Words are a powerful weapon; they can be used for either good or bad, but words burn deep into our psyche and shape and fashion society whether we like it or not. When influential people twist words or use them to focus on the wrong thing, life tends to get out of focus.
Some time ago, a senator grilled a potential government appointee on his religious preferences (even though the Constitution forbids any kind of “religious test” for government service). During the interrogation, the senator kept focusing on the fact that in this person’s faith certain people groups were condemned to Hell. If this was a one time thing, I wouldn’t be writing this article; however, the news media is also focused on this idea: the exclusion of certain people groups by Christianity to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.
Unfortunately, they’re focusing on the wrong thing.
The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23.” ALL. Including Americans. Christianity isn’t about excluding certain groups or religions; it’s about showing that nothing we do will meet the standards of a Holy God.
But the major focus of the Bible (and Christianity) isn’t how badly we’ve all messed up–that’s the starting point. The focus of Christianity is God’s unconditional love and that He has provided a way for ALL to be saved. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” This gift is available for ALL, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, language, religion, or location. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ” And it isn’t about turning everyone into Americans. (Christianity is actually the counter-culture to America.) You can be a Christian and retain your ethnicity, your language, your culture, something most other religions don’t allow. Other religious services look surprisingly the same in different cultures, but Christian services are as diverse as the cultures they represent.
It is the idea of unconditional love – love that accepts everyone no matter what – that seems to frighten the media and government. Because this type of love is completely inclusive, it frightens those who want to dominate or exclude or stereotype or limit others. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1:12 ” This kind of faith, that doesn’t limit believers to a specific people group, that doesn’t depend on what I do or who I am, that’s a powerful force that can’t be controlled by government. And what the government can’t control, it has a tendency to fear. It’s why religion and a free press are the first things to go in a repressive regime.
But this isn’t a blog about freedom of religion. It’s about unconditional love as the center and foundation of Christianity. The reason so many people are confused about what Christianity is truly about is because Christians are such a contradictory people. We mess up; we don’t get it right 100 percent of the time and those who judge our God based on our actions don’t always see the loving Father who cared enough for His children to die for them while they were still sinners. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.”
Christianity isn’t about hate and exclusion. It’s about everlasting love and inclusion.
This past week a flurry of tweets surrounding Christians’ freedom of expression disturbed me. The debate itself has been around for the past 10-20 years or so, but never as viciously displayed as what I witnessed Friday.
Some would argue that a Christian’s choice of language is personal and no one has the “right” to “judge” them. News flash: The world will judge you even when Christians don’t. They expect Christians to be and act differently from them. Perhaps the real problem lies with our understanding of “judging” and “accountability.”
Judging is weighing someone’s actions and finding them guilty without hope of reconciliation. Guilty and punished. Accountability is showing someone the standard and how to get there. Missing the mark and correction. While Christians are warned against judging, we are commanded to reprove (hold fellow Christians accountable). The standards have already been set–we don’t get the luxury of changing them or picking and choosing which we want to follow.
But what concerns me more is the blatant lynch mob mentality that browbeats someone, who has dared to remind someone else of the standard, into submission and apology. It’s as if the more vicious we are in our response, the more we can justify a particular action by “majority rule.” In my experience, those who are the loudest and who resort to name-calling are the ones most likely to be on shaky ground. When one is standing on the rock, one can pay no attention to the tempestuous winds of words or the crushing waves of vitriol.
Meekness is not weakness, but strength under control. Christians are not doormats, except when their salt “loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” It’s time we stood our ground against compromise and the watering down of our faith by fellow Christians.
As for the “language” issue: Here’s what the Bible actually says about it:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
In addition, Proverbs is filled with specific rules for what kind of things ought to come out of our mouths, if we desire to be wise.
Christian apologetics means explaining what we believe and why. It never means backing down and saying sorry because you don’t happen to agree with the standards.
Over the years I’ve heard lots of reasons given why people reject Christianity; some have basis in legitimate issues, but most are flimsy, tissue paper excuses that come apart under close scrutiny.
It’s always amazed me that the very people who poke fun at Christianity have a tendency to believe equally incredible philosophies; perhaps because it is easier than admitting the real reason people wrestle with Christianity.
