Just a couple of days ago in Norway, a far right-winger who calls himself a fundamental Christian went on a mission to shoot down and killing 76 innocent people, and according to a newspaper, injuring a further 97, mainly at a little island of Utoya, 50 miles from the capital, Oslo, where the same terrorist set off a car bomb which killed seven people outside Government offices.
Anders Breivik was a nationalist who had a passionate hatred of multiculturalism, Marxism and Islam. Previous to his massacre, he had associations with far right organisations, including the English Defence League. He believed in conservatism, State Christianity, and he was also involved in Freemasonry. This was not the work of a madman who had on the spur of the moment lost his marbles. Rather his mission was planned over several years, including purchasing of a farm to buy and accumulate enough fertiliser to build his car bomb. He was intelligent, apparently well educated, an excellent planner and was pictured twice in the Daily Mail newspaper both as smartly dressed, wearing a suit and tie in one photo, and a dinner jacket and bow tie in the other.
So what's all this has to do with the love of God?
And that is the point of this article. Breivik wanted to restore his country to the white, Christian nation, free of Muslim immigration and Marxist supporters. And he did it with hate, not love.
And I'm pretty well convinced that this fellow had never known the love of God, nor his saving grace. He is, of course, an extreme case, as with the Muslim terrorists, but it does reflect my doubts whether those who support such right wing organisations, such as the British National Party or the more radical English Defence League had ever known the love of God, or understand the power of the Atonement made for them by Jesus Christ. Yet members of these groups maintain that their host country, whether it would be England, Norway or elsewhere should remain Christian, with Christian laws, culture and principles.
And to Breivik, to achieve this virtual Kingdom of God on Earth, blood had to be spilt, plenty of it. And the spilt blood of children who were innocent and had little or no idea of Islam or Marxism were included in the massacre.
And it's little wonder that more and more people, particularly in Western countries, see religion as something to be outlawed. If this recent killings in Norway, which can be compared with the 9/11 bombings in the USA in 2001 and the London Transport terrorism in 2005, both the work of Muslim extremists - then little wonder Richard Dawkins wrote in his book, The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character of all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control- freak; a vindicative, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a mysogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (p.31).
Dawkins then goes on about one Old Testament story about the man who was stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath - with his screams distressing his wife and children as the fuselage struck, leaving his family without bread-winning support.
Although Dawkins uses such language, including the story of the Sabbath-breaker, in truth the vast majority of the UK population knows practically nothing of the Bible, let alone the Old Testament. This was easily demonstrated on TV quiz shows such as The Weakest Link, Mastermind and even University Challenge, where most of the Bible questions remain unanswered by the contestants. With my own leaving full time education in 1968 with absolutely no knowledge of the Bible, despite daily morning worship assembly and a weekly R.E. lesson, it is little wonder that the door of ignorance was left wide open for the likes of Richard Dawkins and his ilk to invade our minds. After all, all of Dawkins' description of God of the Old testament is also a fairly accurate description of Anders Breivik, who claimed that he was "doing God's work" in ethnic cleansing of Oslo and Utoya.
In my own personal experience, it was easier to imagine God as one punishing sin where ever it was found rather than as a God of love. This had a lot to do with both parental as well as school and church upbringing. Since my father had a tendency to look on the negative side of my childhood and not spared discipline, and in turn found it difficult to show affection (although showing affection would have been easier for him had I been female), it would have been natural to perceive God as a God of vengeance and not of love. Coupled with our Deputy Headmaster constantly wielding the cane for even talking in the corridor leading to our classrooms, and as the icing on the cake, the need to confess and do Penance every time a mortal sin was committed or spend eternity in Hell - little wonder that any spark of perception that God is love was totally quenched.
And I think this is the central thought of British life.
My wife Alex had spoken many times of her maternal grandfather's attitude of children being seen but not heard. This sort of attitude was passed from generation to generation in the UK. This attitude might have been the main ingredient for military conquest and rise of Empire, but it was the main barrier, I believe, from knowing God as a Heavenly Father. Instead, his wrath against sin had to be placated by unreserved obedience to King and Country and to conquer the heathen by subjection to God's earthly Empire.
