At first glance, one might mistake this 10”x7” paperback for a children’s book. The cover and inside illustrations are similar to what you would find in a child’s Bible story book, done in soft pastels with cartoonish figures of sheep and goats. Although the chapters are short and written in easy to understand English, this certainly is not a children’s book. But perhaps it should be. The subject matter deals with deep theological issues, our beliefs about God, most of which were established when we were very young.
The three members of the Linn family had been presenting the material contained within the book in retreats, primarily in the Catholic church. In the early ‘90’s they put their material together in book format and added a second section which deals with some of the questions often asked at their retreats. As a long time member of the evangelical church community, I would have looked at this book differently a few years ago (if I looked at it at all). However, in recent years I have found myself more willing to listen to, and hear, other perspectives on Christian theology and spiritual issues.
I was requested to read the book by a friend who is on the journey of recovery from her addictions. She was given the book to read by her counselor and it had made an incredible impact upon her. She strongly identified with the writers and their original view of God as the angry judge, even though her religious background was evangelical and not Roman Catholic. Because she could identify with their source of that image, she found herself also able to receive a message of healing through the story of their journey to discover a God ‘that loves them while they are unrepentant’.
That is what I found as the primary message of the book. God loves you and has already forgiven you “while you were yet sinners”, as the scripture says. His love and forgiveness does not come after or as a result of your repentance, it was already there, intending to draw you to repentance, not reward you for it.
For some this may be a ‘duh’ statement, but for many more, this is a huge revelation and one that is difficult to accept after years of believing that God’s love and forgiveness were only for the repentant and obedient. Others of you are getting all worked up and making the assumption that this means there is no need for repentance or obedience. Wrong! It is a subtle difference, which is why this little book is so needed. Repentance and obedience are needed for your own benefit and the benefit of others but NOT to gain God’s love or forgiveness, which remain constant. This is the ‘good news’ of the gospel.
The most controversial issues in the book would be how it addresses the doctrines of Christ’s atonement and eternal punishment. Christ’s atonement is not looked at in the legal terms it is addressed in many, but not all, Christian traditions. It is looked at as a healing act of redemption, not as a transaction f or payment of a debt. This has been a long standing theological debate regarding the interpretation of scripture throughout the church age. The second, and more controversial subject, is the one of eternal punishment in hell. In the book’s discussion of the topics of death, judgment and punishment, the idea of reconciliation with God after physical death is presented as a possibility. I found these issues to be presented in a very thoughtful manner and with an attitude of humility and respect for both scripture and the church.
Although the primary messages of this book were already foundational to my relationship with God, I did come away with one new concrete thought: the doctrine of hell, or eternal punishment is NOT an essential element of salvation. Read that statement again. It is an important area of doctrine, but not essential to salvation. We can disagree on this subject strongly, as we (those within the Christian church) disagree on many doctrines, and yet still recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the same faith.
For those who have grown up with a distorted image of God as an angry control freak, “Good Goats” may provide an opportunity for some to see their creator in a new light. My favorite quote from the book is “We become like the God we adore.” If we see God as harsh and demanding, we will live that out in our lives. On the other hand, if we see God as patient, forgiving and merciful towards us, we are likely to treat others with that same grace. What is your image of God?