Tuesday, January 19, 2016

God Sweats the Details

People think God sweats the details...
People think He's got time to watch each and every thing we do. Like he really cares what we say and whether or not we're really following his rules. It's such bullshit.
He's not marking down every impure thought or bad word. He doesn't care if you look at your neighbor's wife or drink on a Sunday or masturbate.
He's a little busy waging war on a cosmic level with the devil and the forces of evil.
He just wants us to be good and be good to each other. So really...masturbate all you want.
- Outcast #3
by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta

I agree with the sentiment, but not the details.  I don't think God sweats the small stuff, but not because he's too busy waging a cosmic war. The battle between good and evil along the spiritual plane, or however you want to think about, doesn't consume God's attention so thoroughly that he has no time to worry about people. No, I think God is fully aware of our misdeeds but he doesn't sweat them, not because he's too busy for us, but because he loves us.

Now, such thinking took me an incredibly long time to grasp. Growing up, I was taught that all it took was one little sin to separate me from God. But if I repented and asked Jesus into my heart he would forgive me and my slate would be wiped clean. I would be glory bound, until, of course, I inevitably sinned again and earned back my eternal damnation.

I prayed that prayer for God to forgive me several times a day as a kid. It's no wonder I got burnt out on praying and repenting.

I think God got burned out on my repentance, too.

I feared for my immortal soul a lot. The big sins, such as murder and theft, I could abstain from well enough. But God was so pure and perfect that he could not tolerate the smallest sin in his presence. The struggle was real when it came to the small stuff. What was I to do but constantly plead and beg for forgiveness for all these daily transgressions that I would inevitably commit all over again?

Clearly, my perception of God was that he was a relentless bookkeeper, scrutinizing every minor detail of my life, ready and eager to condemn me at the smallest misstep. Truly, I was a sinner in the hands of an angry God, whose bow was aimed right at me with his finger set to release the arrow. The God of Jonathan Edwards scared the crap out of me. And I desperately tried to obey, please, and love that God, motivated mostly by my fear of that God damning me to hell.

I hated that God.

But does God sweat the small stuff? Does he keep an exacting list of our deeds to determine who has been naughty or nice and who gets into the Book of Life or not? That doesn't really sound like a loving God but a demanding and abusive one.

So, what if God doesn't sweat the small stuff, not because he's too busy fighting demons or something, but because he loves us? What if his love for us is greater than our sin? And I don't mean it's greater because God demanded a blood sacrifice and sent his own son to suffer and die for our sins, but what if it is greater simply because his love is greater?

As I grow older, I've become more and more aware of just how incredible my own parents' love for me is. Now, there are obvious issues with the analogy of God as a father or father figure because for so many people a father is a source of hurt, pain, and disappointment. In my own case, though, I have been blessed by a father and mother that serve this analogy well with their ridiculous love for their children.

I know I've let them down countless times. I know I have disappointed them and done things that felt like outright betrayal to them. But while these behaviors may have hurt them or angered them, never once did I think their love for me was ever questioned, either by them or by me.

My parents' love for me doesn't sweat the small stuff. They don't keep a ledger detailing my every little misdeed. They don't declare complete and utter punishment against me at every misstep. Their love continues, unwavering, unquestioned, and unencumbered. How much more would God's love continue without faltering?

But what about the big things? What if I murdered someone and was rightly convicted and imprisoned? Would my parents still love me then? I must say I feel compelled to think that yes, they would still love me. But it wouldn't be out of denial of my crime. They wouldn't just love me only for as long as they maintained my innocence. If my guilt was assured, they would still love me. They would be incredibly grieved and disappointed. They would probably be embarrassed and angry. But I believe their love for me is so ridiculous that they would continue to love me.

In fact, I believe they would visit me regularly in prison, continuing to express their love for me even though I may be a monster. I know this because my father already has a history of visiting people in jail that he cares for so that he can continue to express his love for them. How much more would he show love for his own son? How much more would God show love for his own creation?

A savvy reader will object that I am merely trying to excuse or justify my sins. And they may be right. Perhaps I'm treading lightly hand in hand with centuries old condemned heresies. This is a concern of mine. But at the same time, I feel utterly compelled to explore and contemplate this God of ridiculous, stupid, unwavering love. So then, should I keep on sinning, since God loves me anyway and doesn't sweat the small stuff? As the Apostle Paul would say, “Hell, no!”1

But if God loves me anyway, why would I change? Why would I stop sinning? Maybe, just maybe, this incomprehensible, ridiculous love of God is far more alluring and transformative than the threat of hell ever could be. I usually refer to this as Peter Rollin's dangerous idea. In his book Insurrection, he wrote, “In grace we are able to accept that we are accepted and, in this very act of knowing we do not have to change, we discover the ability to change. It is in experiencing the license of grace rather than the legalism of prohibition that real transformation becomes possible."2

I want to change my ways not so I will escape hell, or so I will be worthy of God's love, but because I am so seduced by the absurdity of his love that I feel called to be a better man because of it. Yes, God makes me feel like Jerry Maguire. I think. I've never actually seen the movie, but I think that's how the line goes. Someone add it to my Netflix queue. Is it even on Netflix? What about Prime?

Anyway, I no longer feel the crushing anxiety from the fear of God's eagerness to damn me to hell for the slightest infraction. Instead I've become overwhelmed and flabbergasted by a ridiculous, absurd, and downright stupid love that loves me anyway. God's not holding his bow at the ready and anticipating his chance to release the arrow aimed at me. There is no bow. There is no arrow. Just a loving God with outstretched arms gently calling me.

Now, at this point I think I've repeated this theme throughout many writings. Maybe I'm beating a dead horse and we're all getting tired of this message. But for some reason I am still as excited as ever to write about my newfound revelation that God is not a bastard that's just looking for any excuse to beat the eternal crap out of me in hell.
I sometimes catch flack for calling God a bastard. “Mitch, you can't call God a bastard!” Well, technically I'm not saying that. I'm saying that often our portrayals and depictions of God present him as a bit of a bastard that, for some reason, we worship. We sing songs of praise about his wrath that he's just barely managed to hold back against us for now. We pray for that same wrathful judgment to be executed against people that we don't like or are different from us. It often appears like we desperately desire God to be a vindictive bastard that's in our corner and on our side. May God seek vengeance upon his enemies! I can't pray that, for I know I would be at the top of the list of God's enemies.
So, maybe this is all self-serving. Maybe I am simply trying to excuse my behavior by prancing in peaceful fields with heresies. But I am tired of trying to worship and love an abusive bastard that hates me only, possibly, slightly less than he loves me. Instead I find myself seduced by a love I don't fully understand but I also don't know how to not love.3

1Romans 6:1-2; Colloquial Translation
2Peter Rollins, Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt, Divine (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 106.
3Catherine Keller, Could of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 85

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