I think it’s fair to say that anyone raised in Stanton, or who attended there for any length of time, came away with some distorted views of God’s nature. Is he wrathful? Vengeful? Loving? Is everything bad thing that happens to me because I sinned and didn’t confess it in the proper sequence (privately, then publicly, prior to the Lord’s supper, standing up, and with the right formulation of words)? It all depends on how you read the Bible—or didn’t, as the case may be.
Perhaps a teacher in Stanton warned you that if you were to leave (what they disparagingly call “falling away”), God may punish you with car accidents, cancer, miscarriages, the loss of a child, and more. Maybe you’ve even had one of these things happen, and Stanton took it upon themselves to tell you it was because of your sin. This has happened to most at some point.
Stanton famously cites one particular example of a child of a member in the Bay Area who left the “church” and got into a fatal car crash. But have you noticed how many awful events have happened to people in good standing? Christians have died in car crashes, they’ve developed cancer, their children have died early, and frankly, all sorts of other ills have befallen them. You don’t hear those repeated ad nauseam in Bible class. So maybe, just maybe, their theology is flat-out wrong. In fact, it clearly is:
Matthew 5:44-45 – But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
This is backed up by the wisdom of Solomon:
Ecclesiastes 9:11 – Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Good and bad things happen in life to both good and bad people. Yet there’s no doubt that Stanton’s selectively chosen horror stories have been successful at inducing terror. Some may never break free of Stanton’s intellectual shackles to research more Biblical doctrines, much less other church groups, because of that unwarranted fear. However, I prefer the intellectual rigor of Thomas Jefferson, and I believe God does too:
“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
To be fair, the Bible teaches that God does sometimes punish us—or, maybe a better word is discipline us. This fits perfectly well with a theologically just and loving God. Consider this verse:
Hebrews 12:6 – For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.
Don’t all good parents at least try to discipline their kids? Of course, the only moral use of punishment is to teach, not merely to inflict pain. Disciple. Teach. Train. That’s what it’s all about. If my child is being an obnoxious and immoral fool (like Eli’s adult children, perhaps), I have an obligation to the world to at least attempt to reform my child’s thinking; and God tries to do the same with us.
A key point, though, is that God’s lessons for me are only for me, just like my lessons for my child are only for the child whose behavior I’m trying to reform. Few things are more irritating to me as a parent than when I’m trying to correct one child’s behavior, and another child comes along and arrogantly points out all the flaws the first child needs to fix.
Stanton has no direct line to God. If they are telling you that whatever bad circumstance you find yourself in is due to that sin that everyone knows about because they’ve been gossiping about it or rebuking you publicly for it, just politely refer them Jesus’s words:
Luke 6:42 – How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
You stand and fall before your maker alone.