One of the less appealing things Christ-followers have always done is divide into sects. We love doing that. I’m sure it starts with noble purposes, but inevitably, factions draw as much identity from “what they are against” as much as “what they are for,” setting themselves against differing tribes under the Christian banner.
Denominations, coalitions (i.e. groups who graduated from the looser “movement” status), networks, associations – usually with strong, charismatic (white) (male) leaders – generate copious amounts of followers, parroting theological positions and sweeping Biblical conclusions about what God definitively meant in His Word.
These have never set well with me, much to the chagrin of the various splinters. It’s probably the same reason I’m registered as an independent voter rather than siding with a party; once I sign my allegiance over, I feel like I lose the freedom to call my party to reform. I’m more likely to defend bad policy and bad practices, because as a partisan supporter, it’s too sticky to admit my group has a dark underbelly worthy of dissent. We live in an “all bad” and “all good” society, readily attaching those labels to the groups we like (ours) and the groups we’re against (everyone else’s).
Just like there is both great good and heinous abuses on each side of the political divide, factions of the church get some parts right and others wrong. This is because we are human people, attempting to reconcile the ways of Jesus with this broken life; the ways God said would be higher than our own, born from His thoughts which always exist in the stratosphere above our heads.
We do our best. We try to handle God’s Word with integrity and flesh out what the Christian life is supposed to look like. We do. I daresay we mean ever so well. But anytime a human decides he and his group have cornered the market on our mysterious God, including exactly how He is handling salvation, eternity, and redemption, my alarm bells start clanging. Especially when he is conveniently on the right side of favor. (Concerning the eternal damnation of her family members, a local church leader told my friend: “We will one day see them in hell and say AMEN.” Sweet merciful heavens.)
Take God’s sovereignty, for instance, a polarizing, emotionally charged concept within the Bride. I am uncomfortable laying evil, perversion, and darkness at God’s feet, casting Him as a petrifying, arbitrary ruler. I haven’t the slightest idea how His sovereignty works in us, around us, through us, in spite of us. I don’t know where sin ends and God’s will begins. I can’t even suss out what “He allowed it” means. Is Satan a real force on this earth or isn’t he? Do our sinful choices belie the heart of God or do they simply execute His providence? If God is sovereign over injustice, what does that actually mean? The mysterious cocktail of ultimate good and evil, sin and self, Spirit and power somehow equal the truth of God I cannot comprehend.
Mind you, this is not for lack of reading or discussion. I’ve pressed and obsessed and grieved, worried that God was actually horrible and untrustworthy. I’ve gone cold, calculated, fatalistic: “What is the point? It is what it is no matter what anyone does.” I’ve been angry, then defensive, then arrogant, then hopeless. I dragged people off the cliff with me, leading the witness toward my current position, hoping someone could help reconcile the God I knew with such a broken, devastated world. Is God really in charge of this mess? Because if so, it seems like He might be terrible at being God.
Deep in the throes of confusion, thrashing and lashing out, God rescued me from my own despair with one simple word:
“Jen, I am love and I am just.”
And with that, all the wind left my manic sails. God could not possibly orchestrate injustice. That is incompatible with his character. He would never stoically endorse abuse, hatred, evil. How could He? God couldn’t possibly be unfair. He could never act unlovingly. In His heart, in His hand, He is love and justice and embarrassing mercy. God doesn’t simply act that way; it is the nature of His very being. However God moves, it is always just. It is always fair. It is always loving. It always moves toward redemption.
That is all I need to know.
How this fleshes out amid the complicated mix of humanity and decay and sovereignty, I haven’t the foggiest idea. Circumstantially, the entire concept can fold in on itself, for it all seems so subjective. But my soul rests in the security that my God is good. I needn’t feel compelled to lay evil at His feet, because dark forces exist on our earth as well, if you believe the Bible. As long as rebellion is still possible, then parts of life will unfold outside of God’s goodness. Somehow, He will set this all right one day.
If that isn’t as certain or positive or crystal clear as you’d like, I get it. There is comfort in following believers with iron-clad confidence. Sometimes I envy them. But I am unprepared to put too much confidence in my understanding of something as mysterious as God’s sovereignty. I’ve been wrong too many times before, and about lesser concepts. Rather, my confidence has finally found rest in God’s goodness, which somehow transcends theology and circumstances and doubt. I am comfortable loving Jesus with questions in play, because the one thing I am sure of is His nature.
The older I get, the less I know, the more mysterious salvation becomes. I no longer feel compelled to nail it all down to reproducible soundbytes, Twitter-worthy missives. I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest. My God is good and worthy of all praise, and that is enough.
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Jesus, indeed, I will not stumble on account of you.