I was thinking of Paul recently when I saw an evangelical leader on CNN talking about gay marriage. The evangelical leader agreed with the apostle Paul about homosexuality being a sin, but when it came time to express the kind of love Paul expressed for the lost, the kind of love that says, I would gladly take God’s wrath upon myself and go to hell for your sake, the evangelical leader sat in silence. Why? How can we say the rules Paul presented are true, but neglect the heart with which he communicated those rules? My suspicion is the evangelical leader was able to do this because he had taken on the morality of God as an identity with which he was attempting to redeem himself to culture, and perhaps even to God. This is what the Pharisees did, and the same Satan tricks us with the same bait: justification through comparison. It’s an ugly trick, but continues to prove effective.
This is an excerpt from Searching For God Knows What (SFGKW) by Donald Miller. I loved his book Blue Like Jazz, and I’m continuing to explore the thoughts that he has on faith and God and religion. At a quiet retreat day yesterday, I was able to finish SFGKW and was thoroughly fed in the spirit. But first, some backstory.
In SFGKW, Donald Miller spends a lot of time exploring the stories of creation and the fall of man. He meanders back and forth in and out of ideas, just trying to generally introduce and reinforce the idea of our faith be relational, not just lists and bullet points. I found the lack of focus frustrating in many ways, but continued to get through it. It was worth it. In the last third of the book he brings it all together and passionately makes a very strong case for how in many, many ways, we have the habit of missing the point and simply put, we need to stop doing that. I couldn’t help but feel that so many of the things I read at the end of the book are truth; they are views that God has about our relationship with Him, and they need to be shared. We need to stop missing the point.
A moral message, a message of us versus them, overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, of repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus. Listen closely, and I assure you, they will not talk about Jesus.
In my opinion, if you hate somebody because they are different from you, you’d best get on your knees and repent until you can say you love them, until you have gotten your soul right with Christ.
I can’t say this clearly enough: If we are preaching morality without Christ, and using war rhetoric to communicate a battle mentality, we are fighting on Satan’s side. This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war you shoot the enemy, not the hostage.
Love. Christ loved the world. God loves creation. Our morality is not right versus wrong; it is a sincere attempt to imitate Christ, to imitate God. We are to attempt to be like Christ. Christ loved the world. He loved the sinners and prostitutes and the sick and the broken. He did not condemn them. Christ had a very righteous anger at times, anger towards the people who knowingly blasphemed God for their own motives, but had nothing but compassion and love for those caught in the wages of sin.
We are to love those who are trapped in the battle.
We are not judges.
The greatest comfort I can feel in the middle of this is that Jesus did not lend Himself to war causes, to tax issues or political campaigns. For that matter, He did not lend Himself to raising money for education or stumping for affirmative action. It was as if He did not trust us to build a utopia. He kept it very simple; in fact. Follow Me, He said. I have no opinion about what color the paint should be in this prison. Follow Me.
Is Jesus angry? Sometimes. Does He speak of sin and morality? Yes, quite frequently. Does the contemporary evangelical model of sin and morality reflect the teachings of Christ? As a flea is part of a dog, but not to be confused with the dog itself. Is Jesus frustrated with sinners? Yes. Is He frustrated with religious zealots who use His Father’s name to build businesses or support agendas? He is violently frustrated. Is there a penalty to pay for rejecting Him? Yes, apart from Christ we will die and are dying. Does Jesus like liberals more than conservatives? He will be nobody’s flag.
Jesus is not a political party. Jesus is not an excuse to support what you think the world should be like. Jesus is not a…tool to justify your beliefs. Jesus is who we follow and who we set our eyes upon. Following and imitating Jesus does not have a political affiliation. Jesus did not mix his faith with politics.
[After a Priest asks a friend of Donald’s if he thought that Christians were “right”;] Asking whether my friend thought Christians were right was really a question about the questioner and his identity, not about God. My pastor friend was asking my other friend to admit we were right and he was wrong — his journey was wrong, his experience was wrong, his heart was wrong, his mind was wrong. He was asking my friend to join our party in the lifeboat. That’s a lot to ask of a guy. The sad part of this story is, my friend who isn’t a Christian was hurt and politely changed the subject, and we haven’t talked about God since. I apologized to him later, and, unfortunately, the subject has yet to come back up.
