Lent Day 29… Like A Toddler Driving A Tractor

“Sensible people, of course, should need only about thirty seconds of careful thought to realize that getting off scot-free is the only way any of us is going to get off at all. But if all we can think of is God as the Eternal Bookkeeper putting down black marks against sinners—or God as the Celestial Mother-in-Law giving a crystal vase as a present and then inspecting it for chips every time she comes for a visit… well, any serious doctrine of grace is going to scare the rockers right off our little theological hobbyhorses.” —Robert Farrar Capon

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One of the strangest things I’ve experienced as a pastor is when good Christian people want to meet with me in order to let me know they are concerned…

We believe in grace and all that, but we think people need to hear about judgment too.

We feel like we’re not hearing enough about sin.

These meetings leave me feeling like I’m in some kind of Christian Twilight Zone where things are bent, strange, confused, and freaky.

I don’t even know where to begin.

You believe in grace and all that, but…? Are you sure you want to put a “but” after grace?

You feel like you’re not hearing enough about sin…?  For the sake of clarification, are you most concerned for yourself—that you need to be called out for the sins you’re currently struggling with, or are you concerned for others in the church—who, in your opinion, need to be called out for the sins they’re struggling with?

The freaky-Twilight-Zone part of these meetings is that they’re always concerned with the sins of other people.

They’re never asking for sermons on spiritual pride. Or on being judgmental. Or on greed or gluttony or laziness…

Oh, the irony.

I have come to recognize that my reactions to the evil I see in the world are rarely in the proper proportion, are rarely aimed in the right direction. Too often, I wield my righteous indignation like a toddler driving a tractor that’s pulling a plow through a field ready for harvest, destroying the fruit and the weeds alike. I want to be less ruinous. I want to cultivate more. —Shawn Smucker

Pope Francis, in his book The Name of God is Mercy, says:

The church does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this… “Mercy is in reality the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ.”

Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive. Jesus said he came not for the healthy, who do not need the doctor, but for the sick. For this reason, we can say that mercy is God’s identity card. God of Mercy, merciful God.

The love of God exists even for those who are not disposed to receive it: that man, that woman, that boy, or that girl—they are all loved by God, they are all sought out by God, they are in need of blessing.

Be tender with these people. Do not push them away.

 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger…

He came to put the world right again. —John 3.17

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

4 Comments to Lent Day 29… Like A Toddler Driving A Tractor

  1. This wonderful “doctrine of grace” is an interesting juxtaposition to a conversation we had about an hour ago about E. Orthodoxy, salvation, etc. It is human nature to point fingers and require repentance from others and not easily see the need within our own soul, to be able to acknowlege our total dependance on God’s mercy and grace for our salvation–the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in our stead. It’s also human nature (sin nature?) to want to participate in our salvation and endeavor to deserve it by works and outward devotion. It’s not natural in ourselves to lay down all our effort and accept our helplessness in the face of Perfection. Even for that we need the total mercy of God.

  2. Speaking of mercy, in recent years I have not been able to reconcile the God of the old testament with the God of the new testament. Heard and read much on this topic but questions remain.

    • Louise – this has been one of the biggest shifts in my theology in the past 10 years… it’s not something that I have perfectly nailed down and neatly packaged, but I feel like I have confidence in who God is now.

      Colossians 1.15 says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.”

      I see this as the necessary answer to the question, “What is God like?” God is like Jesus in every way. There is nothing in God that is not like Jesus. Jesus is the exact, perfect image of God… He is God revealed, God in the flesh, God made-known.

      We didn’t always know what God was like. We tried our best to explain Him. We attempted to speak on His behalf. But now God has been shown to us.

      In the Old Testament, we have God “revealed” through types and symbols and through the words of the prophets… but these are always a step away from the real thing. When Christ came, we see Him for who he is. We hear his words and we see his actions—we observe his ways and his example.

      So for me, the record of the Old Testament is inspired… it’s job is to lead us to Jesus. However, I do not see the OT as perfectly representing the nature of God. And this is why Jesus could say, “You have heard it said… but I say unto you…” This is why the Pharisees could say, “Moses says to stone her,” but Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

      Theologian Greg Boyd just released a two-volume series on this topic, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1506420753/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1506420753&linkCode=as2&tag=rek0d-20&linkId=ada11ce2f1d4b2acd2c6904a5bcbf52d

      And Pastor Brian Zahnd has a forthcoming book on the subject as well, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News https://www.amazon.com/Sinners-Hands-Loving-God-Scandalous/dp/1601429517

      You might enjoy the following posts from Brian Zahnd:

      God Is Not A Monster https://brianzahnd.com/2015/10/god-is-not-a-monster/

      Jesus Trumps Biblicism https://brianzahnd.com/2014/05/jesus-trumps-biblicism-tale-sticks-stones/

      On Brian Zahnd’s post God Is Not A Monster, the following comments resonated with me:

      Paul Walker (a year ago)
      If there something I’ve noticed about ‘monster god theologies’; is that they cannot stare blindingly in the light of the Son…Jesus the Messiah. There MUST be an appeal to the “God behind God”; to the shadow and not the light source. I think this “shadow gazing” can often take the form of flat readings of Scripture that fail to submit to light revealed in Christ. I regrettably see it all the time. It brings a sadness to my soul whenever the shadows rear their ugly heads under the guise of their “ism’s”.
      Yet, the moment we begin to read Jesus as the definitive revelation of what God is like, the shadows can scarcely exist. And in this I hope…. that those who are willing to stare into the blinding light of the Son will experience the end to all their shadows & all monsters.

      Ryan Flanigan (a year ago)
      This reminds me of a beautiful poem recently penned by a retired priest in our parish reflecting on Psalm 2:
      (verse 1)
      The lordly ones who seem to rule the seen and unseen realm
      Hold goodness, truth and beauty as constraints to be erased,
      So they, unhindered by any other will, may take the helm
      And be the gods of all that they would grow or see abased.
      (verse 2)
      You, dear Son, were my darling One long before creation.
      Through you I made rule and ruler both, stood them in the light.
      Your almighty sway is bounded only by your holy mission
      To cleanse from sin, give life, and be my image in plain sight.
      (verse 3)
      Your scepter shall be gentle kindness to the lowly and meek,
      But to the loud and proud you dole frustration and defeat.
      Your rule shall be invisible, seemingly absent, even weak
      Until you come again to place all things at your Father’s feet.

      • Brian, thank you for laying out your thinking on this important question, and giving me resources. Jesus truly did rip apart the temple veil and give us direct access to his glorious presence. But it is the instructions of God, the great I Am of the old testament, that leave me wondering and questioning. How does one reconcile the commandment to not kill with all those directives to the Israelites to attack and slaughter entire communities? Oh, I have heard some creative sermons on the subject, but not one that made sense. I shall enjoy digging into everything you shared.

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