The #1 complaint I hear people respond with when they hear this grace message is that God isn’t only loving, He’s also a God of justice and judgment. I think to myself, “Why can’t you shake your bi-polar concept of God? He’s the most loving being in the universe yet He’s got a hair-trigger temper?” God sounds like an alcoholic father.
(Hmm…sounds like shades of a recent conversation we’ve been having, does it not?)
Darin goes to great length debunking this harmful myth in The Misunderstood God…my friend Brian McLaren goes to great length debunking this harmful slander of God’s character in A New Kind of Christianity. I want to expose this naked emperor impostor-god via a couple of relatively recent songs. But first, a Bible break:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-45 TNIV.
God is not like us – we want to curse our enemies and misbehavors; we want to withold the best for the blest – which is, of course, us. But like the eccentric, argumentative Psalms of our Holy Writ, a couple of contemporary Psalmists wrestle with the character of the prodigal God, and show us what might be a better image of the Divine.
God bless the man who stumbles
God bless the man who falls
God bless the man who yields to temptation
God bless the woman who suffers
God bless the woman who weeps
God bless the children trying her patients
Trouble getting over it
Is what you’re in for
So pour yourself another
‘Cause it’ll take a steady pair of hands
Holy or unholy ghost
Well now I can’t tell, but either way you cut it
You should get some distance if you plan to take a stand
God bless the house divided
God bless the weeds in the wheat
God bless the lamp hid under a bushel
I discovered hell to be the poison in the well
So I tried to warn the others of the curse
But then my body turned on me
I dreamt that for eternity
My family would burn
Then I awoke with a wicked thirst
By my baby’s yellow bed I kissed her forehead and rubbed her little tummy
Wondered if she’d soon despise the smell of the booze on my breath like her mom
And it makes me want to be a better man
After another drink
God bless the man at the crossroads
God bless the woman who still can’t sleep
God bless the history that doesn’t repeat
This is an ambivalent song, to be sure. Evangelicalism’s erstwhile poster child grew up in the Assemblies of God and spent some time among Calvinists in an attempt to bolster the consistency of his faith – in both cases, just like me. He & I are approaching the life of faith from different trajectories now, but we both struggle with how to raise our little girls with integrity amidst a world that increasingly has more options. In the midst of it all, we’d like to believe in the God of Jesus – the God who loves, and blesses, indiscriminately – even when we’re hurting ourselves. (You can see other good versions of the song here and here, and perhaps download it here? For more on Bazan’s story, read these three excellent – but R-rated, just so ya know – interviews, in The Chicago Reader, eMusic, and Patrol.)
The most over-exposed man in rock – and perhaps period – Bono Vox Himself, has good reason for getting as much exposure as he does. Among other things, his tenacious vision of God’s peace and shalom over and against the legalism of his Irish youth comes through in his songwriting, album after album. ‘City of Blinding Lights‘ is a great recent example:
The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then, than I do now
…I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?
Time, time, time, time, time, time
Won’t leave me as I am…
But time won’t take the boy out of this man…
The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for – others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily…luckily we don’t believe in luck…
Grace abounds…grace abounds…grace abounds…
Like me, Bono has wrestled with the world-affirming and world-denying in voices like that of Chinese mystic and church planter Watchman Nee. And like me, he’s had to say that what traditional Christianity has meant by “the world” we were meant to “come out of” and what Jesus (and Paul, and others) meant by this enigmatic phrase are two completely different – indeed, opposite – things.
Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.
As the US Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori recently remarked, the idea of solely personal salvation is heresy. Our redemption begins in this world, its social and public as well as personal – at this stage, in 2012, salvation is planetary in scope. The ecology of new creation needs to be rooted in every aspect of our beings, from creative work to re-creation.
Bottom-line: God is love. Love is orthodoxy. (Agapetheism, as my friend Kevin Beck likes to put it) It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not the big stick that you imagine God’s holiness to be. Let’s join together in the Great Work of our age – becoming the leaves of the Tree of Life for the healing of our relationships, our neighborhoods, our ecosystems, our economies – in short, our world. This begins, as Brennan Manning says, with healing our image of God – and the ones God loves. Which is all of us. God brings abundant blessings…not just for the ones who kneel. May we model this same lavish, indiscriminate, sloppy, positively promiscuous love.
Amen and amen.
PS: What songs, art, poetry and cultural artifacts remind you of God’s blessing breaking out of the confines of empire and religion?
This post originally debuted on December 3, 2009