What we do for love…
When I fell in love with my wife, I felt I had to demonstrate my love in various ways to let her know I was a serious suitor. One thing I felt I had to do was attend a worship service at her church. I was a teenager at the time; seventeen to be exact. She was sixteen. We were “in a relationship” but it was in the budding first months.
I was a member of a church; a more liberal denomination that kept the notion of God on a more abstract plane. God exists but he is a benevolent God who wants to relate to us. We need to relate to Him as believers and He will meet our every need.
Her church was more conservative. God was an active Deity, involved with rewarding and punishing man for his daily acts. To put it bluntly, good behavior was rewarded and bad behavior was punished swiftly and severely.
I remember that her church had a special section for youth. It was to the left of the pulpit, up front and rather close to the pastor. I remember the pastor leaning over his pulpit and angling his body toward the youth from time to time, threatening us with the wrath of God for all the horrible temptations that we were dealing with and exhorting us to be better Christians.
It was a very different worship experience than I was used to.
At the time, I must admit I did not enjoy being threatened by God’s wrath.
Now, I wonder about the value of that experience. Maybe it was good.
Today we struggle to understand holiness and we have so many confusing ideas about it. For many, the challenge of holiness is so hard that we just deny we should try to be holy. It becomes a negative thing. Who wants to be holy? You won’t have any friends if you are holy.
I had a pastor a few years ago who talked about his fear of God. He said it was real. He knew God was in the business of looking at his life and when he found himself doing wrong, he stopped himself from sinning as soon as he could. He told me he wanted to avoid God’s punishment. I have to admit his view of God is found throughout the Old Testament.
Maybe too many Christians have a “buddy” conceptualization of God. They have forgotten the words of Isaiah who said ‘Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from dread of the Lord and splendor of His majesty” [Isaiah 2:10]. I am not advocating that we get totally negative with our conceptualization of our Savior but a healthy regard for His boundaries may be called for. In short, when we do wrong, we should not expect God to always say “Now, now, it is going to be all right.” He might just think it is time for correction as He metes out a well-deserved punishment for our sinning. Having a little holy terror is not a bad thing. Having a pastor point to you in a church service and threaten you may be a much needed “wake-up call.” As humans, maybe we need to be reminded of the boundaries.
We revolt, especially if we are too much a part of “this world.” I like the way W. Bingham Hunter expresses this: “Christians are like fish, living in a fluid medium (society) which has become so morally murky that ‘light’ seems abnormal.” If you are born in the dirty water and you swim in it every day of your life, you are used to it. Holiness or “light” becomes the strange thing and we shy away from it. We are comfortable in the muck of everyday life.
We don’t understand that God is not “abnormal.” God is an active, dynamic Being involved in making the wrongs of this world right. He wants to show us the difference between right and wrong [the boundaries]. He wants to pull us closer to the light and up from the murky muck of the waters below. He wants us to learn that the best life we can lead is a life where we help others who are hurting. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Hunter states that the negative powers of this world understand God’s holiness and they shudder when they see a Christian living a life guided by the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment. Someone like the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta is profoundly disturbing to the evil forces of the world, the person who not only believes but acts on that belief.”
Sadly, our churches are filled with what Hunter calls “pious pretenders.” Maybe a little threat about the wrath of God would change that. Sadly, we have too many Christians who are too comfortable in the muck of this world; they ignore the words of Jesus who says that our kingdom is not in this world—we have our true citizenship in heaven.
Seriously, we can all probably do better. We can challenge ourselves to meet God’s standards. We can admit that we have a concern for the world when that is not the ultimate concern that we should have.
What will cause us to make a correction?
I don’t know; maybe we will change in order to give and receive love…
That old expression: “What we do for love…”