You cannot simultaneously state two things:
1) that God personally causes (directly or though one’s agency) and approves (or wills) everything that happens in the world, including all the evil,
2) and that God is love.
The two are in irreconcilable conflict, and no amount of religious sophistry and verbal calisthenics can make this equation balance out.
The reason that the hyper-sovereignty view of God at the expense of God being love appeals to so many is that humans lust after power and control after their fellow human beings. That’s part of the fallen human nature. Vulnerability is perceived as a general liability, and about the only place one can afford to be legitimately vulnerable in a modern increasingly secular world is on a tear-stained recliner in the psychoanalyst’s office.
One well-known evangelical preacher said this not too long ago:
“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
Wow. Really? Mr. Preacher must have forgotten that Jesus WAS beaten up, hung stark naked on a blood and faeces-stained wooden pole in front of his own heart-broken Jewish mother, in a culture where revealing as much as one’s knees while running was considered shameful for a male. If that’s not utterly vulnerable, I don’t know what is.
The kind of love which stands above division, judgment, and offense is usually fairly difficult to cultivate and practice. When it becomes our heart culture, however, it has a very real potential to open people up to what we have to say. Then we can usher those we thus love into the very presence of Jesus, so that he can do through us for them what no educational or correctional institution can. But we can get to that point only when we begin with unconditional love and acceptance on the most fundamental human level, before anything else can be offered.
Am I there? Not quite yet, but I know that I am on my way there. I also experientially know that place of judgmentalism and misplaced pride which is the polar opposite of agape-love. That’s a place to which I have absolutely no intention of ever regressing to.
We love playing it safe and talking in generalities. But what if we allow ourselves to get more specific with more general statements such as “God so loved the world”? What would that look like? The poem below attempts to unpack that Scriptural verse within the context of years 2016-2017.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a young lady, a daughter of our family’s friends. She wanted to stop by to get a couple of pics and a short story for her school project. My wife and I decided to make it a dinner occasion at our place. That young lady is a follower of Jesus. She is also passionately political, and you could peg her fairly solidly on the left side of the political spectrum. (If you want to use that cumbersome and unflavorful measuring stick on a human being, that is. If you try to ever use it on me, by the way – I guarantee you will make a mistake every time you do, regardless of whether you try to place me right, left, or even center. That measuring stick simply doesn’t know what to do with people like me.)
I remember a time when she stopped by a church event where I happened to be a year ago. She and her similarly-minded sister were surrounded by a small group of older piously indignant evangelicals. The two of them pretty much had to endure an hour-and-a-half-long “straightening out” session from the group. They valiantly defended themselves. I wasn’t part of that strange circus, but I was close enough to hear what was going on. In the year that followed, I’ve rarely seen those two young ladies come back to church. (If I were them, I wouldn’t have come back after that, either.)
I do take interest in politics. But I have grown wise enough over the years to discuss my political views mostly in private conversations with even-keeled people who have learned to think for themselves. I could never compress my mind on complex issues into tweet-size slogans anyway, which is what a lot of people seem to prefer these days.
This past Sunday we witnessed a miracle on gridiron. A nearly 40 years old, relentlessly battered quarterback took his team from a 25-point deficit through a quick series of drives that culminated in earning the team, New England Patriots, their fifth Superbowl trophy.
At half-time, it seemed like it was almost over. At the score mark of 28 : 3 in the third quarter, it looked completely impossible. At that point, many people tuned off their TV sets to avoid witnessing the complete embarrassment. And those who did that missed the most improbable comeback in the history of NFL Superbowls.
As I was looking at the football field when it was all over, with members of opposing teams shaking each others’ hands (a sight sorely missed in today’s politics), and as tri-color confetti began to obscure the view, a sudden realization dawned on me. The next day I checked a few headlines, and my initial hunch was confirmed. The miracle didn’t happen on the football field. The real miracle happened in the locker room at half-time. While Lady Gaga was serving the public her warm, magnanimous, above-the-fracas entertainment magic (I don’t listen much to her music, but I found her half-time performance well-choreographed and tasteful), something very deep and dramatic was happening in Patriot’s locker room. (Let’s reclaim the phrase “locker room talk” for its lofty and legitimate purposes, shall we?)
