Response to a Response to “Late Night Theology”

A friend posted this response to “Late Night Theology:”

“I just think it is important to remember that God is Love but love is not God. Our society places love above God and makes love God but we have to remember that everything God has given us in the scriptures, rules included, was out of His amazing love. Rules, too, are not God, and it is not our place to wag our fingers unlovingly at those who don’t follow God’s rules. Heaven knows we “All fall short of the glory (perfection) of God. But if, in the name of love, we watch carelessly as our dear ones walk straight into traps of sin even hold their hands and encourage them along the way, we are putting “love” above God. We have a responsibility and that is to put God first in all things. If there comes a fork in the road where we have an opportunity to share God with someone or “lovingly” just let them remain lost…we HAVE to choose sharing God. Trusting that the fact that He IS Love will win the day, even if to our limited human minds, pointing someone toward Christ does not feel like love in the moment.”

Friend – I’m going to enthusiastically agree with most of what you just said.  God is Love but love is not God (esp. when you define love narrowly as Hollywood-style infatuation and saccharine ever-after endings). Yes. Rules come from the amazing love of God, which seeks harmony, not chaos. Yes. Rules, too, are not God, so we should not wag fingers. Amen, sister. We have a responsibility to put God first in all things. Absolutely.

And here’s where we start to diverge.

First, I question your use of the word “carelessly.” I don’t think it’s careless to let someone choose their own path, I think it’s reverent and trusting – trusting that they are a fully-functional human being with a brain and conscience and intuition, trusting that God has their path in His hands, and that His Holy Spirit will be there IF and when they need re-direction. I think too often we are in a rush to fix someone’s situation, make them better, improve them, or otherwise interfere because WE are uncomfortable with their situation, not because they actually need our advice. How do I know what God wants to do in someone’s life at this moment? I hardly know what He’s doing in mine!

I can pretend the Bible tells me, but the Bible is full of universally true generalities (God is Love, love your neighbor, remember the poor, etc.), and sometimes-true, culturally specific weirdness (do you cover your hair or speak in church or wear polyester?), and archaic, barbaric examples of human behavior (do you keep slaves?). And sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other because a loving action is always situation-specific (handing someone a warm brick is loving to a cold person, but deadly to a drowning one). How do I know that what I perceive as “sin” in their life isn’t something that God is perfectly happy to let them hold onto while He works on other things? Or even something that He wants them to go through in order to heal something else? We do, after all, cure cancer with poison. How do I know that what I perceive as sinful isn’t THE thing God is actually trying to DO in someone’s life? I have certainly had instances in my life where I thought God wanted me to “behave” a certain way, and it turned out that he was trying to do something much bigger in my life. For which He actually needed me to fully commit to the very actions that I had considered “sinful.” Once He had accomplished the bigger soul-surgery, the behavior that I was so concerned about just went away, and I found that I had been freed of a much bigger oppression than my behavior was causing me. If I can’t always discern in my own life which behaviors are detrimental and which are God-sent, how on earth am I supposed to judge whether someone else is walking into a “sin trap,” or just taking a different path after God than I am?

God’s work is always much deeper than our outward behaviors and beliefs, and so I think that walking beside someone, listening, and allowing them to work through something careFULLY is not only loving but holy. It leaves more room for the Holy Spirit, Who is the one charged with convicting people of sin, not me. If there is immediate and observable harm, like if someone I know is abusing his or her child, then on a case-by-case basis, there will be times when it is appropriate and important to step in and set boundaries. But I find that more often than not, when Christians are talking about saving someone else from “sin,” they’re talking about much grayer areas, and trying to impose standards and boxes on people’s lives that might not be from God at all.

