God is Doing a New Thing
|In times of tragedy we see those who love evil, because it gives them a reason to hate.|
We all know what God is capable of. We all want many, many lives to be transformed by love. But if you say you want the new thing, is what you really want the old thing again? Are you willing to think differently. Are you willing to see things differently. Or is all that you can see the old thing?
God is at work, God is moving. There is a new thing.
God is love (1 John 4:8), this is the most beautiful truth in the bible. Wherever you see love at work, that is God at work. So the question was never "do you believe in a deity?", but "do you believe in love?". If people believe in the power of love, that love transforms and rescues, that love heals, that love is worth living for and can achieve anything, then they believe in our God. The question of what you think you believe with your mind has very little to do with it, and never did.
This is what John said when he defined who knows God (1 John 4:7); those who love know God. It's what James said when he defined religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27) as love in action. This is the message of the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the ultimate question is not what you have believed but whether you loved. Jesus even said this explicitly when he said "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Before the throne of God aboveWe're all deep and complex people, full of hidden abilities and motivations that we don't understand. This we know . So the substance of faith is not to convert our minds, or the minds of other people, but for the substance of who we are to know love. All that matters is the spirit and truth, the depth, of who we really are and how we live. Not what we think we believe. It is said that the longest road is the road from the head to the heart. This isn't true, it's quite a short road, but it only goes in the other direction. You just can't jam what you think from your head to the heart, but what the heart really finds you can understand with your mind.
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
-- Charitie Lees Bancroft
But what about those passages that speak of belief, and preaching the name of Jesus, and how do we reconcile "all who love know God" with Jesus saying "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the father but by me"? That last part is simple. John says that anyone who loves knows the father, and Jesus says if they know the father they came by him.
As for belief, well the only belief that matters is the belief of the heart. Even Romans 10:10 says "believe with your heart and proclaim with your mouth". It's perfectly possible to believe with your mind yet stay hurt, be hard or bitter, beset by psychological difficulties and never really change. Don't you see this in Christianity all the time? We need to find a real and deep experience of love, and that really can change us. It comes not from being loved, but from loving. The more we love the more we manifest God and the more we're changed. That's good news.
And proclaiming and acting in the name of Jesus. Well it's clearly not about the word "Jesus". That wasn't even his name, he was called Yeshua! When you go in someone's name you go in their power and authority. In mysticism true name reveals true nature. So to proclaim the name of Jesus is to proclaim love, to walk in the substance of his love and power. Let's convert people to really believe in the power of love, and the only way I know to do that is to really demonstrate the power of love. Stop trying to tell people about God and show them God.
This is a message of good news, that love saves, a message of the power of love, that all who love are our brothers and sisters. But it isn't evangelicism, it's progressive Christianity. God is not hidden, God is not hard to find. God is everywhere because love is everywhere. In everyone. Made in the image of God.
So to love God is to love love. To adore love with all your heart. To live for love and to love. Isn't love beautiful, isn't love worth it. I know of nothing better and I think there's nothing that love can't do. There's something worth living for. When your heart is truly captured by the beauty of love there are a lot of things that just fall away. My faith is in love and I think it can achieve absolutely anything.
Alongside political trouble and global trauma, perhaps even because of them, I see a huge movement of people determined to love, determined to see change. That fierce determination to love, and a determination to do something about it, is love on the move. Let's be them, join with them and help them. The forces of good in this troubled world are far stronger than you can possibly imagine. Let's end the tribalism of Christianity that makes us right and everyone else wrong and let's love the love in action. All you have to do is love people.
The trouble is that we make God into a mixture of love and rules. And as much as your faith is in the rules it isn't in love. Love has fulfilled the law. The standard is perfection, this isn't some permissive doctrine, but the law is love. Not a set of rules.
A big part of the problem comes from our shallow understanding of sin. We think sin is the things we do wrong, so we feel guilty whenever we do something wrong. We continually miss the mark, and we think we're meant to feel bad about it. The message of Christianity is exactly the opposite! Sin is dealt with, it's already forgiven. Sin is our separation from God, that we're not yet able to see God clearly. The problem is not really what we do, but who we are.
This goes along with the teaching of evangelicism that we're already made perfect, and if we could just somehow realise this we would stop sinning. Based in part at least on the scripture "if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation". Except that is no-one's experience of Christianity ever. Even with a dramatic initial experience of God and change, really finding the new creation is the work of a lifetime. No-one is made perfect in one fell swoop. A better reading is "as much as a person is in Christ, they are a new creation".
So stop worrying about sin. The past is gone. Sorrow instead (as I do) over who you are, that you don't really know God, that you don't love deeply. This is repentance, and is part of a change of nature, the work of God in us.
And especially stop worrying about other peoples' sin. It's none of your business. The law of God, which is love, is for us to look to ourselves, to worry about the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3, Luke 6:31). The only way to change other people is to love them without expecting them to change, and to leave the rest up to their conscience and to God (John 16:8/13 - compare with this quote from Billy Graham “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.”). The greatest tragedy in Christianity is men who don't know God arguing about theology and the rules other people should be forced to live their lives by.
Woe to you teachers of the law.But this isn't how many of us were taught, and there's a cost to being different. I want to know who will pay the cost.
