I’ve been wrestling lately with the crap inside of me. My own broken places. The effects of shame that rear up to suck me back into a hole of “you’re not good enough.” I’ve fought with my own besetting sin and the distractions that are triggers for me.
I’ve witnessed my sister going through the painful process of chemotherapy. I’ve read text reports of a family member’s baby fighting for his life. I’ve read the devastating reports and watched the wreckage video of tornadoes in Oklahoma. And I’ve read the tweets and heard the rhetoric of Christians pointing to the "justice" of God. His punishment for sin. I’m sick about the suffering and fed up with the judgment of people who speak for God.
So, this week I’ve been talking with God again about how our twisted thinking about “original sin” tends to make our brokenness the greater plot line in his Story. I believe it’s true: the way we often talk about and experience our doctrine of sin makes it greater and more powerful than God’s grace – the actual point of the Story.
When we do this, our view of God often makes him little more than a punisher of sin and a deity who is adamantly opposed to those who sin – sinners. He is the ever-punishing God. Our view of human kind, then, often seems narrowly, even ultimately, defined as “depraved” without a shred of decency. Really?
Seems we often forget foundational, Genesis-level realities. Truths like: God created human kind in his image. His image. Has he somehow, sometime along the way stopped making us in his image? Were only the first humans created in his likeness, with his virtues and characteristics?
Do we dismiss, forget or deny what The Creator said about human kind? He said, “It is very good.” In our modern definition, we tend to compare “good” to “great,” and conclude “good” is just okay. But God defined “good” as an ultimate stamp of divine excellence. His creation wasn’t and isn’t substandard or subverted. He created us in his image and said, “This is very good.”
But given how we allow our view of “original sin” to skew our view of human kind, it’s no wonder we so easily assume the role of judge. After all, if humans are first of all depraved, then it’s easy to speak from a “saved” position and proclaim “less than” on anyone and everyone else. So “Christians” sit on their self-designed thrones and quote scriptures after natural tragedies that are confusing at best or they declare “God’s judgment” after a bombing that reeks of insensitivity and borderline disdain.
In his book Renovation of the Heart, the late Dallas Willard reminds us that our spiritual formation didn’t begin when we recognized or even came to Christ, but rather our formation as spiritual beings began when we inhaled our first breath of air. Because we’re created in the image of God, we are spiritual beings. There’s nothing about our existence that isn’t spiritual. When we think of the physical and mental as separate from the spiritual, we fail to recognize what it is to be fully human. And as fully human beings, God says, “It is very good.”
I’ve heard pastors speak to or about non-Christians in their weekend services as though everything about their lives was vile, God-hating, and destructive. Why start there?
What about the thumbprint of God they already bear? What about his image that already defines who they are as created human beings? What about the charity, goodwill, and kindness they’ve always displayed? It would make much more sense to invite people to leverage (even surrender) their hearts (which are already formed in God’s image) for a different cause—the cause of God’s redemptive kingdom in the world. It’s an invitation to live out the value with which we were created. An invitation to admit to our loving Father and our sovereign Creator that we need him. That we are lost trying to find our own way. That our ultimate sense of purpose and good will is not complete without the intentionality to follow because he is Lord, not because we hope he’ll make our life plan work more comfortably and successfully.
What if people heard us say what Peter said to Cornelius? “God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure.”
Because people matter. Right where they are.
(I have more thoughts. Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.)