I also think that very often, when Christians say “sharing God,” what they end up meaning, intentionally or not, is “conforming you to my subculture,” which may or may not have anything to do with what God is trying to do in someone’s life. If, in fact, I interfere with God’s work in someone’s life because I am anxious to fix something that I perceive as wrong with their life, then I am inflicting soul-violence on them. When the Holy Spirit “convicts of sin,” it feels like liberation. When people do it, it often just feels like shame and oppression. It can be much more difficult to heal the wounds inflicted by the religiously zealous than those inflicted by the world, because wounds inflicted by the religiously zealous have all the (false) apparent weight of God behind them. There are reasons why Jesus exhorted people to remove the planks from their own eyes first. Ask me about my personal experiences with this sometime.

More coming on this topic when I finish the Stedman post about totalitarian religion…..

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8 Comments

Filed under personal, religion, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Response to a Response to “Late Night Theology”

  1. As someone who knows less about God every day (and who is increasingly exasperated/intrigued/puzzled by those who believe they do know God — the level of my exasperation being in direct proportion to whether they need me to know “their” God)… I say to you: Breathless. Beautiful.

    Still waiting for your piece on Stedman (tapping foot), but this eases the pause.

  2. Shanella

    Meghan – I thank you for your thought provoking posts. I hope that you can find a way to share these things with Ben’s uber-conservative-friends, because the fact is, sometimes Christians need a bit of love as well – even if they rub us the wrong way. Sometime we need even more love.

    In regards to your statement “I think too often we are in a rush to fix someone’s situation, make them better, improve them, or otherwise interfere because WE are uncomfortable with their situation, not because they actually need our advice”

    Yep, I absolutely agree with this… and quite a few other things below, but I do have one question – How do you share God’s love for you, and let that person who is perceived as “living in sin” (for want of a better phrase) know about that love?

    I feel as though, in trying not to push religion down a persons throat it’s easy to sit back and say, “God will save them” but didn’t God save us so that we can also share his gospel with everyone else? So, how can you “share God” without inflicting personal convictions on a person, because I think that’s an important thing to investigate and I think inaction is just as bad as force.

    thoughts?

    • Aaaaaghhh, Shanella, that is THE question, isn’t it? I had to pace around my living room for 15 minutes before I could even sit down again to think about how to start to answer. I guess what I will say here is that the further I walk, the more I realize that when G-d has used me, specifically something I’ve said, to touch someone’s life, or open them to a new way of thinking, or anything good, it’s nearly ALWAYS been incidental, not intentional. The first task is to work out the gospel in my own life, and then hope that I don’t get too stuck, and hope that the aroma of G-d follows me in spite of myself. I’m also a big believer in the “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words” paradigm. If “sharing G-d” relies too much on *telling* people about my convictions, rather than living a life that makes them curious to ask about what inspires me, then my gospel isn’t working anymore. Not for me, and certainly not for anyone who might be listening.

      Those are a couple of my thoughts, anyway. What are yours?

      • Shanella

        I try to live a life that is reflective of Jesus’ teachings and to live a life that’s pleasing to Him. I do often fail.

        I’m in agreement with your school of thought that “If “sharing G-d” relies too much on *telling* people about my convictions, rather than living a life that makes them curious to ask about what inspires me, then my gospel isn’t working anymore” … and that balance is very hard for me at times, it’s something I still trudge through because I’m apathetic by nature and I often wonder if I keep silent because I just don’t want to speak up when I *should* speak up, or if I keep silent because that is what’s needed at the time.

        That’s the tension that’s inside of me.

  3. The Broad and Narrow Way. Is that the Narrow way, conforming to a particular Reformed interpretation of the Gospel?

    To me, the broad way which leads to destruction is the way of trying to conform, trying to be like other people, be normal, not stand out; and the narrow way is the completely uniquely idiosyncratic way of the individual person self-actualising, that way to God which is only her own.

    So I read what you say of “Soul-violence” and that strange moment when you say something which just might be a synchronicity for someone else- unintentional, probably- and love it.

    Good to net-meet you.

    • “the narrow way is the completely uniquely idiosyncratic way of the individual person self-actualising, that way to God which is only her own.” – What a beautiful and completely brilliant insight. It’s good to net-meet to too 🙂

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