I’m “supposed to be” (according to me) working on my novel, but this blog post is erupting from my brain and has to happen right now. Possibly because someone needs to see it right now.
First, any thought you have that God cannot or will not love you is a lie. God can and does. Now.
Sin damages us. When we sin, we act against our design and hurt ourselves. If you hyperextend your knee, you’ve bent it the wrong direction, against design, and it hurts. You strain or tear tendons and ligaments. It takes time to recover. It may need surgery. It will hurt for a while. You may walk with a limp.
Sin hurts us. God hates sin because God loves us and God hates to see us damage ourselves.
I know, some people want to insist that God is so offended by sin that he can’t look on us when we sin.
Jesus seemed very able to “look on” people when they sinned. In fact, Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 because the religious leaders got offended with all that “looking on” sinners that Jesus kept doing, eating meals with them, hanging out with them, going to their parties, making them feel loved. It really pissed them off, not to put too fine a point on it.
So Jesus stopped and addressed them. He told them three parables, specifically to address their gross misunderstanding about God.
Everything we know about God that we take from the lost sheep, the lost coin, and especially the lost son (“was lost and is found, was dead and is alive”) we heard because the Pharisees wanted to say, “No, these are shameful people! God can’t stand them! You have no business spending time with them! Come be with us clean, godly people and get away from them!”
Therefore, when I tell you that God loves you right now and any thoughts you have to the contrary are lies, I’m telling you “Read Luke 15!” I’m telling you, “The Pharisees are wrong!” I’m telling you, “Don’t agree with the Pharisees about yourself!”
If we focus on how God is “offended” by our sin, we make God into a Pharisee. The Pharisees wanted to do that. Jesus upset them by telling them how wrong they were. If you read carefully, you’ll recognize that the elder brother in the parable looks and sounds an awful lot like…them.
Sin does not separate us from God. I’m going to write that again.
Sin does not separate us from God.
“But Mike, the Bible says…”
Sin damages us. Sin makes us think wrong. When we sin it makes us think God doesn’t want us, or that we would be better off without God. But our sin does not make God go away. And we only go if we choose to.
The Bible says, Jesus says, the Father, who was watching for his son, saw him from a long way off, ran like someone unconcerned about his dignity, threw his arms around his pig feces-smelling child, and held him tight. It says the Father couldn’t wait to listen through his beloved son’s apology/self-rejection.
“I’m not worthy to be–“
“Bring the robe and the ring and the sandals right now! Prepare the party! We are celebrating this boy!”
You know who wouldn’t be around that young man? The elder brother.
“Now you listen to me, Father! All I’ve ever done is slave for you, I never got even a pathetic goat-roast party with my friends, and when this son of yours comes back from his whoring ways after devouring our fortune, you welcome him! I’m not coming in to his party! I’m offended at him and you! I can’t even look at him!”
Get that? I’m paraphrasing, but I believe I’m accurately conveying his tone and attitude. It’s the elder brother, not the father, who can’t look, who turns away, who wants to hold us to our shame. The hardest thing in the world was for the younger son to come back. Do you think it got harder or easier once he arrived? Why?
Of course it got easier. The son got to see–to experience–that the father wanted him home, welcomed him home, rejoiced in his return. I can’t think of any way he could have made that more clear, including confronting the brother who wanted to reject him.
I get a lot of my theology from Jesus. I’m supposed to. Jesus is God. I’m consciously christocentric and trinitarian. Jesus is the full revelation of God. Don’t read Jesus through Paul. Read all the rest of the Bible through Jesus. God is one and God is consistent. If God loves you, then God loves you, not this part of God loves you but that other part rejects you.
And you know what?
God loves you.
Back to us and our shame.
You may have done some bad things, some things you feel horrible about, maybe even some things you hope no one ever finds out about.
Maybe these were things someone did to you. Maybe they are thoughts you have. Maybe they’re things you’re still doing and still hiding.
I’m not trying to out you. Being outed is just another version of being shamed. Being outed is violence.
The Bible says “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
I’m telling you: God loves you right now, knowing what you’ve done, knowing what you’re still doing, and you have neither alienated God nor made yourself unlovable. I’m telling you that shame you may feel is how you feel about yourself, not how God feels about you. Ever. I’m telling you that the lie is convincing yourself that your feeling toward yourself equals God’s feeling toward you.
The lost son believed he was no longer worthy to be his father’s son. He was wrong. He wasn’t wrong that he felt that way–he did feel that way. He was wrong that his feeling equalled a true, objective fact. He was wrong that his father felt that way about him. Ever. He was wrong that his father wanted to punish him and would take him up on “Yes, let’s humiliate you by making you my servant and you can sleep in the servants’ quarters and wait on your elder brother every day.” Guess who would have been satisfied with that judgment? The elder brother would have come to a “Let’s abase and mortify my (disowned) younger brother” party.
Think about this for a moment. I know I’ve got my tongue in cheek a little here, but honestly, the brother who would not come to welcome his younger brother home, would he have attended a ceremony to punish and debase him? I’m almost certain he would have come in from the fields for that. Or just a good old informal reckoning, where his shame and guilt were shouted out and he was stripped of everything (as if he had anything left to be stripped of)?
If you think that’s how God feels about you, you have the wrong picture of God. If that’s how you feel about yourself….you have the wrong picture of God. What do I mean by that? God is not the elder brother. God gets the last word about you, not you. Otherwise you’re God. God decides if you are still worthy of being called “child.” Just as the father decided about his returning son.
God says “Yes.”
Post-script: After I wrote this post, I realized it was the sermon for Sunday. It became the first half. So I didn’t post this until after church. Part two will be the second half.