At some point, make-believe Christianity has to make room for the living spirit of God. Otherwise all we got is empty doctrine. And honestly, I really don’t think that mere mental assent has any power to save anyone. A parrot can be trained to recite the sinner’s prayer, but his heart won’t change.
When you graduate from your personal master-class with God, you will know with absolute clarity what your calling is. You won’t need any paperwork to ascertain your membership status. You won’t need anyone to lay their hands on you to commission and ordain you. If Jesus’ hand is not on you in a way that you know for sure, why waste your time gaining the approval and recognition of men anyway? That would be a path of wasted years and of lingering in the desert of one’s own making.
Being angry with religion is not the same as being of the same mind with Jesus. Religion is an impersonal system of control, part of the worldly matrix. It’s an illusion that seduces even the elect and keeps many captive through its empty promises. All you have to do to come out is to change your mindset. In the words of Morpheus – “free your mind”. As you take the red pill from the hand of Jesus, your eyes will open up, all the rest will simply follow out of that. You can’t stay angry at something that no longer has any power or control over you. We have to go through the personal, custom-made training from God. It’s initiated in the secret place with him, and then we follow that program until it takes over our lives permanently. That’s when our software gets rewritten. That’s a process, but it has an end to it.
In Christian culture, we like saying stuff like “Let’s seek God”. I am not sure what that means. Should we check under the pews, maybe? Perhaps he’s hiding there. I didn’t know that God’s plan included a few rounds of hide-and-seek.
Or how about this – “we are waiting for you, God”. Waiting for what exactly? God showed up 2000 years ago on the cross of Calvary. I think we got our turns confused on the chessboard of life. It’s not us who are waiting on God. It’s God who is waiting on us.
We all want to see miracles from God. I think God is waiting to see some miracles from us. And the biggest miracle, perhaps, would be transforming our church subcultures from keeping us stuck in the mentality of sin-conscious pew warmers and instead treating us as entering into the ever-increasing glory of sons and daughters of the Most High God, walking in his majesty and splendor, and manifesting his love and power all across their cities, regions, countries, and the whole world.
When you come to really believe something, your entire heart buys into that belief. If there are any obstacles to believing something, they need to be impartially looked at, and properly addressed. If the object of your faith is truly trustworthy, and your doubts are removed in a way in which you personally believe, then you enter into a realm of faith where “everything is possible”. Literally, everything is a fluctuating field of quantum possibilities, waiting for you, the observer and the influencer, to enmesh your heart-level beliefs with it. That will invariably produce the intended result.
A subtle yet deadly enemy of faith is mind-level indoctrination. In Western churches, we are often offered a very superficial set of teachings (“doctrines”) to which we are required to intellectually assent. The payoffs of that superficial agreement to a set of metaphysical propositions are: a sense of social belonging with the group, a promise of getting on the good side of God, and avoiding immeasurable pain in the afterlife.
The Scriptures point us to the reality that is to be lived and experienced, and not merely memorized as a doctrine or quoted. Jesus is a living person who wants to communicate with us, the kingdom is vibrant and ever-present, and it’s up to us to break into this reality. More often than not, it’s a progress, and it may take a while to get there. It’s a mirror principle – we get close to God, he gets close to us. It’s like a dance – God only makes the steps which will keep him in sync with where we are.
We can’t just quote Scriptures, punctuating them with victorious amens, and then moving on to life as usual. As if merely quoting the Scripture will bring anyone any closer the reality that it points to. Case in point: “It’s no longer I, but Christ who lives in me”. I have heard this verse quoted dozens of times by people claiming it to be their reality, but I have met less than 10 people in my 22 years of being with Christ who reflected that in their everyday life. Actually, the number is closer to 5. I am not one of those people, either. I love this Scripture, it’s a wonderful summit to climb, but I am still on the way.