Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God only hates you a little bit.


     "Hate the sin, but love the sinner."  That's a quote from Mahatma Gandhi.  Many Believers think that is actually a verse from the Bible, but it isn't.  I have heard a couple of pastors protest using that phrase because of that.  Furthermore, I have also heard other pastors say that God not only hates sin, but that he also hates sinners.  They will quote a line like "I hate evildoers," or "The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth."  Therefore, God not only hates sin, but He also hates sinners.  I am a sinner.  I don't like it, but I am.  Apparently, God hates me.
     
     More often then not, the folks who say that God hates sinners are Calvinists.  Many of my friends are Calvinists, so I do not mean this as any kind of insult, but they do tend to emphasize the depravity of humanity quite a bit. (If you want to know where I stand on that whole debate, well, that's for another time.)
     True story: There is a very brilliant Theologian who preaches at a church in Minneapolis.  He also is a professor of theology at a local college and seminary.  He is a VERY strong Calvinist.  While I was going to Bethel college, I attended services at his place of worship off and on for three years.  I know this man loves Jesus, and I have another story about that for another time.  At any rate, after three years of listening to him preach, the strongest and most vivid memories that I have of what I was told there is what an awful, sinful, bad person I am AND that there isn't much I can do about it because everything was all predestined before time began anyway. 

   God hates sinners.  Therefore, God must really, really hate me, 
because I have committed some whoppers.

     Now I understand where they are going with this.  Sin certainly isn't something to be flippant about.  Sin is horrible, and it damages our relationship with God.  However, in my opinion...and you can certainly feel free to disagree with me about this, I think that there is a significant difference between someone who honestly struggles with their sinful nature, and those who consciously and willingly go out and commit evil acts...and enjoy them.  An Evildoer, to me, is someone like Hitler, Stalin, and the guy who gets kids hooked on meth by selling it at the local High School, and Tony Soprano...even though he is fictional.  Eminem would be an excellent example of an evildoer.  He willingly writes songs that are mean spirited and cruel.  I once wrote a paper on him and had to critique him according to marxist theory.  So I said he was a parasite who lives & profits off of the pain of others. (Honestly, has that guy ever had a nice thing to say about anyone?)
     Somewhere in between are other folks.  Sometimes they know that they are doing something bad.  Other times they honestly don't realize that they are acting in a way that God does not wish them to.  The Bible says that it is the Holy Spirit that tells a person what is and is not a sin.  With out the Holy Spirit in a person's life to convict them of sin, there are folks out there who might be living in sin, but don't even understand that what they are doing is sinful.  That is not an excuse.  But it is the facts.

     Now, if it is true that God hates sinners, then why, when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, did those same angels start rockin' out and singing "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests."?  Why did John write in his biography of Jesus write "For God so LOVED the world that He gave his only son,..."  Actually, my old Greek professor at Bethel seminary said that a better translation of that phrase would be "Because God LOVED the world, He demonstrated it in this way, by sending his only son..."  In John's first letter written to the church scattered around Asia Minor he said that "God IS love."  There just seems to be some inconsistency here, don't know think?

     It seems to me that if God hates sinners as much as some preachers emphasize, then those angels talking to the shepherds would most likely have said something like this to them, "Well, the Father has decided that since He hates you so much because you are all a bunch of sinners, He ain't sending the Messiah after all.  See ya, suckers!"  I could then imagine a massive, divine, middle finger being extended from the heavens towards earth. 
     Even if Jesus did decide to come to earth after that, since he is the visible image of the invisible God, he would ALSO hate sinners.  I can easily see Jesus walking up to the hooker at the Samaritan well and just shoving her right into it.  When the woman caught in adultery was brought before him, I can see him saying something like "Oooooh, you are so right about her sin.  Go get her, boys!  I found an awesome pile of rocks just down that street."  And after his resurrection, when he was cooking fish for the guys out fishing, I can see Peter jumping out of the boat because he was so happy to see him, running as fast as he could to Jesus, where upon arriving, Jesus kneeing him right in the crotch!  After all, Jesus would REALLY hate sinners after all he had just been through.

     The character of Jesus that you see written in all four biographies doesn't show him to be much of a Hater...nor does he crush a lot.  What you do see of the character of Jesus is a guy you was loving and gentle...and also a lot of fun! (I think you need to study the cultural context of a lot of his stories & doings to catch how funny he could be at times.) For some odd reason, all the sinners really liked to hang out with him.  Scandalously, he appears to have had women disciples in the extended group of people who regularly followed him.  This was NOT something that you did in First century Jewish culture.  Men good, women bad.  I heard a professor once say that considering how scandalous Jesus was in his time with all the company he kept, the professor was surprised Jesus' earthly ministry last even three years.
     The only time you see Jesus really get mad was towards the professionally religious people.  If you understand the linguistic context of the way Jesus speaks to the Pharisees & Sadducees, he was really cussing them out.  And I do mean that he was spittin' mad.  Of course, you can look at the times that Jesus cleared out the temple because they had turned it into a money making operation.  He actually got violently angry because of the complete disregard that those people were showing to his Father in heaven, and profiting off of His name.  He was absolutely enraged at this disrespect towards "Abba." (Abba is the Hebrew word for Daddy.  It denotes a term of endearment that is even deeper than the use of the more formal word Father.)  

