Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MARCH BOOK REVIEW: "Searching For God Knows What" by Donald Miller PART II

The hijacking of the concept of morality began, of course, when we reduced scripture to a formula and a love story to theology, and finally morality to rules. It is a very different thing to break a rule than it is to cheat on a lover. A person’s mind can do all sorts of things his heart would never let him do. If we think of God’s grace as a technicality, a theological precept, we can disobey without the slightest feeling of guilt, but if we think of God’s grace as a relational invitation, an outreach of love, we are pretty much jerks for belittling the gesture.

In this way, it isn’t only the moralist looking for a feeling of superiority who commits crimes against God, it is also those of us who react by doing what we want, claiming God’s grace. Neither view of morality connects behavior to a relational exchange with Jesus. When I run a stop sign, for example, I am breaking a law against a system of rules, but if I cheat on my wife, I have broken a law against a person. The first is impersonal; the latter is intensely personal.

* * *

There are a great many motives for morality, but in my mind they are less than noble. Morality for love’s sake, for the sake of God and the sake of others, seems more beautiful to me than morality for morality’s sake, morality to build a better nation here on earth, morality to protect our schools, morality as an identity for one of the parties in the culture, one of the identities in the lifeboat.

I confess, when I was young my mind rebelled form the standard evangelical mantra about morality. My rebellion was reactionary, to be sure. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an evangelical leader on television talking about this culture war, about how we are being threatened by persons with an immoral agenda, and I can’t tell you how many sermons I have heard in which immoral pop stars or athletes or politicians have been denounced because of their shortcomings. Rarely, however, have I heard any of these ideas connected with the dominant message of Christ, a message of grace and forgiveness and a call to repentance. Rather, the moral message I had heard is often a message of bitterness and anger because OUR morality, OUR culture, is being taken over by people who disregard OUR ethical standards. None of it was connected, relationally, to God at all.

In this way, it has felt like one group in the lifeboat, the moral group, is at odds with another group, the immoral group, and the fight is about dominance in a fallen system rather than rescue from a fallen system. And I wonder, What good does it do to tell somebody to be moral so they can die fifty years later and, apparently, go to hell?

It makes me wonder, and even judge (confession) the motives of somebody who wages a culture war about morality without confessing their own immorality while pointing to the Christ who saved them, the Christ who wishes to rescue everybody.

Morality, in this way, can be a circus act, giving a person a feeling of superiority. And while morality is good, anything we do to get other people to clap, or anything that gives us a more prominent position in a sinking ship, runs the risk of replacing a humble nature pointed at Christ, who is our Redeemer. The biblical idea of morality is behavior associated with our relationship with Jesus, not bait for pride.

In fact, morality as a battle cry against a depraved culture is simply not a New Testament idea. Morality as a ramification of our spiritual union and relationship with Christ, however, is.

Paul said to the church at Rome that those who chose immorality would be given over to a depraved mind and their lives would be ruined, but in the next breath he said that because of his great love for lost people, he would be willing to go to hell and take God’s wrath upon himself. And he said this even about the Jews who were persecuting him. In other words, the call to morality is delivered through a changed and forgiven heart, a heart regenerated and delivered by Christ, desiring that all people repent and come to know Him. There is nothing here we can use in the lifeboat at all. The agenda is all God’s not ours, and God’s agenda is love.

I was thinking of Paul recently when I saw an evangelical leader on CNN talking about gay marriage. The evangelical leader agreed with the apostle Paul about homosexuality being a sin, but when it came time to express the kind of love Paul expressed for the lost, the kind of love that says, I would gladly take God’s wrath upon myself and go to hell for your sake, the evangelical leader sat in silence. Why? How can we say the rules Paul presented are true, but neglect the heart with which he communicated those rules?

My suspicion is the evangelical leader was able to do this because he had taken on the morality of God as an identity with which he was attempting to redeem himself to culture, and perhaps even to God. This is what the Pharisees did, and the same Satan tricks us with the same bait: justification through comparison. It’s an ugly trick, but continues to prove effective.

* * *

I was the guest on a radio show recently that was broadcast on a secular station, one of those conservative shows that paints Democrats as terrorists. The interviewer asked what I thought about the homosexuals who were trying to take over the country. I confess I was taken aback. I hadn’t realized that homosexuals were trying to take over the country.

“Which homosexuals are trying to take over the country?” I asked.

“You know,” the interviewer began, “the ones who want to take over Congress and the Senate.”