Surrender. At the heart of the gospel is man’s need to surrender everything he is to accept the gift of salvation. People struggle with the concept of surrender; we see it as weak, as conceding defeat, giving in or giving up. Surrender reveals the fallacy of our belief that we are the captains of our souls, the masters of our fate. (Invictus, by William Ernest Henley).
Yet there is nothing weak in admitting we need help in the midst of impossible circumstances. No matter how accomplished a swimmer, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, one is still powerless to save oneself. Nothing we have is worthy of bringing us to God’s notice, and that is an uncomfortable truth to admit in a culture that prides itself on self-determination, independence, and the ability to overcome.
Surrender is also the great leveler. Our innate desire is to be better than others, to separate people into groups or categories of differing levels of ability or worth. Surrender makes kings equal with beggars and that chafes our souls as nothing else can. We cannot tolerate the idea that everything we have accomplished is worth no more or less than the filthy rags of a Skid Row bum.
Too long conditioned by our culture to see surrender as a negative quality, we miss the blessings of surrender. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were struggling with health issues, which took a financial toll on our family. We were getting by, but there was nothing left over to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Some dear friends decided to gift us an anniversary trip to Alaska, complete with cruise, plane tickets, and hotel accommodations. It was an overwhelming gift. The only thing we were required to do: surrender in the face of such love and friendship.
Fear drives humans. Fear of hunger drives us to work for food. Fear of death drives us to take unprecedented measures of protection and avoidance of risk. Fear of failure and rejection causes us to design defensive barriers and wear masks lest we betray who we really are.
The true terror, however, comes from unconditional love.
Unconditional love sees us naked and defenseless, bares our inadequacies and failures, depicts the ugliness of the human soul and still accepts us. Unconditional love finds us, not worthy, but desirable; for who we are, for the uniqueness of the creation due to the nature of love. It simply is. Unconditional love defies human understanding, goes beyond human boundaries. It meets us at our most vulnerable, at our most unlovable, and still takes us in.
Humans dare not face the reality of ourselves; we cloak our faults in excuses, hide behind noise and activity and busyness. Bring us face to face with the silence of ourselves and we run terrified. Unconditional love forces us to see ourselves as we really are; to admit the awfulness of the human condition and the lack of anything good in and of ourselves, and finds us acceptable not in spite of those faults, but because of them
It is a truth that is hard to bear. It is a truth we find unpalatable, and therefore unacceptable; so we run from it screaming and hide behind false philosophies and vague, confused ideologies.
In so doing, we lose the most precious treasure of the cosmos. For unconditional love finds us as we are, accepts us and by its very nature transforms us into the people we always desired to be. Humans cannot change on their own. We want to be as we perceive ourselves, but are unable to complete the transformation without outside help. Unconditional love demands transformation; not for approval, not for acceptance, but for our completeness. It takes the raw materials and transforms coal into diamonds, sand into pearls, humans into enlightened beings
Unconditional love is vital for the evolution of humanity. Without it, we are and forever will be completely lost.
My daughter is working in Portland this summer and is keeping an online blog about her experiences. http://joannanparsons.wix.com/prayersforportland One such experience dealt with a misunderstanding over who Jesus is and the reason for His death and resurrection.
It always amazes me how people will believe a misconception over the truth. Truth is not comfortable. Truth is not safe. Truth requires a response and most people find falsehood easier to swallow than truth, which demands they become responsible for their attitudes, actions, and destiny.
We take refuge in all sorts of misconceptions and fallacies, from blaming others for our shortcomings to denigrating others to make ourselves feel better; from dismissing what we don’t like about our world because it makes us uncomfortable to re-writing history to justify our actions; from name-calling and insulting what we don’t like or understand to passing laws to prohibit anyone from disagreeing with us.
Truth stands on its own. Truth doesn’t require a defence, nor does truth need my explanations or justifications. Truth spans centuries, crosses political, economic and cultural barriers. Truth endures; but most of all, truth transforms.
In the final analysis, it is the transformation we fear; which is why people will stubbornly cling to misconceptions, falsehoods, and outright lies. Transformation means we forgive ourselves, we forgive others; transformation means we step outside of ourselves and our belief system to embrace something bigger than ourselves.
Truth requires us to see ourselves for who we are, not who we want to be; and to realize our worth does not lie in ourselves, our possessions, or our accomplishments.
Truth sets us free.