We often enjoy bashing God because he doesn’t kill the bad guys for us – “why would a just God allow such evil to exist?” Counter-question: can you imagine what the world would look like if God answered evil with destruction?
Let’s take Jesus’ example literally. Imagine if our Father did one thing only in this regard: what if He refused to send rain on the unjust?
Even if we were to use human standards of justice, allowing those who merely keep their noses clean, pay their taxes, drop a little money to charity here and there, and generally mind their own business the designation of “just”, the world would turn into a burning wasteland in short order.
There is no part of the world that would be deserving of rain, excepting perhaps those which have no human beings at all; and those places would quickly be found out and inhabited – the least righteous among us (being unencumbered by notions of fair-play) undoubtedly finding their way first. And then those regions wouldn’t receive rain either.
The righteous (if such people exist) would die alongside the unrighteous. Plants and trees would die, littering the landscape with ghoulish skeletons; sandy, parched riverbeds would be covered in dead fish; the land would be littered with the corpses of every animal you can imagine. All of humanity would whither into nothing; you would die of thirst, so would I. Our prayers for absolute justice would be answered.
Love your enemies sounds like a tall order, particularly if we perceive it to be a call to affection. But Jesus’ command here isn’t that at all; it’s a call to change our thinking. The Father loves the world and all who inhabit it, whether they are deserving of that love or not. And while few will be saved (Matthew 7:14), it is God’s earnest desire that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus understands more than anyone that what He’s commanding here is not easy; it’s not something that you can do by turning a switch in your mind. He gets that this involves years of work on your part (and His), prayer, struggle and sacrifice. It’s nothing He didn’t go through Himself. You are not called to feel affection and fondness for your enemies; you’re called to understand that even the vilest people you can imagine were created by our Father, whose desire is for them to repent and return to right relationship with Him.
You’re called to change your mind about them.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
- Matthew 16:24-25
There are few Christian teachings that supersede this fundamental truth: If you have given your life to Christ, you no longer live to satisfy your own needs, gratify your own desires, reach your own ambitions, live your own dreams. God’s personality is such that He who exercises kingship and dominion over all creation would gladly get on his knees and wash someone else’s filthy feet. We are to be the same.
What a stark contrast with the values of the world in which we live today, in which we are taught precisely the opposite. Lucille Ball summed up the prevailing wisdom when she said “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world”. If we would all just love ourselves, we can save the world.
Perhaps never before has such a shattering culture-shift taken hold in humanity’s thinking, to the extent that many Christians have followed suit. (How many sermons have you heard on living your dreams? I’ve heard too many). Perhaps never before has humanity fallen for so devastating a lie; time will tell.
Look at the world around you. It’s richer than ever, certainly more convenient; chances are that you work fewer hours and are better compensated than most who came before you dared to dream. But there’s a problem isn’t there? There’s an emptiness, an aggravation simmering beneath the surface. While we indulge our desires with the press of a button and instant gratification becomes more of a reality, people are withdrawing from one another in droves, relationships are becoming far more fractious, far hollower. We’re consuming anti-depressants by the tonne just so we can cope. The ugliness beneath it all is starting to show.
Watch as children, children, bully, shame, disgrace and humiliate their peers on social media to the point of suicide. Watch as children, children, pick up automatic machine guns and shoot up their teachers and their fellow students. Watch as human beings basking in internet anonymity use their position to defecate on the integrity of others. Watch as human beings call in bomb-threats to synagogues and death-threats to political leaders. Watch as child-porn grows in disturbing popularity despite all reasonable efforts to stop it. We thought we had racism beat. We didn’t beat it, it went underground, grew there, festered and became uglier than ever; social media just showed us where to look.
Watch the world; look closely. The doctrine of self-love hasn’t saved us from our destruction, it’s hastened it, sending us into a death-spiral from which humanity may not be able to recover.
Am I saying that I have discovered the cure to selfishness, that I personally have licked this problem and am urging you to do the same? Not a chance. There are times when I wonder whether I’ve ever done anything that wasn’t tainted by selfish desire.
But mark well; what we believe matters. If we buy into the ugly lie that we need to love ourselves before all others, we will all self-destruct, sooner or later. Having faith in yourself is literally a dead-end proposition.
The alternative? Love God with your whole heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. Ultimately, we are all tainted by selfishness, by sin, and ultimately, we all miss the mark. But think of what we can achieve when we try with God’s help; and think of what personal happiness can be achieved if we can manage to forget about ourselves for even a short while.
