No one wakes up one day and says, “I have decided to be a heretic.” Some may ask, along with Glinda in Wicked: “Are people born [heretics] or do they have [heresy] thrust upon them?” As I have said in my previous post, the core of what drives people to heresy is the journey to find some sort of balance to the universe where all is well for all, then no one will be left out of the riches of what God has prepared. However what drives the heresy care is ones own self, not the unchanging truth of God.
What happened for me is that I saw within myself this blackness that I did not know how to handle. Having been a Christian for so long I found myself fighting that black tar sin with growing despair. The answer that my church gave me was to work harder, to take the weekly challenge from the sermon, strive toward perfection, and eventually become sinless, and thus embody Christ on earth. What resulted is a growing infection that obscured my sin from my own eyes, because this was the only way that I could reconcile what I heard from the pulpit and what I knew to be true about myself.
Cubic Zirconium in the Rough
My distaste further grew when I entered college and learned that there were better and more accurate ways to read the Bible than what was ever even hinted in Sunday School classes. The more I learned about the Bible the more at a loss I was; where was the solution to my blackness, my sin? I had “prayed the prayer” and “accepted Jesus” many years ago, but acceptance just got you into the club; the rest was up to you. I felt betrayed, and that betrayal instead of fueling anger and rejection of my faith fueled a self-directed journey to find a solution.
I became a heretic (although I did not recognize it at the time) because I believed that the church itself had gotten off track and needed to be redeemed. I believed that there was a need to accept people as they are, to no longer judge them for their behavior, and to love them in spite of themselves.
It was easy, then, to read books by Rob Bell and Brian McLaren who in essence said what I was thinking and branched out further to offer solutions. They too had seen the pain that the perceived judgmental church has done to the world, and so they reacted with what seemed like a reclamation of loving-kindness. I found freedom in thinking that God was no longer motivated by wrath, but through the sacrifice of Christ he could love me just the way I am. I no longer had to work harder to earn God’s favor, because it was there already.
The Love Problem
What these authors, among them associates of the Emergent Village, have done is redefine love. Liberal theology seeks to undermine original sin and look past it to see the good in every person. Love, thus, becomes a good feeling that one gets when tapping into that inherent goodness, finally leading to peace, connection, relationship, and overwhelming pleasure. Love then becomes about blindly overlooking flaws because that is what God does; he loves us just the way we are. The Bible then becomes a story to remind us that God loves us, and Christ’s death a statement of how serious God is about that love.
This sounded like an answer. As I stood on the precipice and considered leaping into liberal theology, love became the disembodied force that attempted to pull me over the edge. Love, it seems, overlooks my own blackness and sin. Love eliminates my shame over what I continued to struggle with and against. I could be free because love meant that nothing else mattered. But that love did not make things right. That love did not make my life any better. In fact that love meant an ironic abandonment of reality of who I really was and am. Ironically enough, it was the Roman Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton, who solidified this concern:
To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth. A love that sees no distinction between good and evil, but loves blindly merely for the sake of loving, is hatred, rather than love. To love blindly is to love selfishly, because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of love in our own souls. Such love cannot seem to be love unless it pretends to seek the good of the one loved. But since it actually cares nothing for the truth, and never considers that it may go astray, it proves itself to be selfish. It does not seek the true advantage of the beloved or even our own. It is not interested in the truth, but only in itself. It proclaims itself content with an apparent good: which is the exercise of love for its own sake, without any consideration of the good or bad effects of loving. (No Man Is An Island p. 3 1955)
The veil began to lift as I read those words: what was our faith if it was all about loving people for the way they are? What did it mean that we needed to accept people for who they have decided to be? Not only did those word ring in my head, but I heard their reverberation throughout the pages of Scripture. If we are all okay the way we are then why did Christ come to die in the first place? Brian McLaren was posed that question. In one of his books he recalls that he wanted to be sure that he answered that question honestly so he went to others to ask them what they thought and he got no satisfactory answer. So he went back to the person after a week of investigation and said, “I don’t know.”
A heretic’s heart is the heart of his heresy.
When love becomes “radical acceptance,” meaning acceptance in spite of unrepentant sin, then it is no longer love. God’s love has never been about “radical acceptance,” but God continues to love with longing. Even as he ejected Adam and Eve from the garden, he made clothes for them to wear and promised that he would send a Savior. God did not “love them anyway,” but he loved them because of the transcendent work of his Son. God loves because of his promise, and that promise is the one that Christ himself recalled as he blessed the ones who heard and believed over the centuries before as “those who have not seen.” God does not love us the way we are; he loves us, meaning that he accepts us, because we are made clean by the blood of Christ.
Why I Am Against Love
The thing that keeps people married for 65 years is not their partner’s attractiveness or a good feeling. What really binds two people together is a mutual care and concern for the other, in spite of how it might feel, whether that feeling is one of affection or frustration. When Christ commanded us to love, he did not mean have good feelings for all those you come into contact with. Do a word study on agape and you will learn that the sort of love that Christ commands has little to nothing to do with a good feeling, but everything to do with the concern for the welfare of the one who is loved. Try this on for size:
For God has so much concern for the welfare of the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Attempting to translate the verse “because God felt all warm and gushy about the whole world” does not fit at all with the nature of God as he has revealed himself throughout Scripture. It is easy for some to see him as wrathful in the Old Testament, but in human form he was just as intolerant of unrighteousness and corruption of his commandments. Read the gospels again without the “love” lens and you can easily spot him calling people names, ridiculing their beliefs, and decrying their positions. Sure, Jesus knew how to have fun, but the fun he did have was ususally with those who knew that they “need a doctor.”
Did Christ love all the people he came in contact with? Yes, the difference was that he loved with a righteous love, a perfect love and did not concern himself with feeling good about it. If that does not make the point, look at Christ’s ultimate expression of love: his death. Who will argue with me that this action was motivated by a good feeling on any level? God’s love for the world is not a good feeling of affection; he loves because he is concerned with his creation and with the people that he has chosen. The story of the Bible is a demonstration that God will do whatever it takes to see that his will is done. The story of the Bible is that we are nothing but filthy rags to him on our own, but Christ takes those rags and exchanges them for his robe of righteousness.
May our love reflect the love of Christ.
SEE ALSO: HAIRY TICKS: AN INSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE