I’m from a Christian background that encourages believers to avoid alcohol, promiscuity, Lucky Charms cereal, and unicorns. The heart behind these aversions aims for holiness: drunkenness leads to debauchery; promiscuity to the grave; Lucky Charms to witchcraft; unicorns to paganism. Jesus, however, claims no one is good but God alone. Jesus reminds us of God’s goodness because God is good.
I spent the early part of my twenties forgetting about God’s goodness; my concern was being holy. I unwillingly ditched my “unrighteous” friends lest I be shunned by my then-church. I gained forty pounds because there was no way God cared about my health or well-being; He cared about my obedience! I stuffed away who I was as a person to be like every other Christian who has forgotten that God loves her. I shrank into silence and shame. I had nothing left to give.
The emerging—as if from a cocoon—occurred over the past two years, in my husband’s and my entrance into grace. Together we discovered that focusing on sin and shame and obedience led only to our sinning in shame and disobedience—and subsequently feeling separated from God, ourselves, and each other.
We didn’t want our daughters to live like prisoners in a religion that is meant to set us free. Even though I’ve maintained friendships with “sinners” (like Jesus did, but don’t tell anyone), it occurred to me last week how thankful I am that I can share my faith openly in my writing and on social networking sites. Likewise, I cherish that many of my secular-minded friends feel at ease sharing their ideas openly with me without fearing my retort.
Last week, this sentiment compelled me to post this status update on my private Facebook page:
I love that I have friends across the spectrum—from fiercely conservative to left of liberal. I don’t have any right wing friends, though. They all unfriended me because I wouldn’t sic Jesus on all the sinners. True story.
In the comments, I qualified some language; by “fiercely conservative” I should have said “firmly,” and meant people who share beliefs quietly, with respect and dignity. “Quietly” referred to those who don’t spam Facebook and e-mail, rally around with picket signs, or bandy about guilt trips. They don't spit at others with a religious/political vitriolic spirit, with constant reminders of Sodom and Gomorrah and other possible outcomes for those who think differently.
The difference, I told my Facebook friends, was love. Jesus may well have been a firm conservative, but He still went out of His way (think the Samaritan and the Centurion) to recognize the best in people. He did get mad sometimes, though, at the religious/political vituperation (think Pharisees and holier-than-thous).
We had a healthy dialogue going, several “likes,” most people offering reasons as to why the religious right acts like it does (many assume “judge not” doesn’t apply to them). I even had a former creative writing student chime in that this was the best status update he had read—ever. I asked him if I could get a Pulitzer for it.
And then this post appeared in the strand:
You do not have sic Jesus on the sinners, they do it them selfs. John 3: 18
My legalistic past rushed forward to choke the life from me. Instead of feeling strangled, I quietly typed:
”...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I sic Jesus on myself a lot. Then He holds my hand and calls me ”daughter” and reminds me that I am forgiven and made wholly righteous in Him. Oh, how He loves us.
A Jewish friend commended me for my attitude, to which the author of the John 3:18 comment wrote:
Remember, G-d said "Jacob I love, Esau I hate".
It went back and forth with the above commenter and several other friends, some offering Scriptures in fairer (and larger) contexts, with the commenter flinging back random scriptures beholding God’s wrath. I felt the weight of my fingers as I typed:
Well, at least I know what I'm going to blog about next. I'll not comment again here. But I will seek to speak the truth in love.
That was the penultimate end to the conversation, with my dear friend from grad school pointing to her picture and concluding with this:
<---atheist liberal and supporter of Renee Ronika Klug.
Jesus was rebuked for dining with “sinners”; He reasoned this was because it is the sick, not the healthy, who need a doctor.
When Christians hurl the dirt of shame and pour the sludge of condemnation on “sinners”—including atheists, homosexuals, Muslims, the Chinese, wine drinkers, movie watchers, and J.K. Rowling fans—they represent the same religious spirit as that of nineteen men before flying aircraft carriers into prominent American buildings.
According to the Bible, Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. If we come against evil, it should be the satanic spirit of evil, not the people who are bound by it. In every interaction Jesus had with people warped by demons, illness, or self-sufficiency, they were healed of and not condemned for their maladies.
On Facebook, I followed up with the dissenting commenter in a private message about what the “Jacob, love; Esau, hate” reference meant. The response I received was that God does not love everyone.
If God does not love everyone, then how can He call Himself “love”? Why does Scripture say that God wishes none would perish but that all would have eternal life?
I will make clear that I do believe Jesus sets a standard of righteousness that will bring out the best in His children; we’ll operate in love, live healthy lives, and reveal the true nature of God to others.
Because only God is good, humans can only obtain such goodness—or righteousness, or holiness—by believing in the One whom God sent, and by allowing the Spirit sent by Jesus to fill our lives and motivate our behavior.
In doing this, we’ll bring Heaven to earth. Inasmuch as it is impossible to have Paradise in a fallen world, Christians are destined to reflect God’s character—which is Paradise.
I will also assert that no one can reflect God’s character without love; if God is love, it thus becomes impossible to reflect God without God. Those who are separated from Him—“sinners”—may behave “badly” simply because they have no other way to express their pain. If they know a God who loves them exists, that this God is the One True God of the Universe, then they can be healed.
They can be free.
If more Christians understood this very God, they too could be free.
*photo credit: ournestoflove.blogspot.com