This picture popped up on my newsfeed today, and I felt extremely sad.
Like any person who doesn’t live under a rock or in a cloister or under a rock in a cloister, my Facebook (and real-life) friends are a mixed bag of personalities, advocacies, and beliefs. Many of them are Catholic, some are Evangelicals such as myself (usually from my church), some Muslim, and some are an iteration of atheist/agnostic. These differences rarely come up, except perhaps that my Catholic/Evangelical friends share Bible verses, Christian memes, and photos from church events alongside the usual cat videos and puppy butts (we love us some puppy butts).
But sometimes they do. Like this picture. And, to be honest, it isn’t the first time this or a variation of the same–from various people, at various moments–has come up. The reaction initially used to be a flash of anger followed by a judicious use of the “I don’t want to see this.” button. “They’re attacking my God!” I would growl, before brushing my offense aside and continuing my mindless scrolling. I was always on the defensive, the injured Believer whose “religious freedoms” (Not that, to be clear, I consider Christianity a religion; it’s a relationship.) were being violated somehow.
Recently though, my reaction has changed. See, somewhere along the way I realized that the posts never mentioned God. Just people. Like the famous Mahatma Gandhi quote that goes “I like your Christ but not your Christians,” these memes are an indictment of the people who claim to worship a just, loving, and righteous God. These posts were not attacking God: they were attacking me.
…And as the Filipino saying goes, “Bato-bato sa langit; ang tamaan, wag magalit.” Roughly translated, this means that only the guilty become angry. Seeing these posts now, I can’t help but turn inward, acknowledge my own guilt, and wonder…God, why choose me?
Currently, my devotions are stationed at the beginning of Acts, when Jesus declares His disciples “My witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” then pours out His Spirit on them in Pentecost. These ragtag group of men–fishermen, tax collectors, zealots (the Jewish equivalent of “fundies”)–are chosen to be “ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation” (to quote Paul). These imperfect, often-terrified, easily-confused individuals were to represent Christ on earth, to fulfill part of His great plan for humanity. As His last act before ascending into Heaven, He charges imperfect men with His perfect gospel, and years later, we are seeing the results of that charge: posts like the one above.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Much like Donald Miller does in Blue Like Jazz and Philip Yancey in Vanishing Grace (which I’m currently reading), I acknowledge a lot of very human evil has been done “in the name of the Divine.” The post that accompanied this photo made mention that many Christians claim “not to be the judging type,” but judge anyway. I am one of them; I’ve passed judgment and pass judgment so often, when to be honest I have no ascendancy to do so. In the 2,000-odd years since Christ’s death on the cross, there have been several occasions where Christians have exchanged their calling as witnesses for a judge’s seat, forgetting that we are meant to speak our gospel instead of determining who is “worthy” of it.
I have been–am, if I’m honest–one of those people. My initial reaction to these kinds of posts says it all: “They’re offending my God. They’re horrible. God must be so angry, so I too will be angry.” If that doesn’t sound like “God told us to hate you!” I don’t know what is.
I need to backtrack a little bit on a statement I said earlier. Posts like the one above are not a result of Jesus charging us with His gospel; they’re a result of us forgetting that charge.
We are supposed to be “the light on the hill,” the bringers of the good news. As a response to a fallen, broken, pain-wracked world, God sent His Son, and His Son sent us. There is no Plan B. And Jesus knew what He doing, because later on, Paul writes that
…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)
The choice of imperfect humanity is a conscious one, because it requires a reliance on God to see our calling through. We are imperfect by ourselves, but perfect in Christ. Note, in Christ, but not necessarily in the church. Acting outside of that reliance, or interpreting it the way we see fit, we invariably stumble, because we’re not acting in God’s love anymore: we’re acting out of our pride. If people’s idea of Christianity is a bunch of people throwing stones, it is because we’ve forgotten–I’ve forgotten–that Jesus told people to drop them.
The calling is so big, and our capacity so miniscule by comparison, that it forces us to be careful, to be cautious, to constantly cling to the Advocate that Christ gave that Day of Pentecost. But because we are human, and fallible, and can get ahead of ourselves, we don’t always do that. I don’t, to be sure. In my hurry to “defend the faith,” I put words in God’s mouth and immediately go on the offensive, forgetting that we aren’t here to fight each other, but to fight the fight of faith against what’s breaking our world. I miss the mark, and that literally translates into sin.
God entrusted His divine work to sinners.
He has a track record of doing that–picking imperfect people to do impossible things. And while the inevitable mistakes made along the way are glaringly obvious, so is the proof that this formula works. Christianity’s history, however checkered with intolerance, prejudice, and brutality, has also been one of effecting radical, beneficial change. However associated our churches have become with intolerance and exclusionism, there are countries all over the world that still look upon those doors as what they are and are meant to be: gateways to a sanctuary. A safe haven. A place to come to the saving knowledge of Christ because you can see the change it makes, right in front of you.
Even with our fallibility, the infallible nature of Christ’s mission–to bring hope to a broken world–still shines. That a group of imperfect individuals might be capable of bearing such perfect Good News is evidence of that hope in itself: You are not so tainted and broken as to be beyond salvation. The message of the Gospel is, “We are all sinners here.”
It is also, “We are all capable of freedom from sin.”
What I want to say–what I’m learning to say–is not that I am better than you, but that I am no better than you. Instead, in Christ, I am made better, the same way a sick person gets healed. My broken places have been bound up. My sins have been forgiven. And sure, I still make them. I still make mistakes. I still throw stones. I still fail at this ministry of reconciliation more times than I pass it. But God does not give up on me. Instead, He says, “There is no Plan B. You are my Plan A, and I will make you better. You are my Plan A, and I will keep choosing you.”
This is the Good News that I have been given. God is not telling me to hate you, and I’m sorry if in my pride and immaturity and stupidity I have put that across. Instead, the message I am meant to carry is this: In the face of a world that likes to judge, give up on, abandon people, God calls the stones off and gives us another chance. And another. And another. Until one day we don’t need the chances anymore.