Friday, April 18, 2003

God On My Side

Or, Why Everyone Else Isn't Necessarily Going to Hell

God is on my side. I know, you see, because I prayed about it. I knew you’d disagree with me, too. The Bible says that anyone who tries to live righteously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. So naturally if you give me a difficult time of things or disagree, you are a child of the devil. Or not “within God’s will.” Indeed, the Bible told me his will, and what more does a real Christian need? There are good or bad, worthy or unworthy people, and right or wrong beliefs. God loves the first and tolerates or even despises the second. I hear from people that there two sides: evil Afghanistan or guiltless America; evil Palestinians or divinely chosen Israel. I heard at church that Christians killed at the WTC hadn’t “heard from God” that morning. It’s enough to make me think twice about skipping morning prayers.

And yet...

Jesus characterized God as an equal opportunity lover: “He causes his rain to fall upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.” If this is true, the moral reasoning we credit to God is not his at all. It would seem he doesn’t categorize men and women according to simple ideas of good and bad as I do. Does he in some ways differentiate between those who obey and those who rebel? Yes. Do those differences determine his love for those men and women, or the whole of sinful humanity? No.

Christian theology (see Romans and John’s Gospel) holds that God loves all the people in the world so much that he expressed it in the death of Jesus Christ, in which he assumed the sinfulness of the entire world. Sinners are reconciled through Christ, and men and women can be called righteous (morally perfect) by virtue of his righteousness. This is what I’ve heard. But if grace is indeed God’s unmerited favor, and he insists upon justifying the unjust, then all disgraced men and women—oppressed and oppressors alike—are recipients of his unconditional love. If Christ crucified bore man’s burden as the godforsaken sinner and God raised him up, then each of the godforsaken has been brought near to God by this event.

If this is true, perhaps I’ve misunderstood some things and continue to do so. Perhaps the Risen Lord welcomes to himself the abused as well as their abusers: war hawks, pacifists, conservatives, liberals, fundamentalists, addicts, welfare moms, murderers, the wise, homosexuals, martyrs, thieves and everyone I (and society) seek to cleanly categorize as good or bad, worthy or unworthy of love and compassion. Perhaps the Master welcomes those we never would.

That admission does not come easily; people like to justify themselves by comparing their moral strengths and weaknesses to those of others. But if the Gospel is really good news, God does not honor such attitudes. He disagrees with them. Vehemently. Judge and you condemn yourself, says Paul. Judge and you will be judged by God, says Jesus. It would seem that my moral sensibilities often oppose God’s call to indiscriminate love. His judgments and mine are diametrically opposed.

Perhaps, then, the God who is for me is not necessarily on my side. If God loves indiscriminately, he certainly does not discriminate against men and women with respect to my shortsighted categories. Nor does he respect those of anyone else. Perhaps that’s why the Christ of God was so careful to say that a disciple’s deepest love should be reserved for his or her enemies. Perhaps instead of adopting our morality, God himself has a greater morality to which he calls us instead.

No comments: