Goldilocks is the famously picky young woman who, after despoiling the three bears of their porridge and sitting in all their chairs decided to take a nap.
Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right.
When people encounter Jesus they have a similar reaction, some find him too hard, that is too judgmental, too much about sin, hell, repentance and change. Others find Jesus too soft for their tastes, that is too much about mercy, forgiveness, grace and second chances. Few find him just right, the perfect blend of hard and soft, judgment and mercy, holiness and love, to be the perfect Savior.
It was true in Jesus’ day. John the Baptizer sends his disciples from prison to question Jesus, asking in effect: “Are you it, or is there someone coming considerably tougher and more take charge than you?” John had preached a hard message and taught that Christ would be even harder on people than he was. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:12) Jesus’ ministry of healing the sick seemed all too gentle for the Christ John had wanted.
Others, of course, found Jesus too hard for their tastes, too much about judgment, holiness, the sovereign power of God. When he taught about divine election, for example, saying, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father,” (John 6:65) it was just too much for some: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66)
Jesus complained of the pickiness of his generation, likening them to little children who will neither dance happily nor sing sadly in playground games. “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”(Mat 11:17) They rejected both the hard asceticism they had seen in John the Baptizer and the soft cultural engagement they saw in Jesus. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Mat 11:18-19 ESV)
This is very easily discernable in our day as well. Christians on the left reject the hard Jesus, the holy, judging Jesus. They want a Jesus who is always only soft and so paint a picture of one who is simply one of the guys, loves everyone and is never offended by any sin. For example, a woman who serves on the staff in one of our denomination’s churches gave a podcast in which she said. “Have you all met God? Do you know him? She’s black. Y’all met God? Have you met God? Do you know Jesus? Jesus is a trans person of color.” For those in this camp, the real Jesus is too hard, so he is reduced to a contemporary version of a soft-hearted, and equally soft-headed liberal.
The other side is no better, they find Jesus too soft and so reject his merciful nature. They want a Jesus who is always only hard, and so paint a picture of one who is pure judgment. Perhaps one of the clearest contemporary examples is the Westboro Baptist Church with their, “God hates f–s“ signs. They are the extreme, of course, but less public versions exist everywhere. Parts of the former Moral Majority and a militant anti-everything attitude are seen in the hair-trigger-hatred for all people different from themselves. For those in this camp, the real Jesus is too soft, so he is reduced to a contemporary version of a hard-hearted and equally hard-headed conservative.
We are wrong, however, to reject either aspect of the Lord Jesus. He is our perfect Savior precisely because he is love and holiness, mercy and judgment. Remove either and he would not fit the bill. He must be merciful so we sinners can come and find grace. He must be just so that those who come are protected finally from his enemies, and ours. We need a savior who is both, which is fortunate because, this is the Savior we have, who being both hard and soft, is just right.
I suspect that while most us may not reject outright one aspect of Jesus or the other, we favor one or the other. We lean toward the soft Jesus or the hard Jesus. Do you?
Others may try to find balance by not being very extreme in either category, neither very merciful nor very just, lukewarm, which does nothing to please Jesus. “Hate the sin and love the sinner,” aptly captures what we see of the real Jesus in Scripture. But we in practice try to find balance by eliminating the extremes of love and hate so that we end up living by a different maxim, “Tolerate the sin and tolerate the sinner.” One could never imagine Jesus actually uttering that banality for good reason.
I would like to suggest that the proper balance is found, rather, by being lots of both, as Jesus was, not a little of either. We discovered this in child rearing, as well. To find balance, we did not do a little discipline and a little love, but lots of both, all the time. Our sons have mostly turned out alright for the effort. So, too, in the Christian life, we seek to be very merciful and gracious, yet we are very clear about what is sin, and the consequences of sin, its death, and destruction, thus calling people away from sin to Christ and grace.
Our Savior is both hard and soft, precisely because it is the kind of salvation we need, that is what makes him just right to save. Let’s follow Jesus for who he really is, not what we might wish he were, and following him, become more like him, filled with love and holiness, which makes us all the more, just right.
Author: Dr. Thomas D. Hawkes