I paused for a while. “Well,” I said, “I’ve never met those guys and I don’t know who they are. The only homosexuals I’ve met are very kind people, some of whom have been beat up and spit on and harassed and, in fact, feel threatened by the religious right.”

Think about it. If you watch CNN all day and see extreme Muslims in the Middle East declaring war on America because they see us immoral, and then you read the paper the next day to find the exact same words spoken by evangelical leaders against the culture here in America, you’d be pretty scared. I’ve never heard of a homosexual group trying to take over the world, or for that matter the House or Senate, but I can point you to about fifty evangelical organizations who are trying to do exactly that (emphasis mine). I don’t know why. In my opinion, we should tell people about Jesus, not try to build some kind of temporary moral civilization here on earth. If you want that, move to Salt Lake City.

“And what is the name of this homosexual group that is trying to take over America?” I asked the host, somewhat angry at his ignorant misuse of war rhetoric.

“Well, I hear about them all the time,” he said, rather frustrated with me.

“If you hear about them all the time, what is the name of their organization?”

“Well, I don’t know right now. But they are there.”

“Can I list for you ten or so Christian organizations who are working to try to get more Christians in the House and the Senate?” I said to the host.

“Listen, I get your point,” he said.

“But I don’t think you do. Here is my position: As a Christian, I believe Jesus wants to reach out to people who are lost and, yes, immoral—immoral just like you and I are immoral; and declaring war against them and stirring up your listeners to the point of anger and giving them the feeling that their country, their families, and their lifestyles are being threatened is only hurting what Jesus is trying to do. This isn’t rocket science. If you declare war on somebody, you have to either handcuff them or kill them. That’s the only way to win. But if you want them to be forgiven by Christ, if you want them to live eternally in heaven with Jesus, then you have to love them. The choice is yours and my suspicion is you will be held responsible by God, a Judge who will know your motives. So go ahead and declare war in the name of a conservative agenda, but don’t do it in the name of God. That’s what militant Muslims are doing in the Middle East, and we don’t want that here.”

Amazingly, the host kept me on and allowed me to tell a story or two about interacting with supposed pagans in a compassionate exchange, and later even admitted that his idea that homosexuals were trying to take over the country had originated from an e-mail he had received, an e-mail he had long since thrown away but he thought perhaps from some kind of homosexual organization.

To be honest, I think most Christians, and this guy was definitely a Christian, want to love people and obey God but feel they have to wage a culture war. But this isn’t the case at all. Remember, we are not elbowing for power in the lifeboat. God’s kingdom isn’t here on earth. And I believe you will find Jesus in the hearts of even the most militant Christians, moving them to love people, and it is only their egos, and the voice of Satan, that cause them to demean the lost. What we must do in these instances is listen to our consciences, and allow Scripture to instruct us about morality and methodology, not just morality.

Paul was deceived when he persecuted Christians, thinking he was doing it to serve God, but God went to him, blinded him, and corrected his thinking. After this, Paul loved the people he had previously hated; he began to take the message of forgiveness to Jews and Gentiles, to male and to female, to pagans and prostitutes. At no point does he waste his time lobbying government for a moral agenda. Nobody in Scripture who knew and followed Jesus wasted their time with any of this; they built the church, they love people.

Once Paul switched positions, many people tried to kill him for talking about Jesus, but he never lifted a fist; he never declared war. In fact, in Athens, he was so appreciated by pagans who worshiped false idols, they invited him to speak about Jesus in an open forum. In America, this no longer happens. We are in the margins of society and so we have our own radio stations and television stations and bookstores. Our formulaic, propositional, lifeboat-territorial methodology has crippled the kingdom of God. We can learn a great deal from the apostles. Paul would go so far as to compliment the men of Athens, calling them “spiritual men” and quoting their poetry then telling them the God he knew was better for them, larger, stronger, and more alive than any of the stone idols they bowed down to. And many of the people in the audience followed him and had more questions. This would not have happened if Paul had labeled them as pagans and attacked them.

A moral message, a message of US versus THEM, overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, or repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus. Listen closely, and I assure you, they will not talk about Jesus.

In my opinion, if you hate somebody because they are different from you, you’d best get on your knees and repent until you can say you love them, until you have gotten your soul right with Christ.

I can’t say this clearly enough: If we are preaching morality without Christ, and using war rhetoric to communicate a battle mentality, we are fighting on Satan’s side. This battle we are in is a battle against principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war, you shoot the enemy, not the hostage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring it, baby.

It couldn't be clearer: we are responding to a love story that draws us into relationship, or we are responding to a guidebook that draws away from relationship.

3:43 PM  

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