In my pastoral work, I am frequently asked about complex issues and the questions are framed as though they can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If a person commits suicide are they lost forever? Can a person who is divorced remarry? Is my sickness the result of a sin in my life? There are things I deeply believe that are formed around my study of the Scripture and I am bold to speak them, but pastoral work has taught me that theology is set in the context of human experience. God’s message must find a hearing among people of mixed motives, varying experiences, and differing abilities of understanding. When it comes to the issues I mentioned as examples and so many more, one size simply does not fit all!
Simplistic thinking that pigeon-holes everyone into some pre-determined category in our mind destroys relationships. Allowing ourselves to think that ‘all people who are (fill in the blank) are (fill in the blank)’ may make life easier for us, but that black and white thinking robs us of the subtle nuances of reality. The Bible says that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) We are loved by God Who offers grace-based forgiveness and constantly draws us to Himself despite our multiple detours and failures. His love should teach us to love others with great grace. But, does it? Paul urges us to “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all people.” (Titus 3:2, NIV)
Allowing for complexity, humbly realizing that sweeping generalizations about groups of people are simply wrong, demands thoughtfulness and a willingness to admit – to ourselves and others – “I don’t know it all and I live with questions that remains unanswered.”
I am going to put a couple of pointed questions to you for your reflection.
- How many conversations have you had that refused to give the benefit of the doubt to another?
- How often have you locked a person into a prison of preconceptions created by one statement, one act, one momentary failure that happened years ago?
- Are there some difficult people you know that you have decided are ‘beyond redemption’?
- Have you distanced yourself from someone or some group, even refusing to pray or care about them?
Those choices are refusals to boldly love and, no matter how we dress them up with excuses, they are re-packaged hatred. Love is complex and will allow for change, for growth, for development of that other person. Love is defined as a choice of action, not a passive response. The Word says that “Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ” (1 Corinthians 13:5-9, NLT)
Here is a story from the Gospels about some who were so right that they got life all wrong! A woman was caught in the act of adultery and the men who dragged to her Jesus, declared “She’s bad, what should we do with her?” “Doesn’t she deserve to die?” “Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:4-11, NLT) In his response we are taught about grace that fills in the gaps and love that lays a foundation for change.
The appeal I make is not to lose all of our convictions, nor must we water down the Word or God’s call to holiness in order to be loving. Rather we pray to be like Jesus – a Perfect Man, yet compassionate; holy in every way, yet able to a redemptive love to those who were spectacular failures. Think one more time about the Word I quoted a moment ago. Do not “slander anyone … avoid quarreling. Instead, be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” (Titus 3:2, NLT)
Here’s a word from the Word – one I love because it is my testimony, too. “Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus. This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. Glory and honor to God forever and ever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:14-17, NLT)
Through every battle
Through every heartbreak
Through every circumstance
I believe that You are my fortress
Oh You are my portion
You are my hiding place
Oh I believe You are
The Way the Truth the Life
I believe You are
The Way the Truth the Life
I believe (You are)
Through every blessing
Through every promise
Through every breath I take
I believe that You are provider
You are protector
You are the One I love
I believe You are
It’s a new horizon
And I’m set on You
And You meet me here today
With mercies that are new
All my fears and doubts\
They can all come too
Because they can’t stay long
(When I’m here with You)
(When I believe You are)
Ben Smith | Daniel Bashta | Pat Barrett
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