-parents speak openly in terms of hedging bets, which is another way of saying, if God exists I want his approval for my child. And regularly, when I listen to regular church goers, they express their disapproval of those who come only on occasions, of long-standing members who don’t measure up to their standards, and even of those who have recently come to faith, on the grounds that their own long-term commitment must count for greater approval on God’s part...
Why would you want the approval of someone you have so little to do with? Or why would you want approval over and against someone else?
The primary image of God that comes out in what people volunteer to me in conversation is that God is judge. The particular approval sought is not the approval of a loved one, but an impersonal legal vindication, on the basis of having lived a good life or having secured the right paperwork or having served time. The primary image of life beyond death is not one of spending eternity with God, but one in which God merely decides the destination: ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are equally devoid of God’s presence, as indeed is this life. God is Death, not Life.
In the beginning we see God creating humanity, to share in his reign as King of the Universe. In the beginning, we see God walk in the garden, seeking-out his friends. We see humanity abdicate rule, and hide from God, and we see God looking for us...In the fullness of time, we see Jesus: God and humanity walking together in harmony; King and king, who restores us as kings and queens and calls us friends once more; who sends his Spirit to walk with us, to counsel us, as we exercise rule within his kingdom. We see adventure, and battle, and sacrifice, in the service of Christ. We see present darkness, but know that the dawn is coming, that the rising of the sun and the return of the King are inevitable. And yes: Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead – but it goes on: and his kingdom shall have no end.
The focus of God as judge is not us, but the person of Jesus; and the role of Christ as judge takes its place within a bigger vision of Jesus, a vision that fills everything with wholeness.
It is not God’s approval of us that is at stake – he has already spoken that out into the world – but our approval of God-with-us in Christ Jesus.
Can I reassure you of God’s approval? Yes, I can. But unless you approve of his choice to make Jesus King; unless you are willing to offer everything you are and have to him, in exchange for everything he is and has, shared with you; then what is his approval worth, and why would you want it?