The people of God have a long history of unfaithfulness. In the Prophets, Israel is painted multiple times as an unfaithful wife in relation to the jealous husband God. Graphic sexual imagery exists throughout the Hebrew Bible, once even involving a comparison to horse genitalia, in depicting the disloyalty of Israel’s adultery. Yeah, that’s our Bible, people. That imagery is intended to describe just how far Israel had strayed.
What happened? What caused Israel to stray so far? They began to rely on others in place of God, to woo the powers and nations around them to provide their safety and their comfort. And at the same time, they became obsessed with piety and judgment, to the neglect of true worship and concern for the oppressed. Yet God remained faithful despite the actions of his spouse.
Now, the church, the bride of Christ, has been equally unfaithful, arguably more unfaithful. And here I am a part of it; as someone once said, the church is a whore, but she’s my mother. If the Church is the bride of Christ, I am one of her children. I’ve been raised and nurtured by a church that uses piety to distance itself from the ones God desires to draw near. And I can say that the church has not lived up to its commitment to Christ.
But why? What caused this betrayal of the teachings of Jesus? Why did we trade the Sermon on the Mount for the Law of Judgment? On a much more intimate note, why are we okay with it?
It’s painfully simple, really. Because the church is filled with people like me: broken, sinful, guilt ridden and full of doubt. The church is unfaithful to Christ’s mission because I have been unfaithful. I am one of the legion that sin and that causes the church to sin. And by and large, instead of wrestling with these issues of sin and doubt, we hide behind piety. Sure we are sinful, but we convince ourselves that an outward show of standing up against what God condemns makes up for whatever sin is in my own life. This breeds the specter of hypocrisy that turns so many post-moderns off to church and fuels their cynicism.
Rachel Held Evans expressed this sentiment so well in a recent post on CNN.com, saying, “we (millennials) want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.” Essentially, pounding your fist and railing about what you are against will always successfully reveal you to be a hypocrite. Because everyone sins. Let’s not allow our own insecurities drive our unfaithfulness. Easier said than done, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Grace is the key here. God stands for grace, first and foremost. It’s the constant theme, from Genesis to Revelation. And though I am complicit in being an unfaithful child of God, despite that, God still loves me. How can I not extend that same love to others?
Loving others is not simply preaching repentance as the portal to the Kingdom. Just telling someone about Jesus is not a full expression of love. Love is a relationship built up over time, enduring hurt and pain, but joy as well. It is loving another despite any choice they choose to make. And if they choose not to follow after God, still we must love them.
The balm that will heal the church is not a firmer stance against the world; it is, instead, making radical changes in how we approach the ‘other’. Because this is the kicker: to God, we all were once ‘the other’. My sin is great, my heart is heavy. I am the Other. But the hope I have is that it is no longer I who bear the burden. The grace God grants removes the burden, allows me to live forgiven and to try and make this world a better place for all others.
It is not easy. I still have insecurities and I still sin. I pound my fist and yell and scream and get angry. I weep and fume and cuss and rage. But these days, it’s almost always at God. My faith is a constant wrestling match with God and God is there to take it. I try to not let my insecurities and doubts about God fuel any sort of condemnation of others. Sometimes I fail, but thankfully, those I condemn are, like God, forgiving as well. At least I hope so, because a community cannot thrive on exclusion and condemnation. God stands for the other. So must I, because I am the other too.
This is where the Church stands, at the threshold of radical change. The Church can either choose to create communities where all ‘others’ feel welcome and loved, or we can dig in and uphold traditions that really have no relation to what God stands for. Like the woman brought before Jesus after having been caught in adultery, the Church stands broken and kneeling before Christ. Will we heed his response? Will we go and sin no more? That is what I work towards, a community where no one brings any more stones and where the love and grace of Jesus lifts us up to hope.
Jacob is a father, husband, and teacher from Chattanooga, TN. He runs, does yard work, plays video games, and tries to be a good person with marginal success in all of it. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake43083.