     Frankly, it's nice to know that there are times where it is righteous for a Believer to Pop a Bolt, and Throw Down!  I would argue that very carefully, though.

     Anyway, Jesus would always show grace and mercy towards those trapped in a sin.  In fact, he showed a great deal of mercy and kindness towards "Sinners."  A lot more than most would expect.  He seemed to really enjoy the company of those folks.  Maybe because they were willing to listen to him.  But he didn't seem to have much patience towards the self-righteous.

     Brennan Manning is a great writer that I enjoy.  Again, I like my authors controversial, or what good are they?  I guess that Manning is a "Heretic!"  It said so at Apostasy Alert.org.  So, if it's on the internet, it must be true.  Mostly, people get their underwear in a bunch because they think he is a "Universalist."...i.e. Everyone is saved no matter what, and sin is no big deal at all.  None of that is true if you actually bother to read his books. (BTW: By extension, Rich Mullins and Michael W. Smith are heretics too because they endorsed this book.  So, feel free to burn their CDs)
     ANYWAY, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I would highly recommend, Manning has a chapter titled "The Victorious Limp."  In it, Manning goes into the story of the Prodigal Son.  Most people are familiar with it from Sunday School and such.  Before he writes about the prodigal son he makes a statement that just about knocked me over when I read it.  Manning wrote "Forgiveness PRECEDES repentance."  Whoa!  Hang on.  I thought I was supposed to ask for forgiveness from God before He gave it to me?!?!

     Lets take a look at that story again: The prodigal son is the younger brother of a family.  Being the younger brother, his inheritance would not be as great as his older brother's.  Never the less, P-boy goes to dad and says he wants his inheritance NOW. (And I never read the word "Please" in his asking.) In the cultural context of that time, that would have been the equivalent of saying "Hey Dad, I wish you would just drop dead so I can get what's mine."
     Well, P-boy gets the goods and splits.  He squanders his money on all types of sinful behavior.  Jesus didn't go into to much detail, but I think it is safe to assume the worst.  P-boy burns through all of his money.  At which point he is naturally deserted by his "so called" friends.  He ends up working for a pig farmer, which was religiously unclean for Jews.  Worse than that, the only food he seems to get is from the pig trough.  Suffice it to say, P-boy is ceremonially, religiously, physically...and I would wager emotionally too, UNCLEAN!  I've always loved the wording that Jesus uses when he was telling this story.  At this point in the story he says "When he came to his senses..." 

When he came to his senses.

     And now the whole story begins to tilt.
     
     P-boy understands that he is a complete "Shite," as the Irish would say.  But he realizes that his dad is a very wealthy farmer.  Perhaps if he begs him, dad will let him be like one of the hired hands on the farm.  He even works up a speech for the occasion.  Manning points out that P-boy's motives were mixed at best, and they were.  P-boy is hoping simply to survive.  He was NOT entertaining thoughts of a full reunion & reconciliation with his father.  He knew full well that he had gone beyond disgracing himself.  He had also brought shame & disgrace on the entire family.  By rights, for the culture of that time, his father could have simply killed him to restore honor to the family.  
       I have lived in the Middle East.  I have seen the type of compound that a wealthy farmer would live on.  Essentially, the house itself is in a walled compound.  Outside the main gates would be a basic path/road that would lead to the main road that everyone would be traveling on.  When Jesus was telling this story he says that while that rotten son "Was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion."  This means that the Dad was not in the house or the compound.  He had left that safe area.  He wasn't even on the farm's road.  He was on the main road that everyone else traveled upon.  He was out there watching and waiting for his child to come home.  He certainly could have sent a servant to do the looking, but he didn't.  He went himself.  He was there...waiting for his child.  What happens next is of extreme importance.  Jesus says that after the father's heart was filled with compassion, "HE RAN to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."

     Think about that for a moment.  Think about what that signifies.

     His son was a Sinner.  Not just that, but I would wager that he stunk worse than an outhouse in July.  Not to mention the accumulation of morning breath, rotted clothing, and general emaciated physical appearance.  If you have ever kissed someone on the lips in the morning before they have had the chance to brush their teeth, you get the idea.  But that father gives him the bear hug of a life time, AND a kiss.  But do you know what is missing?  That prodigal son hadn't even had a chance to say a word.  It was too late.  The Father had been waiting with an attitude of anticipation and forgiveness the entire time.
     When P-boy finally gets to give his little speech about becoming a hired hand, the Father essentially ignores him.  He doesn't even respond to what his son just said.  What he DOES do, is essentially snap his fingers and say "Somebody get me a D.J.  We're having a party because MY BOY is BACK!" 
     Now, what this story is really about is the relationship between God and those whom He calls His children.  While we often treat God as if He is slightly dimwitted, the fact of the matter is that He is considerably more clever than we could ever know.  You see, Jesus KNOWS what a mess we are inside.  He knows we have all sorts of guilty secrets and issues that we struggle with.  He also knows that at times we won't just sin, we will also willingly walk away from him...and sometimes for a long, long time.
     Now, was P-boy ever at some point no longer the son of that father?  Did his DNA and parentage ever change?  Nope.  He had willingly, and actually, very rudely & selfishly left his father.  But he was still his kid!  And his dad was waiting for him to come back the whole time.