May the Lord Jesus Christ radically change our hearts and turn them outwards.
I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.
- John 15:5
How silly are my words, how clumsy my attempts to praise you. All of creation sings your praises, continuously, over and over again, and when I try to join in the chorus, I’m off-key and off-beat. But you love me anyway. As a parent loves a child’s clumsy attempts to do adult things - all the more for the clumsiness, which is just plain endearing - so you love the worship that I have to offer you.
But when we decline your help, when we aim to do adult things without the benefit of your guidance and the safety of your presence, what a mess we make; and how dangerous we become. We’re like seven-year-olds making off with the keys and trying to drive Dad’s car. We’re toddlers jumping in the pool the moment Dad has his back turned.
Thanks be to God, whose back is never really turned.
Your interest is in our well-being, our maturity and growth in you, our spiritual safety. And when we remain in you, when we trust in you, mountains excuse themselves and clear a path.
Help us to remain in you. Help us grow to become faithful and fit adults in your Kingdom. And may many more children join us yet.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- James 4:8
I have my car radio tuned to the Christian AM radio station. Because I'm out of town and far away from the station, the reception isn't great; there's an audible, high-pitched whine that drown's out what's being said and, if I get far enough away, blocks it out completely.
This reminds me of times in my life when I've strayed from God, gone my own way, and royally messed things up. These were times when I built my house on sand, the storm came, and my house was obliterated.
In such times (there were a lot of them), I'd sooner or later run to God for guidance, and end up complaining that trying to talk to God was like praying to a brick wall. Nothing doing on the other end. Nothing but a high-pitched whine.
Well no wonder. It seems obvious to me now, but I suppose it wasn't at the time. No one would take an AM radio 500 miles from the nearest tower and expect it to work. Why would I expect Jesus to be in arm's reach when I've gone to such efforts to distance myself from Him?
Can the Holy Spirit bridge the incredible distance that I've created between He and I? Sure He can; He's God. But why would He reward my disobedience and laziness?
God doesn't expect perfect (if He did, we'd all be hopelessly lost), but He does expect sincerity; we're not saved by works, but we still need to work on the relationship. We reap what we sow. If we want the Holy Spirit in our lives when times get tough, we need to stay close to God when things are going well.
If we don't, we'll have some travelling to do before the reception clears up.
We wonder about God. We question His right to judge us. What does He know about our hardships and trials? It’s all good to sit there in Heaven looking down with contempt while we drink and drug and fight, but He doesn’t have to go through the pain brought us to this point, does He?
If you were abused as a child, you are much more likely to abuse your own children, and that highlights the point precisely. Sin got here before we did; can we be blamed for carrying on the tradition? It’s all good for God to sit in His clean and tidy little spot in the heavens and avert His eyes at our filth, but if He were here, wouldn’t He be just as filthy as the rest of us? Just a slob like one of us?
But all of that misses the point entirely. God was one of us. He took on our weaknesses and our hardships; and when He did, He didn’t choose an ivory tower in some calm, quiet country to do it. He chose occupied Palestine. He chose a conquered nation of people living in squalor, debt-slavery and poverty. He chose a country where the only chance someone like Him had for any sort of comfort was to become a puppet of the occupying forces: a tax collector, or perhaps a mouthpiece of the Roman Proconsul.
He chose instead the life of a servant.
Okay, well good for Him. He does all that, then goes through a life of hardship without sinning and proves the point that we are the problem. He goes home, His point is made, we lose the argument, right?
Wrong, He doesn’t just prove His point. God doesn’t come to show us that He can live one of the most difficult lives a human being can live and remain innocent. He comes to die so that our guilt may no longer prevent us from entering into His presence. He sheds his own innocent blood to rescue us from the condemnation that we have brought upon ourselves. We take pain and turn it into sin, which creates more pain, which in turn creates more sin. He takes pain, ours and His, and turns it into redemption.
God isn’t oblivious at all to the pain we have suffered, He has suffered it all, betrayal, loneliness, fear, death. What’s more, He’s not looking down in condemnation. He’s looking down with love and longing, erupting with joy and celebration every single time one of us turns from our sin, turns towards Heaven, and accepts the amazing gift that He has given us. God is not just free from sin, he is filled and brimming over with love, joy, kindness, patience and peace. He hasn’t hung a “keep out” sign on the gates of Heaven, He’s thrown open the doors; and His heart breaks for those who choose not to enter.
Worthy is the lamb indeed.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.