"I respect people's right to believe in whatever they want to believe in their God. But if you believe something that hurts another person, or does not give someone the same rights or freedoms, not necessarily under the Constitution because this is under God, I think that this is wrong, and I think that the Catholic Church and many other churches really need to re-examine themselves and their teachings. Because that is not what God is about. God is not about hindering people or even judging people."~Don Lemon
These words were spoken close to two weeks ago, and I've been struggling with what to say in response for a while now. Not because I think Don Lemon will ever read my words, but because this is an idea that has become more and more prevalent--sometimes even from the pulpit.
We were talking last week at church that it seems like people look to extremes when they try to picture God. They either see God as this horrible, vindictive tyrant ready to throw lightning bolts at anyone who has too much fun... or, as Don Lemon seems to do, they see God as a jovial, rosy-cheeked grandfather type who lets all the "little ones" get away with everything, no matter what.
As Pop pointed out, Satan loves getting us to think in extremes. Because if you start seeing God at either end of that spectrum, you aren't going to see Him as He really is. And if you don't have a true picture of who He is, it becomes really easy to think you don't actually have any use for His laws or His love... or Him.
It is absolutely true that God is love. I think John 3:16&17, the verses that so many people learned before any other, is profound theologically because it points out just how much God loves us:
"For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved."
The God who created us, the God who spoke time into existence, loved us so much that He sent His only Son as a sacrifice, His death paying the price for our sins and in exchange giving us life if we simply believe in Him. Jesus came to save us, not to condemn us.
Too often, though, we stop there. When Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus, that wasn't the end of the conversation:
who believes in Him is not condemned;
but he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation,
that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his deeds may be clearly seen,
that they have been done in God.”
While it is true that in Christ there is no condemnation, there is a caveat: we have to believe in Him. We have to, as the writer of Hebrews said, "believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) We have to believe that we are sinners who are totally unworthy when left to our own devices, but the One True God loves us enough to save us from the sins that wreck our lives.
The flip side of that is, those who do not choose to believe are already condemned. It's not a matter of God "sending people to Hell," but rather a matter of people choosing their commitment to their old ways instead of changing their lives to fit God's way. In either case, we've been promised that we will all stand before the throne and be judged by God one day, and that His day of judgement is something to be feared.
I know when I've done something wrong. To be honest, I usually know in the moment when I'm doing something wrong, though I often choose to keep doing whatever it is that I know I shouldn't be doing. And as long as nobody finds out about it I'm good, right? That's how we tend to think, anyway. Like Jesus said, when we are doing things we shouldn't be doing we love the darkness--because that way our deeds can stay a secret. As long as there isn't light to expose our actions, we can convince ourselves that they aren't really all that bad.
The idea of coming to the light should be terrifying then. At least, that's what human logic says. It tells us that if the writer of Romans was right and all of us "have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (3:23), if all of us have been doing bad things in the darkness, we should be afraid of having all those things exposed.
An amazing thing happens when we come to the Light, though. John told us,
"His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched."
(John 1:4-5, Voice)
You see, we don't have to be afraid of our deeds being exposed when we step into the light because we have been given the awesome opportunity to know the Light.
"Because There is one God and one Mediator between God and us—
the man Jesus, God’s Anointed,
Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom."
(1 Timothy 2:5)
I have to say, Don Lemon's god is not my God. The Eternal God, the One who spoke the universe into existence and created light out of darkness--He says He is a jealous God.
"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
but a certain fearful expectation of judgment,
and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose,
will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot,
counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing,
and insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord.
And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.'
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
The Eternal God demands perfection from His people. At the same time, though, He created us and knows we are nothing more than dust. In His great and unfailing love for His creation, He sacrificed His Son--the Light that came into the world He created--so that when we stepped into that light, He would see nothing of our past and dark deeds.
We will all face judgement, a day when every thought, word, and deed will be exposed, and we will all be declared guilty. What happens next, though, depends fully on whether or not each one of us chose to walk away from the darkness into eternal life in the Light.