Last Saturday was just a regular Saturday. I was at home, chilling out, doing some work on my computer after a nice lie in. I had just seen the video below from Rob Bell about his new book. All in all, I was feeling pretty good. Take a look at it yourself, its pretty cool:
After watching and enjoying the video above, and getting excited by this new book (the release date has now been brought forward to March 15th, such was the resulting demand), I go check Twitter, and I notice the phrase ‘Rob Bell’ is in the top ten trends on the whole of Twitter.
Then I see a tweet by John Piper, saying ‘Goodbye Rob Bell’ with a link to an article on a well respected website by a well respected Christian on Bell’s new book, someone who by their own admission has only read snippets of the book themselves. I read the article – because I like to read things I disagree on, and get a balanced view – and back on Twitter I see a tweet from Josh Harris, the man who kissed dating goodbye – later qualified by a blog post – which I felt the need to reply to, because it made me angry at the heart and attitude behind it.
The issue was the video and the book – which hardly any of the people commenting had read – and what it said about hell, and whether or not this confirmed some people’s apparent fears he is a universalist, and people were lining up in their hundreds, probably thousands, to condemn him. It made me sick to be honest. It displayed such pharisee-like arrogance, pride and self-rigteousness, and showed – on a worldwide networking site for all to see – huge division, bitterness and self-righteousness amongst some in the Christian community worldwide.
I felt ashamed. I thought that if there was a non-Christian sitting on the fence watching this they just found another reason not to follow Jesus.
Whilst all this was going on of course, many people were dying of curable diseases, people in some parts of the world were going through another day without food, and billions of people were enduring another day without clean drinking water. Oh, and there was a situation going on in some country called Libya which was making news all over the world which could have done – and still could do – with lots of prayer.
But apparently a large proportion of God’s people thought it more important to jump on a bandwagon of condemnation and judgement on something they probably hadn’t even read yet.
I fully admit, it upset me and talking about it here upsets me – because I believe this sort of thing does such great damage to the church, and because these people were representing me in a sense, and it showed such a lack of love, grace, respect and wisdom, and wasn’t a Jesus reaction at all.
But I’m not here today to discuss theology.
I’m not here to discuss who is right or wrong.
I’m not here because I’m going to give the ‘definitive response’ to this issue and I have no interest in condemning anyone.
I don’t have to join in with those things or pay attention to them. I regret my reply to Josh Harris’ tweet, because it was out of anger, and possibly more to do with me than him, and not an act of love. I later sent him a message apologising for my actions, for this very reason.
But the whole situation did make me think about my faith. About why I and many of us believe. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, and this whole situation just confirmed what I had been thinking for a long time.
This question was going over and over in my head:
Is our faith based on a response to fear or a response to love? Did we become a Christian out of fear – if we don’t believe the right things we go to hell – or as a response to an act of love by a loving God?
What was my faith in Jesus a response to – fear or love?
You see if our faith is based on fear, on some level we are always going to have to be right. We are always going to be defending something. There’s always going to be negative emotion involved in our faith, and our relationship with God won’t be as much about a healthy fear of the Lord but a fear of what He will do if we don’t believe, do or say all the right things. It plays on our insecuruties and fears about ourselves, and it can lead us to be legalistic and reject mystery and even call those who embrace mystery heretics.
Despite our best efforts, I think its easy to settle for a God we can control, and we all like being right. The fear-based view of God, I would say, actively encourages these concepts, in a deceptive yet powerful way, because we can have a view of God makes us feel good about ourselves and covers all our insecurities – it has to, because God is meant to cast out fear, so we cover over our fear and insecurities we hold deep down about this kind of God, and about ourselves, with legalistic certainties, and mystery goes out the window.
It’s scary when you think about it. Very scary.
Does a God of infinite grace and love really want us to follow Him out of a fear of what will happen if we don’t?
To me that kind of God sounds like a schoolteacher in 1950’s Britain who threatened the cane to those who were disobedient – the children obeyed, but only out of a fear of what would happen to them, not because they had a real relationship with this teacher and respected them, not as a response to positive encouragment and affirmation.
I believe that true faith in God is a response to an act of love towards us – the cross – which has ripped down the temple curtain and opened the door between us and God, and invited us to join our story to His bigger story about the reconciliation and restoration of all things, that is talked about in scripture. This kind of faith fears God in the proper sense, but knows that God says ‘fear not’. Therefore it is willing to trust Him, let go and allow space for the unknown and mysterious, and surrenders control to God.
I believe that true faith embraces mystery.
It embraces the unknown about God.
It accepts that no matter how much we know, we never know God fully and completely, there will always be an element of mystery about Him, He will always be bigger than us, there will always be more to learn and understand and new questions to answer, and new answers to old questions.
I believe true faith doesn’t need to be always right (and don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony of that statement). It doesn’t need to be in control. It trusts that God has it all sorted, that He is just and knows all things, and above all knows a lot better than us. It’s pro-active, but it allows God to take control and be in control. It allows God to be God, and to be bigger than any concept we or understanding we have on Him. It allows God to be bigger than the Bible, bigger than prayer, bigger than worship, bigger than anything we can understand or comprehend. It allows God to be mysterious.
I believe that true faith in God says “God, I don’t know it all and never will, but I trust that you do and that your love, justice and grace are true and sufficient. What do you want to you teach me today, and how can I reflect who you are better to the world around me?”
So the question is, what is your faith rooted in – and what is your faith a response to – love or fear?
Because at the end of the day, as Rob Bell so aptly puts its, love wins.
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