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