I have been thinking about the Christian Atheist book and just what it means to act as though God is real.
How do I act when I believe that God is real? I hold this knowledge of God’s presence in my heart as I try to show the love of God to the world. I try and succeed sometimes. I fail sometimes.
None of us is perfect. We all stand in need of forgiveness and grace and mercy, those of us who are trying hard, and those of us who are not even thinking about trying to follow Christ’s teachings of love and forgiveness. We need to forgive those who hurt us. We need to realize that we also need to be forgiven by those whom we have hurt.
I am reminded of the book, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity by Bruce Bawer, in which he says that the Christian church itself has become divided into a Church of Grace and a Church of Law. However, friends, there is no need to claim one or the other. We need to be a church of both.
If we have grace without law (disciplined life), we have what Bonhoffer called ‘cheap grace.’ This kind of understanding does not acknowledge the response of gratitude for all that God has done for us. Perhaps those Christians who say the words but do not live disciplined lives, who do not worship, who do not forgive, are living a life expecting cheap grace. Forgiveness for them with no commitment from them to live the life that Christ has called us to.
If we have the law without grace, we will all eventually be condemned. We know from the history of the church that we can err with a severity that can become an inquisition or witch trial in which we single out those who do not meet the current standards and understandings of the church. Perhaps those Christians, who live strict lives and condemn others who do not live up to their standards, do not realize that they could be falling short on the commands of loving their neighbor and forgiving as they want to be forgiven.
We need to stand in the middle, holding onto both Mercy and Justice. We declare that God is both merciful and just, as did Karl Barth, as he spoke of the Perfections of God, in his Church Dogmatics. We cannot have one without the other.
We strive to live good lives in response to God’s love, acknowledging that we fail to be perfect. Each time we fail, we get up and try again. And this effort is empowered by the forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not live only by our own energy or knowledge. We live connected to God who is greater and more powerful than even the whole of this universe.
And, in living this life, what is most important in our life with God? I would have to say that it is love – but what in the world does that mean? Christ said to love each other as he has loved us. What does that mean? He also said the second commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. What does that mean? Love is not simply permissiveness, allowing a life with no standards. That again would be grace without justice.
We need standards, guidelines, and laws, just as athletes need guidance as they train. They train their minds and bodies. We train our minds and hearts to become Christians and faithful followers of Christ.
But, if we have standards, which do we choose? And, how do we prioritize which is the most and which the least important?
David Dark, an author and teacher from Nashville, says that sometimes we feel we must be perfect so that we will be good salesmen or advertisers for God, as if God needs us as advertisers. We do not live disciplined lives as an advertisement. That is not needed. We live with discipline, following the commandments and Jesus’ teachings, because it benefits us, helping us to be truly human. Like athletes who follow the guidelines of their coaches for nutrition and exercise because it will make them better athletes, we follow the words and guidelines of Scripture because it makes us better people. We live a better and deeper life, but not one without struggles and tragedy.
Jesus teachings help us to see what it means to be a disciple. This week, again, he is being challenged by the religious establishment, and in turn, reprimands them. John 9:1-41 He breaks the man-made law of not working on the Sabbath out of compassion for a man who was blind from birth.
Jesus does not break the law without thought. He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. His actions points to a higher law, one of love and compassion. This points me toward the God of Grace and Mercy. Perhaps, I need this message because I am basically a rule follower. Rule followers need to be told to stop and pay attention to which rules they are following. Perhaps someone else will need to be reminded that there are laws of living a good and wholesome life. We need different things in our journey.
I begin and end each day with prayer and feel the presence of God with me throughout the day. I ask for guidance as I navigate the many demands on me each day. For me, life is not anything goes. There are spiritual truths. Living a life before God means respecting other people and their struggles, helping when I can help, reminding myself to love and forgive. I’m sure it means much more. And, I continue to not be perfect.
I struggle with decisions about giving to the poor and whether it is the right thing to do or will contribute to their dependence or to their drug or alcohol use. I struggle with forgiveness issues. I continue to say too much or the wrong thing or not enough. But I care about what scripture says about the way to live. I’m trying to find my way to living a faithful life.
What does it mean to you? Does your life reflect that God is real?