Hope for Our Dark Hearts in our Day of Social Rage
Whether we like to admit it or not, we human beings have an innate desire and incredible ability to feel superior to others. Even the most “open-minded” and “socially conscious” of us struggle to see how susceptible we are to think more highly of ourselves, and more lowly of others.
In a week where the President’s Press Secretary was asked to leave a restaurant over the owner and staff’s disagreement over national policy, and Saudi Arabia lifting the driving ban for women, one has to ask if we are losing our national sense of freedom – to be, think, and even disagree with each other without threat of punishment or backlash.
It doesn’t matter which way you lean on the political aisle – Republican or Democrat.
It doesn’t matter which way you lean on the moral/ethical aisle – conservative or liberal.
Both sides have and continue to bolster their own superiority and eliminate, or ask those who disagree with them, to leave. Sometimes kindly, other times cruelly.
Our national history is filled with such dynamics – from slavery to Jim Crowe era segregation, Pro-lifers bombing abortion clinics to Pro-choicers suppressing evidence, from wedding cakes at certain ceremonies to applauding a restaurant owner refusing service to a customer. (Side note: How is any of this different from segregation, where establishments would refuse service for the color of one’s skin?)
I promise I’m not trying to make a purely or solely political comment; I’m wrestling with the reality that lies before me.
Far from getting better, it would seem things are only getting worse. Or at best, we’re discovering it’s never really gone away, we just now have the tools to capture, record, and spread such “news” that fits our interests and purposes.
Where does this come from – this cross-chasm of self-interest that infects and influences everyone regardless of position, stance, or beliefs?
All of this comes from a heart that thinks itself superior, right, good, and others inferior, wrong, and evil. People are no longer ones we disagree with. They are Hitler. Or threats to our religious freedom, or feelings. And we think we are in the right simply because that’s what we think.
But as Christians, how do we think, respond, and live in light of these developments? How do we live as followers of Jesus in this day and age?
We need to be reminded that 1) we are lost and in need of Jesus’ salvation, and 2) Jesus loves and cares for the social outcasts, outsiders, and even enemies, and does not want us to ostracize them. Instead, He eats with them.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” –Luke 15:1–2 (ESV)
Forgetting Where We’ve Come From
It can be very easy, as Christians, to forget that we were once lost as well. We have been saved for so long that we start to take it for granted. It becomes a given to us and so we lose our ability to empathize with those who are currently lost. We start treating them like the enemy. You know who I’m talking about: the contentious co-worker who constantly wants to argue about Christianity, the next door neighbor who has really loud drinking parties every weekend, the over-sexualized teen pop star who seems like she just wants to cause your men and boys to lust, and your women and girls to feel inadequate or to dress provocatively.
Instead of seeing these people as lost as we were once and in desperate need of his grace, we see them as obstacles of our own faith and piety.
Consequently, we avoid them. Unlike Jesus who sought out the lost, we make a habit of avoiding the lost on the grounds of holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth though.
God’s holiness and grace are manifested in His loving care and mercy of the poor, oppressed, victimized; Yes!
But also for rebels, enemies, stupid and stubborn “sheep.” Yes, God even loves sinners, and His character is such that He pursues them, not avoids them.
For us to be holy as He is holy, we must seek the lost as He sought them, remembering that we were once lost ourselves.
Walking in the Light with Our Great Shepherd and Searching Spirit.
Jesus addresses His critics with a series of parables. Here are the first two:
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:3–10 (ESV)
Commenting on this passage and focusing on the woman searching for the lost coin, Michael Wilcock adds this insightful observation with significance for us:
“The mediator of the gift is the Son; the giver of it is the Father; and the gift itself is the Spirit….[It] would not be unexpected if…we were to find all three Persons of the Trinity involved in the welcome to the returning sinner….The upshot is that the symbolic meanings often attached both to ‘woman’ and to ‘lamp’ elsewhere in Scripture may well be the meanings we are intended to see in this parable. The church in Old Testament and New is the Lord’s bride (cf. Is. 54:5; Ezk. 16:8; Eph. 5:23ff.), and as a community through which the Spirit reveals God’s truth it is also a light (cf. Mt. 5:14ff.; Phil. 2:15.); in the picture-book of Revelation the symbols of woman and light are both used to depict the people of God (cf. Rev. 1:20; 4:5; 12:1–17; 19:7ff.; 21:9ff.). If Luke 15:8–10 is meant to have this added significance, we may see in it the Spirit of God lighting the church’s way as she sets about the divine work of seeking the lost.” – Michael Wilcock, The Savior of the World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel, p. 152
The lost are those “out in the wilderness” and “inside the house.” Walking in the light is the work of calling for repentance, seeking those who need it, and bearing the burden of the work of reconciliation – God and man, together again, in perfect peace – on our shoulders, just as our Good Shepherd bore our plight and sin on His own.
It’s to set about seeking, searching, working diligently as the Holy Spirit lights our way to see that which is hidden and to restore that which is broken.
Luke 15:1-10 convicts us of our need for a Shepherd and the beauty of the Searching Spirit, and challenges us to welcome the work God is doing in us and through us with joy as His enemies-turned-friends invited to His party.
Will we do that? Will we allow ourselves to be picked up and carried away by Jesus Christ? Will we allow our will to be bound up in His? Or will we resist and grumble and complain that things aren’t going according to our plan and will?
Will we seek out that which is lost and on God’s heart, or merely “cut our losses” and move on throughout life?
Luke 15 is an invitation to us to “join the party” of the Kingdom of God – to put our full weight, energy, and attention to that which is on the Father’s Heart of God for His people and His world – and that extends to those in the house, and those not yet in the room.
What kind of welcome will they receive from us?
What kind of welcome will God receive from us when He does it either through us or despite us?