The ever-overquoted C.S. Lewis said it this way in his book Mere Christianity: “Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: We are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or — a Judge.”
And that’s the thing about being religious; it isn’t this safe place in the soul you can go, it has just as many booby traps as any other thing you can get yourself into. It’s a bloody brothel, in fact. Jesus even says there will be people who will heal other people, but when they die He is going to say He didn’t know them. It is somewhat amazing to me, once again, that all of Christianity, all our grids and mathematics and truths and different groups subscribing to different theological ideas, boils down to our knowing Jesus and His knowing us.
Through the knowledge of Christ comes the Fruits of the Spirit. Paul says that if we give away everything we have, but have not Love, we gain nothing. All the knowledge of scripture and laws and religion, without having love, without having Christ; and we gain nothing. In this age where information is truth, it can be hard to see. Relationships aren’t formulae or lists or bullet points or graphs or tables. But we are called, ultimately, into relationship with Christ. And there is a joyous truth inside that relationship. There is love inside that relationship.
Without it, we have nothing, we are lost.
Jesus, by instigating what we call Communion, and disciplines such as fasting, and the sacrament of baptism, takes the spiritual disciplines from the abstract realm of religion and places them within the meaningful realm of relationship. As I’ve mentioned, fasting is mourning Him, baptism is identifying with Him, Communion is remembering Him. It all comes down to our thoughts and feelings and faith in Him. If our minds are not on Christ and we treat Communion like a little religious pill, or baptism like a woo-woo bath, or fast to feel some kind of pain about our sacrifice, the significance is gone. It is the trick of satan to get us to go through religious motions divorced of their relational significance. It is the trick of Satan to get us to perform religious actions without meaning them.
All I can say about this is that when you go to Church, try not just reading what’s printed on the bulletin, but try saying those words from your heart. Repetition can lead to familiarity and indifference, and it is so important that when we perform our sacraments, we have at the forefront of our minds what the significance of the words we are saying and the actions we are doing mean. In doing so, not only do we avoid the spiritual dangers that come from the divorce of actions from relationship, but we also receive deep spiritual nourishment and abundance from God in Heaven who is overjoyed that his Children are striving and deeply thirsty for a relationship with Him. He is overjoyed that His Children have recognized his sacrifice to rebuild our relationship with Him and want to celebrate, honor, and remember it. He is overjoyed that His Children, like the prodigal son, want to come Home when it is time; to come back to their Father.
I’ve a friend who has a leather-bound day planner, and on an inside page of the planner there is a space for facts about a spouse: her dress size, her favorite foods, her favorite music. Amazingly, this is not a page my friend created on a blank sheet of paper; rather, he bought it from the company that makes the time management system. We laughed together at the oddity of the idea of trying to calculate, plan, and structure knowledge that would be meaningful to a woman only if her husband knew it, as a consequence of his love. The whole point of intimacy is that you want to know things, random facts; you are driven to them because this woman has taken you captive, not that you would willfully write them down as a matter of discipline. Imagine calling your wife to tell her you love her and then hanging up the phone to check off the action on your to-do list. I don’t think she would be pleased in the slightest. She would probably rather not have received a call at all. No, in romance, as in spirituality, your motives have to be selfless, driven from an authentic love for the other person.
Also, it bears repeating that Jesus told the Pharisees the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I would think the Pharisees of the day would have dismissed this as a kind of affective theology, mushy talk, not very rational, and yet the whole time Jesus was extending an invitation to a spiritual marriage, our oneness with Him allowing God to see us in Christ’s righteousness rather than our own. It would most tragic for a person to know everything about God, but not God; to know all about the rules of spiritual marriage, but never walk the aisle.
I feel that there is substantial truth, truth that needs to be heard by more people, within the quotes I’ve pasted here. I’ve tried to keep my commentary to a minimum; as my theology is my own, and your theology is your own. I hope that only I’ve been able to spur some thoughts in you about these topics. Feel free to leave comments on the Tumblr entry for this post if you have any!