Last week, I was driving pass the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Tacoma and I saw outside of the building a group of Christians holding up signs. Sadly, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this happening. Professing Christians sitting outside of these clinic bombarding young women with comments such as, “you’re a sinner,” or “God hates you.” Of course, these people are considered the “radical” Christians.
Maybe you’ve seen the radical Christians who hold up signs where you live at. The stereotypical picture of a ‘radical’ Christian, are people who are in insufferably proud, harsh, abrasive, condemning, and judgmental. Of course, if you do not believe what they believe, conform to their practices, or vote for their political party, you’re basically going to hell.
Quite honestly, the American evangelical church is not listening.
People are sick of religion. The church has become so practical that they’ve become impractical. They hold truth to such a high degree that there is zero compassion for anyone that believes differently than they do. That produces people who are religious. If you ever met your stereotypical religious person you will notice they possess smug self-righteous moralism. They know about the truth of Jesus but they don’t love like Jesus. People are sick of Christians standing on the side walk with signs shouting condemnation. Religion isn’t just under attack, it’s being called out.
Now I am not saying truth is relative or doesn’t matter–of course it does. Considering the alternative is just as bad. The other side, (I suppose the non-religious types), would tell these fundamentalist “don’t be so fanatical about your religion. You need to be more moderate.” Proponents would say the solution of this extreme religious fundamentalism (in this case Christian fundamentalism), is for them to be less religious.
But this, I do not think, would ever solve the problem. The idea that these people need less of Christianity and not more of it is presupposing a view of Christianity that is not accurate.
The vast majority of people who are not Christians have a wildly inaccurate idea of what Christianity is all about. People who reject or are indifferent to Christianity don’t know what they are indifferent towards. When you understand what Christianity teaches the problem is is not that fundamentalist Christians are too fanatical, but rather, they’re not fanatical enough. Christians do not need less of Christianity but more of it.
Shocking isn’t it? What I want to show you is this: when you understand the real gospel, the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, there is this beautiful balance. On one hand the Christian is to be incredibly indignant and bold. Yes, people are to repent of their sins to be spared by the wrath of God and Christians are called to proclaim the truth. But on the other hand, Christians are called to genuinely love all people, to be incredibly gentle, and humble. A beautiful verse that sums this up nicely is 1 Peter 3:15, “give a reason for why you believe, but do so with gentleness and kindness.” It’s a beautiful balance that most people, both religious and irreligious, have missed. But why do we miss this balance and how does one find it?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story about the prophet Jonah. Jonah was a guy who was your typical stereotypical religious person; he hated people who weren’t like him. Jonah hated the Assyrians (who were Israel’s mortal enemies at the time) because of their race. Jonah was your modern day KKK cross burning racist.
Therefore, Jonah was a complete ass. God called Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh to repent of their sins. You think after reading the first few verses of the story that God is a traditional values kind of guy– He would vote republican. However, the story takes a twist. The book’s author utilizes comedy and satire by making God’s own prophet look bad and the unrepentant non-religious people look good. Because instead of obeying God, Jonah tried to run away from God as far as Tarshish (scholars think it was in Spain). Why in the world did Jonah try and run away?
Because in the Old Testament, one of the most described verses about God is that He is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Exodus 34:6). Jonah knew that if he went to Nineveh and did what God told him to do Nineveh would have repented and God would spare the city. Not only did he try and run, but when God caused a great storm to get Jonah to come back, Jonah tried to kill himself . All the while the people in the boat, who originally were not believers, were repenting and turning to God of the Bible and worshipping Him. The irony is the non-religious people who do not know God, are meeting Him, and yet, God’s own prophet is openly rebelling against God. Finally, God sends a whale which swallows up Jonah for three days. Jonah then repents while inside of the whale and agrees to travel to the city of Nineveh to preach repentance.
When Jonah gets there, he goes around town and preaches the world’s worst sermon and says to the Assyrians, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Could you imagine walking around your city and seeing a guy yelling that, “forty days from now Seattle will be destroyed” and you would expect the people to tune out Jonah. But the story doesn’t go like that. All of the city repents and grieves over their sin because of Jonah. Because they turned away from evil, God did not destroy the city. And of course, Jonah looses his mind over it:
“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.
He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Notice how angry Jonah is. He’s basically mad at God for being such a liberal and a softy. Jonah takes the most described verse about God (Exodus 34:6) and throws it back in God’s face. Jonah gave the “I hate the God of love speech.” Why is Jonah so angry? Because religion teaches you have to obedient in order to be accepted by God. If you’re moral and good you won’t suffer like all these other people who don’t go to church or read their Bible. Of course through your good works and being a good person, you will be blessed by God. It’s the most moral, wealthy, successful, and the strong who are accepted by God. Jonah believes in religion: you get what you deserved from God. But the real, the God of the Bible, operates under the principle of grace–He gives you everything despite you deserve nothing from Him.
God is showing how religiosity has blinded Jonah. God replies to Jonah by saying, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”…”Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand…?” (Jonah 4:4-4;11). When God says the people of Nineveh do not know the difference between their right and left hand, it’s referring to their spiritual darkness. God is more or less saying, “Jonah they couldn’t save themselves even if they tried. I want to save them, not destroy them.”
