Chapter 5 Assigned Sunday, March 6th.
In “The Good and Beautiful God,” the author received an odd call from a woman asking if she could come to his church, and her story was she got pregnant in high school by a boy who had no interest in her or the baby. She decided to keep the baby and get her life in order and go back to her church. She asked the pastor if she could speak to the middle school aged girls about the pressures of dating and sex, but he was not interested in what she could offer and did not allow her to have her baby baptized because it was illegitimate. She found a new church, had her child baptized, worked with young people, finished her education and found great opportunities.
The pastors rejection seems shocking and insensitive, but it reflects a common narrative on how God only loves us when we are good. If that were the case, Gods love would constantly fluctuate. We live in a world based on our performance – our good and bad behavior – which determines the way we are accepted and produces a world full of highly conditional love. The author is a parent, and finds it easy to reward good behavior and quickly punish bad behavior, which is part of his job to teach right and wrong – the struggle is showing the children’s actions are being evaluated and not their identity. He still loves his children. We go to church, read our bible, donate money, serve the needy and avoid sin to try and control how God feels about us, “This is legalism, the attempt to earn God’s love through our actions, to earn God’s favor or avoid God’s curses through pious activities.” All those things are very good for both ourselves and our community, but we should seek to participate out of love for such things and not because we worry we might be punished. As we are drawn to superstitions and project them onto God, that is not how it is supposed to work.
God welcomes sinners, as Jesus took Matthew who was a tax collector to be one of his disciples, a rare honor given to someone with a despicable occupation for Jewish men. The religious leaders thought bad things about Jesus associating with tax collectors and sinners, wanting to expose him as a false prophet, but Jesus told them it was his mission to reach out to all people not just the righteous. “…the Pharisees are just as sick and sinful as the tax collectors; they just fail to admit it. The tax collectors, on the other hand, have no pretense. They’re used to being called sinners.”
It is said we try to distract people from Jesus’s narrative of unconditional acceptance because it goes against the performance-based acceptance narrative that is deeply embedded in our lives. Jesus taught that God loves sinners, he loves people as they are, and not as they should be. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The book takes us to the story of the prodigal father in Luke 15:11-32 who has a couple sons and one asks to take his inheritance early and leaves to spend it on sinful living, which was seen as disrespectful. He wastes everything and comes home, and his father is filled with compassion. The father has waited for his sons return, as he forgives his son and throws him a welcome party. What the passage really says is God loves even those who sin against him. There is another person in this, the elder brother who represents the part of us that is not comfortable with God’s unconditional love for others or even ourselves. The elder brother becomes angry to find out his brother is being thrown a party after disrespecting the family. As it is shown, such things are unfair but they are Go
“The chief point is that there is only one thing that separates us from God, and it is not our sin. It is our self-righteousness. Our self-righteousness does not turn God from us, but us from God. It is not my sin that moves me away from God, it is my refusal of grace, both for myself and for others.” God loves the return of broken people because they can be welcome in his kingdom.
The soul-training exercise for the chapter is known as Lecto Divina, which means divine reading. The exercise requires you to pick a passage in the bible and read through it carefully three times, allowing yourself time to reflect on the passage, pray, take time to rest, and respond to what God is calling you to do. Everyone will find something different.
As a communications major, I sometimes find it easier to communicate idea’s visually rather than long paragraphs.
– James –