Am I kidding? I wish I was!
I personally knew several English church-goers, younger as well as older than myself, who spoke of Empire being ordained of God. They thought well of William Blake's poem Jerusalem now sung as a popular hymn. But none of these things reflected the love of God as personal Saviour.
So the main point of this article is, how can I perceive God as a loving heavenly Father?
One, is to pick up a Bible and hold it in your hand. This is the main channel with which God uses to communicate with us. The Bible is a love letter from God to us. It tells us why we are born without knowing who he is, the fact of sin creating a barrier between him and us, and what God himself did to remove this barrier and reconcile us to himself.
So the fact that the Bible exists is in itself proof of God's love to mankind.
Then the contents of the Bible. In it we read that through sin we are separated from God, and left that way, the whole of mankind would spend eternity in Hell, separated from God forever. God's justice demanded this.
But because of God's love, he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. Now through believing, all can have their sins washed away and be reconciled to God and enjoy his love forever.
And that leads us to why we are here. Not a product of Evolution, but created by God for the pleasure of sharing his love with us.
God is love. That is quite different to saying that God has love.
God had always enjoyed eternity past as three persons in one Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Father loves the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit loves the Father. The Son loves the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit loves the Son. This interpersonal love is flawless and absolutely perfect. This makes God complete in himself, he does not need any created thing for him to love. But he created us for the purpose of sharing, or partaking in his love.
We live, we breathe, we have our being. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the heart beating are all maintained by God's love. But his greatest demonstration of his love his sending his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross to wash away our sins, and to rise again three days later.
Trusting Jesus Christ to save us cleanses us from our sins and reconciles us to God. This is the gift of salvation, a free gift of grace, which is to say, undeserved mercy. It means that instead of spending eternity separated from God in Hell, as justice demanded, the believer will enjoy God's love in his presence forever, infinite justice satisfied by the payment Christ made on the cross.
All this looks so nice on paper, or should I say, on a blog.
But in reality, much of the time I still finding it difficult realising God's love in my heart. Life is very unfair, and I must admit of my agitation over the bonuses many bankers and pen-pushing executives receive, while a drought at the Horn of Africa has put many families to starvation and suffering. In Africa, a young child cries for food, while up in Scotland a couple wins a rollover lottery jackpot of £161,000,000.
People ask, if there is a God, why so much suffering? Why so much unfairness?
But one thing I can ask: Has God himself ever suffered? The answer to that is Yes! He knows exactly what suffering was all about. And it was a twofold suffering. One was of physical pain. The pain felt while he hung on that cross. The second form of suffering was combined mental and emotional. He experience a sudden separation from his Father and the Holy Spirit for the first time in eternity. At the same time he was jeered by his enemies who surrounded him. All this because of God's love for mankind.
So despite how I feel at times, it does not change the facts.
Another demonstration of God's love is husband and wife. Paul the apostle uses this as an illustration of Christ's love for the Church. The Church is people, everyone who has trusted Jesus Christ to save them is a member of the Church, and it's open to all who have faith in Jesus.
The Bible says that the Church is the Bride of Christ, who he will present to his Father at the end of the age.
I love my wife Alex dearly. I take care of her, always making sure she is well fed and all her needs met. In no way would I wish any harm on her. That how Christ feels for his Church, only more perfect and intense. Just as Alex loves me, so the Church will grow to love Christ.
The Church is people, not the building with a steeple. That's only where Christians meet to worship. The Church is open for all believers of every nationality. God commands everyone to repent and receive the life God freely offers. God is in the business of saving, not destroying. He is building a Bride for his Son.
That where such a one as Anders Breivik got it so seriously wrong. He does not reflect the will nor the love of God. Christ will have as his Bride people of all ethnicity, black, white, Indian, Arab, Jewish, Chinese, all included, non excluded.
Something Andres Breivic would be wise to learn.