Jonah is a lot like those people who sit outside of abortion clinics. They spend their time sitting outside of the city instead of plunging themselves in there and loving the city. You see, religious people always miss that because they’re motivated by fear or pride. Their motivations are never out of love.
This is why we need to come back to Jesus. Jesus was totally and perfectly motivated by love. He desires to have mercy on his enemies, even if it killed him. That’s the motivation and the very heart of God. When Jesus looks out at the crowds that wanted to kill him it says, “He had compassion for them for they were lost and confused without a shepherd.” Make no mistake, because of our sin we killed Jesus. Our pride, selfishness, lust, hatred, and greed brought about the cross. Your good works and good intentions are nothing more than filthy rags. Martin Luther once said “look at the pierced hands of Christ, that is the measure of your good works. Look at the Crown of Thorns that pierced his head, that is the measure of your good intentions.” But the wonders of wonders is that while Jesus hung on the cross, pierced, humiliated, in hell, he cried out to the Father and pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The great Cosmic King of the universe looks at you, in all of your sin, pride, greed, and hate in your heart and says, “I want you in my family. Your so precious to me that I will give anything for you to be my child.” Paul perfectly says it that “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 4:5). That’s the gospel, he lays down his life for you so that he could adopt you into his family, clothes you in his royal robes, and places His crown on your head. This is all because he simply loves you. That should cause great humility because you are only are what you are by the grace of God alone and nothing more.
Moreover, you need to recognize the balance. On one hand, if you’re totally indignant, you turn people off. Likewise, if you’re too soft, people won’t listen to you. How do we find this balance? You have to feel the way Jesus does. Love is thunderous. The opposite of love is indifference. Love is complex. On one hand, God’s outraged at idolatry. But on the other hand, he is filled with love. God is upset when we chase after other lovers and sin, but yet, he longs for us to come back into his arms.
When you understand the real gospel, it turns you into someone who is thundering but also someone that is incredibly gentle. Jesus was both incredibly indignant and sweet all at the same time. He was thunderous, but yet, he was gentle.
The person that is overly harsh and seemingly religious is not too much like Jesus but not enough like Jesus. They see a God who is Lord of heaven and earth but they don’t see the God who says, “a bruise read I will not break, A burning candle I will not snuff out.” A relativistic or a moralistic religion misses this balance. Martin Luther King, who Americans love, made this point and I wish they would listen to him. He says “you know why people are racist? It’s because people are too overtly religious.” In essence, racism is not compatible with the gospel. But he never says, you need to become less religious to eliminate racism. On the contrary, MLK argued that Southern Christians who were racist don’t necessarily need less religion. Rather, they needed more of Christianity. They needed more of the gospel. This is why I really love the book of Jonah. When you read on in the New Testament, Jesus said “truly someone greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:41). Jonah is the antitype to Jesus, he’s everything Jonah is not. Jonah went outside of the city of Nineveh, the city that spared him, to condemn it. But the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was dragged out of the city, weeping for it, and was killed by the city in order to save it.
My hope is in writing this post is that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not teach to be self-righteous and condemning to people who are living in sin. We are called to hate the sin but at the same time, love the sinner. Because Jesus was that way–he hated sin and loved the sinner so much that he rather died than see sin destroy the people he loved the most.
I saw this beautiful picture of this love when I went to a Mariners game with my a friend. He was telling me of a story about how his daughter was driving by that very same abortion clinic that I drove by. She saw a young woman on her way to get an abortion. While the woman who was getting the abortion was walking towards the building, she had to go through a gauntlet of sign holding Christians bombarding her with hurtful and condemning remarks. My friend’s daughter got out of her car and ran to the girl and told her she didn’t have to do this and there was an organization called CARENET that could help her. The young woman agreed and she decided to not get an abortion because of my friend’s daughter and her compassion.
That’s what a real radical Christian is, if there ever were such a thing. She plunged into that little girl’s mess and loved on her. She didn’t judge her nor did she condone what she was doing. She walked with her through circumstances and brokenness. That’s what Jesus did. He plunged into our darkness, totally vulnerable, and his heart laid bare to save us. Jesus invites us in response to love a life of self-sacrificial love to not just our friends, but our enemies as well.
But you may think to yourself, “that’s great Brendan but how can I ever change? How can I be bold like your friend’s daughter? After all, the story just ends and we don’t even know if Jonah changed!”
Do we not know what choice Jonah made? Of course we do! Jonah decided to humble himself and love his enemies rather than trying to condemn them. How do I know? How do we know all of this? How do we know Jonah was such an idiot? How do we know he was such a racist? How do we know he made that stupid “I hate the God of love speech” in the beginning of chapter 4? The only way we could possibly know is if Jonah told us. Who else could have known? What kind of man would let the world see what an ass he has been? Someone who is so joyfully secure in God’s love. Who finally accepts the fact that he simultaneously sinful but completely accepted. Someone who gets the gospel.