What? Whoa? What do you mean Jesus doesn’t love everyone?
Several years ago, I listened as a pastor of a church stated in complete seriousness, “I don’t tell anyone Jesus loves them. I think it is inappropriate.”
I don’t know about you, but my innermost being – Spirit/Heart/Soul – whatever you call that place where you-just-know – screamed out, “THAT IS SO WRONG!”
Over the next couple of years, this pastor led the church through a process of re-evaluating all the missionaries they supported, the materials used to teach both youth and adults and even selected new governing boards. He had books that he recommended and papers for each member to study. Like a lawyer, he walked all who were willing to listen through a carefully crafted systematic theology, proving his case to support the statement he had made to me earlier. It was amazing and frightening. Suffice it to say that we are no longer associated with that church.
I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity. For some time, insecure of my own incomplete theological education and swayed by his utter conviction, I listened. I really wanted to give his intellect and determination the benefit of the doubt. I rationalized his fervor, and subsequent insistent and unloving manner, to a heartfelt urgency to make up for coming into the ministry later in life and a previous career in quality control.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Truth is such an important concept. I realized as I listened and attempted to understand his interpretation of Scripture, that I also come to the Word with my own biases. The way people think about any topic is a amazing blend of their acquired knowledge, vast or limited in scope, and their experiences, good, bad or non-existent. Each person brings that data into the committee meeting. No wonder there is not consensus!
Trying to comprehend a theology that concludes Jesus loves you to be an inappropriate statement made me wonder anew about the whole subject of theology. Since the first century there are almost 400 recognized theologians. Each one is noted for some thesis, paper or letter left to explain how we should all understand certain Scriptures and where we should stand on certain issues. Needless to say, they do not all agree. Several rose to prominence and then were burned at the stake. Only fifteen were women, leaving such weighty topics to be decided by only half the members of our species.
How can we determine truth?
I only know my answer to how I determine truth. It’s what drew me to attend seminary, attempt a deeper understanding of God and pursue desire to serve Him. In a word – LOVE. Like much of the world, I had heard John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Then people I loved and trusted started showing that love. It was changing their lives, making them kinder, gentler, more peaceful. They explained that Jesus loved us all so much that He died for us. I saw evidence of this truth right before my very eyes. I wanted to be part of sharing that miraculous, life changing power.
I wish everyone could have a chance to experience that kind of love. I also believe they have a free choice to enjoy it and return it or not. If God is a loving Father, he does not force His children to love Him. Love not given freely isn’t real love. I know what I believe is influenced by my relationship with my earthly father, who encouraged me to think for myself and loved me enough to debate, but not force, my opinions and decisions.
For now we see through a glass, darkly.
What frightens me is that anyone can insist that they hold the monopoly on truth. A skilled lawyer can make a case and persuade people by intimidating and overwhelming them with pre-selected data. How sad to teach God’s wonderful love letter to His people as a document with which to judge and bludgeon each other.
I choose to believe there is Good News. There is Love without condition. (I John 4:8) There is Forgiveness for the unrepentant. (Luke 23:34) There is Mercy for the undeserving. (If they deserved it, it would be called justice). There is Grace for the unjust. (Matt 5:45). God is that loving, able and merciful. In fact, God is love.
We already know that we are imperfect people. We don’t need to be reminded of that every day. What if we treated our fellow human beings as if God’s Mercies were really new every morning? What would happen if we focused on what people did right instead of what they did wrong? What if we tried to learn where we agree instead of where we disagree? How much better could our world be if we loved, forgave, encouraged and built one another up instead of judging, chastising and tearing one another down?