Woe to you who teach law.
Woe to you who preach rules.
I explore more of what it means to say that the law is love in my article Tainted Love?.
In response to this article I've received several responses, at the time of writing this is my most viewed article of 2017. There are several common themes.
- Aren't you trying to say that human love is God's love?
I could certainly be accused of saying that God is human! Or to put it a better way God encompasses humanity. In Jesus the completely orthodox Christian belief is that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, that his human love is fully divine love. This follows neatly onto the next topic.
- There are several types of love. Not all love is God, only agape love. So God is love but love is not God.
So there is love that doesn't come from God and doesn't contain his nature? Perhaps John was wrong when he said that everyone who loves knows God and is born of God? Or what about 1 John 4:7 "let us love one another for love comes from God", did he just mean "some love"? Dividing love into different types is a pre-Christian, Greek, idea. Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke, doesn't have this distinction and modern scholars agree that there is actually little to no difference in the use of agape and phileo in the new testament. See, for example, How do Bible Scholars Reconcile the Differences between Greek & Aramaic in John.
God is pure love, perfect love, all the love. That turns out to be a lot of love. This is normally very imperfectly expressed by humanity, love mixed with all sorts of self-interest. But the perfect love at the heart of it, and the heart of us, is God.
This fits well with the experience of Christian mystics who in complete union with God invariably exclaim with Julian of Norwich "God is everything good; its goodness is God" .
- There is an apparent tension between John who says that all who love know God and the verses that say we must believe in the name of Jesus and proclaim the name of Jesus to be saved. We need to balance those two apparently contradictory set of scriptures and not take either of them too far.
That's only a problem if you think those scriptures actually contradict each other. This of course is one of the problems of "typical" Evangelicism, it cannot reconcile these scriptures and they stand in opposition to each other. There's another way to see them that puts them in harmony and we can fully accept both.
Believing in, and proclaiming, the name of Jesus. Has nothing to do with the word Jesus. If it means his name literally then we're in trouble because that wasn't his name. His name in Hebrew was Joshua, Jesus is a Latin transliteration of the Greek version of that name, Yeshua. Yeshua is still used, instead of Jesus, by Messianic Jews.
See for example, this short article on What Does Jesus Mean.
My favourite quote from that is: "When the New Testament tells us to pray in Jesus’ name, it doesn’t teach us that the name itself is special. It tells us that the person is special. When an ambassador speaks to a foreign leader, he speaks “in the name of” – with the power and authority of – the one he represents. Jesus is an ambassador, speaking to the Father on our behalf…and speaking to us on behalf of the Father."
Believing in the name of Jesus means believing in his power and his authority. To go in the name of someone means to go in their power and authority. So to think someone needs to know the word Jesus to be saved seems somewhat foolish - they need to meet the substance of who Jesus is, his power and his authority.
With that understanding these verses are not at all contradictory. Anyone who knows love knows God because God is love, and Jesus is God - so anyone who knows love knows Jesus. It's not complicated and it makes sense of those scriptures together along with the others that I highlight in my article. If you move in the power and authority of genuine love you go in the name of Jesus, for that is who he is.
- Your approach is unbalanced, we need love and righteousness.
Yes we need righteousness, but do you think righteousness comes from following the law? Righteousness is from Christ alone. The law cannot save, it can only condemn. Love fulfils the whole of the law. Following the law does not and cannot make you righteous, that isn't what righteousness is. Do you really believe that to the pure all things are pure or that all things are permitted, or do you think those scriptures actually mean "only following the law is pure", "only following the law is permitted"? That's the opposite of what they say. There are a great many scriptures on this topic. Do not put your faith in rules, put your faith in love. for more on this see my article Tainted Love?.
The major theme of the teaching of Christ is that love is not a set of rules. There's no set of rules that keep you from sin. In fact "woe to you teachers of the law"! You have to be willing to think, and thinking is not dangerous. What is right determined by the specific circumstances you're in, not from a set of rules.
The trouble is that people suspect that if they try to work it out for themselves, they'll come to conclusions that are different from their current beliefs, or maybe that they'll just come to the wrong conclusion. Far safer to stick to the rules that everyone else follows. So the motivation is not in itself bad, but the conclusion is dire. It's not safer. It's dead.
We don't even believe that righteousness comes from following the rules (at least we claim we don't), but from faith and through Christ. In Christ alone! So following the rules can't make you righteous either. If you want to not be under judgement then stop judging. If you don't judge then you can't be judged and you're free (1 Corinthians 2:15). Unfortunately people like the power that judging people gives them. That's their problem, not yours.
Stop living under judgement.
Worshipping love (and in Jesus the personhood of love) and revering love as sacred and holy works! Love is truly beautiful, simply divine. Making love conditional on following a set of rules, however well-intentioned, is actually awful. Conditional love is not God's love"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people." - Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28
 Repeated empirical studies (see the work of Daniel Kahnemann for example) have show that we make decisions based on subconscious promptings that we're not aware of, and then the conscious mind rationalizes the decision we have already come to.
 Page 129 of "Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian" by Grace Jantzen, also found in "Essentials of Mysticism" by Evelyn Underhill.