Friday, 4 August 2017

Is This Love?

I read a heart-breaking blog post today about a child who reached out for love and understanding from the church, and who was offered judgement and condemnation in their stead. As I was reading, the following words leaped out at me:
“If we want to understand what it means to love, we need to be looking to Christ, and taking notice of those he drew to himself and the way in which he drew them. The way in which we ourselves were drawn.”
Those words raised an important question in my mind: How many people in the church actually have been 'drawn to Jesus' because of his outrageous, totally unconditional love?

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And how many have merely “made a decision for Christ” because they were told that unless they did, they would spend eternity being tortured in hell?

How many simply muttered "the sinner's prayer" like an incantation as insurance against being condemned to an unending punishment, having been assured that the “wrath of God” can be assuaged by nothing less?

And it occurred to me that maybe this is the heart of the problem. That we are unable to love like Jesus loved, because we have never actually received that love ourselves.

I know growing up in the church, this was my experience.

I was told that God loved me. But the proof I was offered was that he slaughtered his own son in order to "pay the debt" I owed him for being born such a miserable sinner. (Even though being born at all was his idea, not mine.)

I was told that Jesus loved me. They said he'd proved it by "taking my place" and getting tortured and killed instead of me. So I kind of owed him. And that meant I had to be on my best behaviour for the rest of my life (a life which he now owned by the way) to somehow make it up to him or something.

So I said a prayer which, I was told, guaranteed me my very own "get-out-of-hell-free" card.

The trouble is, in all of this I hadn't been drawn to Jesus because he loved me. I'd been compelled to say a prayer because I was so scared of what I was told would happen if I didn't.

So I spent years "being a christian" and "going to church", while the love I knew about in theory remained just that. Theoretical. And because of that - because what I'd received was shame and fear, not love - that was all I had to offer others.

All I had to share was the message of how bad I had been until Jesus "took my punishment", and how bad others were until they accepted the same offer and then lived up to the conditions written in small print in the contract. And those conditions seemed to consist mostly of avoiding the list of sins that the church had cherry-picked out of the bible as being really too bad to forgive without a lot of grovelling and recanting, and a little bit of self-flagellation thrown in for good measure.

(Although, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure some of those "sins" were just made up to make sure we didn't have any fun, and had nothing to do with the bible at all! However, I digress...)

The point is, it is a sad reality that far too many people in the church today would swear blind that they are motivated purely by the love of God, but are really only offering shame and fear and sin-management to those around them. What is even sadder, is that they seem to have genuinely mistaken this for love!

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