There’s always a heavy dramatic moment in a sermon when the preacher begins confessing someone else’s sin, a guy always named Bill, who got addicted to crystal meth and ran out on his kids and punched small animals and screwed up his life, and then the preacher concludes:
“Don’t be like Bill. Let’s pray.”
The sermon closes and everyone fights for the offering plate.
I can’t help but think: I’m no better than Bill.
I keep wondering: Who exactly did Jesus come to die for? God sent His Son Jesus Christ to part the universe and galaxies and stars and skies to die on a cross in our place for everyone — except that dirty, disgusting, filthy pagan Bill.
Or the preacher says, “The first guy hears the Word of God and gets saved. The second guy hears and goes off to the world but gets beat up, so he gets saved. And the third guy: he stubbornly refuses and he ruins everything. Don’t be the third guy.”
Everything in me wants to flip a table and yell, “But I’m the Third Guy. I’m Bill. That loser you’re talking about is me.”
Is there no grace for them? Because many of those church people are living through the very consequences that we’re yelling about. Only preaching consequences is like throwing desert sand for the thirsty.
When we believe people cannot change, we suckerpunch the sovereign grace of God. We make inexplicable exceptions for the loser, the failure, the fallen. We distort actual human beings into one-dimensional caricatures, as if the Gospel is too good for them. There is a political divide, an abyss, a chasm that threatens to separate the religious do-gooder from the untouchable, unforgivable, unimportant rebel.
I don’t know where this tactic came from. But I don’t want my spiritual walk to be a reaction to someone else’s consequences. That’s an awful, despicable way to live. It’s essentially throwing someone under the bus and then driving the bus.
Of course we need to know how our actions can hurt others. A certain healthy amount of guilt or shame shows that we’re human, that we’re capable of the worst depravity. Yet none of these things can be the foundation for our faith: they cannot sustain your walk and will ultimately crush others with the very same fear.
And I believe there’s still grace even for the preacher who uses those cheap tricks. There’s grace for the Christian authors who keep using real human beings as allegories for what not to do. For the church people who gossip about a brother and say, “He needs Jesus.” For the ministry whose entire philosophy was born out of an overreaction to being hurt by another church, thereby perpetuating that hurt. For the parents who keep comparing you and scaring you with other kids. For the blogger who is always saying, “I’m not like those other Christians.”
I believe there is grace for our total lack of grace.
If it’s really all so bad: Then I hope we’re grieving on our knees praying for their souls with tear-soaked eyes.
If it’s really all so bad: Then tell me how I can move forward instead of looking back.
The drowning need a lifesaver, not a description of the water. The blind need vision, not false sympathy. The broken need a new dream, not a rear view.
My heart hurts for them and for me. Plead with God for tenderness. Speak of what could be, not should be. Speak with hope.