God is out on that road waiting for us, whenever we come to our senses.
     
     Say what you will, this does NOT look to me like a God that hates sinners.  It looks more like a God who loves sinners.

     "Forgiveness precedes repentance."  

     This actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it.  Jesus talked about forgiving others a lot.  In fact, the New Testament pretty much insists on it.  Extending forgiveness to others is an absolute necessity to following Jesus.  Also, and this is important, it is not about wether or not someone asks for forgiveness from you or anyone else.  You extend that attitude of forgiveness towards someone who has wronged you even if they never, ever know that you are doing so.  Heck, it might even be to late for some.  Maybe someone who hurt you is dead.  But you still extend that forgiveness, because in this case it really is all about you.  Holding on to that hurt is a poison that will eat at you until you give it up. 
     In this story that Jesus told, he uses God the Father as a role model, living out an example of how a Believer's life should be lived and understood.  We extend forgiveness to others because God is always, ALWAYS extending it to us...even before we get a word out.

     This is hard for me.  I have been hurt.  I have been hurt plenty.  Sometimes it's hard to forgive.  St. Debbo, my friend that I will write about later, tells me that I have to let these pains go.  And I am working on that.  Probably not as much as I could because wallowing in the pain that you KNOW is easier than walking into the future that you don't.  Still, it's stuff that I know I have to deal with...and I am, really!  It just takes more time for certain people than others.

     Brennan Manning goes on to write this; "We don't have to sift our hearts and analyze our motives.  Abba (Again, that's the Hebrew word for Daddy) just wants us to show up.  We don't have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, and self-condemnation.  Even if we still nurse a secret nostalgia for a far country, Abba falls on your neck and kisses us."

     I have two things to confess.  I am still working on forgiving others. (Yeah, no surprise there.)  I would guess that most people are too.  However, the other secret that I have to confess is something that I didn't even understand until I read the Ragamuffin Gospel.  Believers will say that they know Jesus loves them.  I would say that too.  However, I didn't really believe it.  I mean I DID believe that Jesus loved me,...but only so far.
     I don't know if it is because I was raised Baptist, or because I have a Scandinavian heritage, but I have a massive guilt complex.  I know this will sound crazy, but I still feel guilty about some things I did in Elementary School.  Honestly, there will be times where I want to kick myself for some stupid thing I did years and years ago.  
     So, I figured that there was no way that Jesus could really love me as much as he said.  I figured that I was always making him mad in one way or the other.  I would ask for forgiveness, but it wouldn't be long before I did something bad again.  There simply was no way that Jesus could keep loving me when I kept being, AND STILL AM, a guy who keeps falling on his face into a big pile of sin.

     What Manning points out, and is confirmed over and over and over again through out the Gospels, and all of the letters in the New Testament, is that the love that Jesus has for sinful human beings, especially those who wish to follow him, is simply that much bigger, and that much greater than any finite person can ever fully understand in this life.

     I do not think it was an accidental choice of words for Paul to write "And do not GRIEVE the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  He did not say "Hey, don't make that Holy Spirit angry.  Don't get God mad at a you.  You know how He hates sinners."  No, Paul uses the term "Grieve."  I believe that when we sin we actually cause God pain.  As when a parent sees the child they love do something that they know will be terrible for them.  It causes that parent a pain deep on the inside of their spirit.  I think that this type of pain is far worse than the emotion of anger.  When we sin, we grieve the Spirit of God.  We HURT the infinite God of the universe.
     After all that this God has done for me, how He has saved and redeemed me, that I should cause Him pain...but his love for me is still there!?!?  I cause Him great pain, yet he will leave the safety of His house and compound, and stand on the road waiting to run to me at the first sight of me coming to my senses.

     I am a SINNER.  I don't like it, but I am.  That is a fact!  If I am to believe the Bible, sin is something I will struggle with until the day I die.  God doesn't like my sinfulness much either.  However, it's hardly as if he is surprised by any of it.  I don't think that he ever gets a confused look on His face and says to Himself, "Wow.  I never thought he would pull a stunt like that." 

     I am a sinner, but I know that God doesn't hate me because of it.  I suppose that is why Grace is so amazing.

"Amazing love!  How can it be, 
that you my king would die for me?
Amazing love!  And I know it's TRUE!  
And it's my joy to honor you."

Joe

P.S.  Brennan Manning wrote something else in another book of his that I believe is worth thinking about.  Sin IS a very serious issue.  This world is soaked in it.  It causes all manner of pain.  However, when a Believer is approaching anyone, Believer or Outsider, about sin and the truth of Jesus, they might wish to use Jesus as a role model.

      Brennan Manning wrote: "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

1 comment:

  1. Wow...this touched me. Forgiveness precedes repentance. I have been that son lately. I needed to hear this message. Thank you.

    Daemon

    ReplyDelete