Saturday, April 4, 2009

God is love: a simple but often difficult TRUTH to grasp!

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This is the verse quoted by Lee Strobel at the end of his book, The Case for Faith. My husband and I watched the movie last night, and we both enjoyed it. We had to pause the movie here and there, though, to discuss our thoughts about the different issues that were brought up (and such good ones they were, watch it!). The two big issues are/were those regarding the existence of a truly loving God in a world filled with suffering and the often-controversial core Christian belief that Jesus truly is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Now, I'm not writing this to start any kind of debate or curse anyone to hell, in fact, I'm here to talk about my aversion to both of those things, particularly the latter.

When Lee Stroble and the theologians he interveiwed used the crucifixtion to explain God's intensely real love in a world filled with sin and pain, Jose paused the movie for a second. He said something I've already heard before, but he said it in a much more obvious way. It's true that God's people are his bride and he is the bridegroom, it's mentioned in the Bible and repeatedly discussed among Christians -- but what if we were to simplify that even more?

Let's put it in much more 'human' terms. God's love for us is like a husband's love for his wife; it's very romantic, actually. It is unconditional, steadfast and faithful. He wants to woo us so that we love him with abandon; he gave us the most beautiful rose, the promise of everlasting life, and he wore a crown of thorns to prove it.

Jesus. Here is a perfect man who said he came to save the world, not condemn it. And there we are -- lost and confused, wanting change in our hearts and the hearts in those around us, but we are a slave to our human condition and we can only do so much. We have abandoned our God for things that, in the end, only cause us more suffering. It's a vicscious cycle and we want out, but when the issue of hell arises, we're angry that any 'god' could send people he supposedly loves to such a dark and insufferable place. It's as if hell is the major roadblock to people accepting that Jesus is the perfect and loving son of God, next to suffering. (For a great explanation on suffering's existence and how it doesn't contradict with the reality of a loving God, read The Case for Faith!)

But Jesus didn't focus on hell when he was on Earth, he focused on the promise of Heaven and hope. He did correct those who damned people to hell, though. Think of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute he rescued while she was being stoned, he claimed that no one was worthy of stoning her. He corrected the Pharisees, men who falsely advertised their supposed 'faith' and 'allegiance' to God with their (very corrupt) "pious" ways, but they totally missed THE POINT -- Jesus. He literally made friends with sinners and the sick; leopers that no one would touch, he healed. People that no one would associate with, he befriended and called disciples. He outstretched his hand - actually, both of them - the very same ones that were nailed to a cross not only to save, but to express his (literal) undying love for every one of those sinners. Death (and resurrection in this case) is the ultimate sacrifice for sins, the ultimate display of real love.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

Jesus. Here is a man who longs for us similar to (but stronger than) the way a groom longs for his earthly bride; he would do anything to save her, even if it means undergoing the most painful and undeserved death. Here is a man who, when you say I'm sorry (even though you've cheated on him with sin, and let's admit it, we've all screwed up!) -- he never brings up that wrongdoing again! Even if you feel guilty about it, you shouldn't, because he's already forgotten about it.

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Hebrews 8:12

But so many of us have this image of an angry and difficult to please God who's always on our back about something, we forget that he is on our side and that he has our back. I am guilty of this. Growing up criticized again and again, and verbally abused even for the littlest things, I developed a somewhat distorted view of God. Unfortunately, the Bible was sometimes used to condone this criticism, and even though I tried my best to follow God in my youth, I often felt I could never please him. I heard that God loved me, but it was hard to truly believe just how much, especially when I felt I wasn't good enough.

In turn, I wasn't sure who was right and who was wrong, so I asked God to show me; I asked him to make himself real to me, I wanted to know who he really was. When I went to college and left that emotionally unhealthy environment, it was easier for me to see the truth. Now that I look back, I realize he was there all along. With my weak human strength, I could not have made it. I felt so desperate for a solution and lonely at times, but those were the moments I literally cried out to God. Even though I didn't understand him, I knew he was there and that was enough to get me through a rough childhood alive, emotionally and very much physically too. Being able to look back and clearly see that is part of my answered prayer, and God continues to make himself known to me every day.

Still, there are moments the guilt unexpectedly creeps in. Sometimes it comes after I've already asked for forgiveness for a wrongdoing (i.e., saying something hurtful, thinking something unloving), and other times the guilt resurfaces when I've picked at the scab of an old wound (I get stuck thinking about the past). I'm glad I can take comfort in this verse:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:18-19

I don't believe I'm sugarcoating the message of Jesus when I say that his love (and not condemnation) should be emphasized when we minister to people, both with our actions and words. He came to offer grace and forgiveness; he came to save and not condemn. Remember, it is said...

If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.
Matthew 12:7

Jesus begins his ministry in the heart of the individual, he reaches out to us in very personal ways. If we are curious in the least bit, if we want to better understand who God really is, he will reveal himself to us if and when we ask. However, as followers of Christ, when we condemn anyone to hell, we are creating a roadblock for God to reveal himself in their heart, because that condmenation hardens it. After all, Jesus interceded on Mary Magdalene's behalf, he saved her from the stoning, so who are we to cast the first stone? By doing so we are only contradicting Christ and, at that point, we sincerely have to ask ourselves whose side we're on.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 3:16

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