who loves us

Last night at supper, a friend: “All the debates between conservative and progressive Christians are really about one thing: is our faith primarily a matter of what we believe, or of what we do?”

He’s right. In matters of life and policy, from resource distribution to personal conduct to teaching on doctrine, the battles over the Church’s priorities and positions are often a tug-of-war. Will the flag fall behind the line of adherence to the Bible and tradition, or on the side of action to improve the world we share with others?

“I have memorized the Bible,” says one, “but I have done more good,” says another. “Because my way is orthodox,” says one; “Because my way is fair and nice,” says the other. “Let us submit to an authority,” says one; “Let us strike out with boldness,” says another.

One defines a Christian by a list of inviolable beliefs and tends to personal holiness based on those unyielding beliefs, with little regard for the cries of a hurting world. The other defines a Christian by a list of actions, orthodoxy and personal choices secondary to feeding the hungry and fighting for justice.

Both of them sound to me like exhausting exercises in missing the point. Infinite hours of debate and conversation will never draw the two closer to one another; they sit on a seesaw rocking on a fulcrum of pride.

Our faith is neither a matter of “what we believe” or of “what we do.” It is a matter of whom we love.

Believing things and doing things are projects. They require work and striving and scorekeeping.  Knowing and loving God is a way of being. A way of seeing. A way of resting. It can be done by children and sinners.

Do not tell me what you believe. Do not tell me what you have done. Speak to me of events unspeakable, of the thunderous waves of God’s presence. Tell me about the whispers of God’s face where you have seen her among the stars and beneath tall trees. Read me out the words that gave you peace when all seemed lost. I have no use for your arguments and reasons, the definitions you have so carefully wrought. I want to know about the times when you felt small – the quiet certain moments when you knew that you knew nothing, but there was peace.

I will not live and die for what I believe. I will not live and die for what needs done. I will live and die for God who has captured my heart, who has taught me of my infinite worth and is leading me ever deeper into humility. The closer we get to God the better we see what he sees – the better we walk with the rhythm of his ever-giving heart. The oftener we return to the ocean, the better we remember we are not so big.

Sink into prayer, ask to find more of God, and there she will be; do not be afraid. She will be wild and terrible in the stories of Scripture; she will be dirty, raw in the depths of poverty; she will be wide, soft, and loving in the fragmented mirror of a Church reflecting her on its better days; but always she will show you more yourself, sanding down the edges of you that weren’t meant to be. It will hurt. Do not abandon those places. Do not say she wasn’t there.

Chase God; follow Jesus; seek the leadership of Holy Spirit; and you will be caught by love, and you will love. You will believe when it is hard. You will act when it seems impossible. You will know every day how strong every one of us is connected, and you will learn ever deeper how every smallest action creates or destroys, sways the world – and you will not say any matter in our lives is not important to God. You will tremble with rage in the face of injustice, and you will not be still, but you will act for the poor and brokenhearted because you can do no other.

And when you tire of personal discipline, or of wrestling with faith and doctrine, or of working always for justice, you will hear him calling you to come and be. Rest a while. You will look back and discover you had believed aright and acted with courage, but it was because God called you into those things to show you more of himself.

Then, when someone wants to argue with you, takes offense at your actions or questions your beliefs, perhaps you will not tug the rope but will pull yourself along it; and when you reach the other side perhaps you will join hands in silent prayer. And when you open your eyes perhaps you will find you each see the other anew.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  June 27, 2013

    To divide proper belief and actions from a loving relationship with God is to directly contradict our savior Jesus Christ.

    John 14:1-24 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me… If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father… If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them… Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

    I apologize for the long post, I attempted to keep it as concise and on point as possible. I believe this quote from Jesus himself is guiding us to see more clearly the relationship between love, belief, and actions (specifically obedience) and it is not that they are to be separated or decided between, but that they are fused together in a wonderful balance which both allows us to examine our progress in the sanctification process and grant us a peace concerning our current place in that journey. To disregard correct belief about God or the actions God directs us to take is to replace the beauty of our knowable Trinity who encounters us in a way we can understand and replace it with an amorphous, entirely esoteric presence to be experienced that is indistinguishable from any other proposed deity.

    I must say that I do agree with a lot of what is said here, at least I agree with the fruit you desire people to manifest. However if you disregard proper belief about God and/or proper actions directed by God through the Word, you come to a place where one cannot even know that they are actually “[Chasing] God; [following] Jesus; [seeking] the leadership of Holy Spirit.” It’s not “No! Neither!” it’s “Yes, both!” And yes, both of these things come out of a love for the loving God, but even our love needs the direction of the one who is love, and part of that includes Biblically guided belief and action. Our contorted, misconstrued conception of love is not above reproach, it can be deceived, it can be misdirected. Not every action we do “in love” is proper. Not every belief we conclude “in love” is proper. It is because of this unfortunate fact that guided, Biblically based beliefs and actions cannot be tossed to the wind as chaff among the wheat. It does take work, it does require a striving, it doesn’t just fall together of its own accord, therefore let us make every effort to enter through the narrow door, aligning proper belief and obedient actions with Christ until we too love the way God does.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous,
    I don’t think we disagree as much as you seem to think we do. I mentioned Scripture, life among the poor, and the Church as places where one can (where I have) found God… who leads us into proper belief and action. It is much easier to “toss the Bible to the wind” than to submit to God’s leading; but it is also easier to idolize the Bible than to step into the unpredictable journey of following the living, speaking God who does not bear interpretation/manipulation by us.
    So, a hearty “Yes, both”, and a promise to get to the post about obedience that has been simmering, which I hope would assure anyone that I am not here to throw anything to the wind.

    Reply

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