The Glory Of God and The Imperfect Life

Somewhere, at some point in time, some person decided that becoming a Christian was about having a perfect life.

I think perhaps I want to hunt down and kill that person.

Why? Just why? When and how? What went on in that persons head? Didn’t they think forward a bit and consider how difficult this might be to facilitate in the future? Didn’t they look around and think to themselves, “Nah, you know what? that’s just not how it is in the real world, I can’t say that – it’ll make people crazy.” Didn’t they read the bit where Jesus and the people who followed him didn’t get anything like a perfect life?

I don’t get it. I wanted to get it for a long, long time, but really, I’ve never got it, this thing about how being a Christian means no bad things, only good things. A life where I have more than enough money, terrific health and where everybody leaves me alone to do what I want, when I want. One where we know all the ones who are dong Christianity right, because they never have any bad things happen to them. One where I am never sick, unemployed, or addicted to anything. One where my family members are all like me, and we never fight, and where my children grow up in the exact way I hope and never cause me any embarrassment or anxiety. One where if someone does something bad to me, I’m okay again pretty quickly and don’t find it hard to forgive one bit, where it doesn’t mess me up one hundred ways from Sunday for the rest of my life. One where everybody likes and respects me, and I am able to like and respect others effortlessly. One where whatever I am selling is exactly what people want, and they will pay me exorbitantly for it, very often. One where I create things from my heart and people understand and receive them in exactly the way they were intended and never laugh or write things on the internet about me. One where I am always unselfish, generous, accepting, courageous and empowered, and so are all the people I hang out with. One where I am very frequently right about things, and everybody I admire and like and respect acknowledges my rightness. One where I always meet others expectations of me, and am able to adapt my own expectations perfectly to every person and situation. A perfect life, where I am always inspirational, never fearful, anxious or cowardly, where I never have cause to suffer or make others suffer, where I never fail others or have cause to feel others have failed me. A perfect life, where my days are one endless stream of no bad things, and where I die at the end comfortably and painlessly in my bed, with all my many loved ones around me in a cloud of mote-speckled light, where I surrender my spirit of my own volition at the most appropriate time, without regret or sorrow or bitterness or anger. Oh, and where I have absolute certainty I’m going to heaven. The perfect life.

You’re not going to get one of these.

Nobody is going to get one of these.

There are going to be things that happen to you, and they may feel very bad, and not Jesus, God, Buddha or anyone else is going to stop them. And it will suck.

If you became a Christian or a Buddhist or a Jew or whatever just because you hoped it was a way to stop bad things from happening to you, I’m really sorry. Whoever told you or is telling you that it is God’s job is not telling you how it really is. They may want it to be true, and they may even be able to back it up with words from the Bible, but it’s not what happens in the real world.

Truth is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. Truth is what is.

What actually happens in the real world is that bad things happen. They happened to Jesus, and in fact, if you believe the Bible, they happened to God.

All the time. God apparently wanted certain things to happen, planned for them, set things up for them to go a particular way, and still, things went wrong. Which makes you wonder if God has as much control as we’d like to think.

People, right from the start apparently didn’t do what God hoped they might. But, hey, even if they had, it still might not have gone the way God planned. Who knows?

Sometimes we think when something goes wrong, if we had done the opposite then things would’ve gone right, or better, or not been so messed up, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things would have had been messed up anyway.

Now, can I just say at this point, I’m not about to get into that attitude which says when you get cancer it’s actually a good thing if only you can just see it in a certain, special way.

Having a disease that could kill you is always going to be something people don’t want, bad, if you like. So are earthquakes, famines, and tornadoes, that sort of thing.

This is not about controlling good and bad things. This is partly about accepting the fact you can make some things happen, but not other things. The other part I’ll get to in a minute.

Here’s the thing. Actions have consequences. If you smoke, your likelihood of developing cancer is statistically high. If you work a forty-hour week for forty years of your life and get paid a reasonable wage for doing so, you will experience a certain level of material and personal comfort, possibly even wealth. However, it’s also true to say that a great many people get cancer and do nothing to make that happen. And some people grow very wealthy and do nothing to make that happen.

I think a great many people become Christians not because they like Jesus or want to be like Jesus, but because they feel powerless, and also disempowered. They believe they lack both the ability and the control to avoid the former and attract the latter, and so they bring all that anxiety and powerlessness to Jesus. But they never allow themselves become more empowered. They choose to remain disempowered, because they think it gives Jesus more glory, more opportunity to be powerful, when they do. They get Jesus into a position where He might supposedly feel obliged to use some of His power to arrange the most desirable outcome on their behalf, i.e.: no cancer, and more money, that’d be great, thanks. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and all that. Many Christians become Christians simply because they doubt their own capacity to make good things happen for themselves, and/or the capacity to prevent bad things from happening, and they are simply wanting to recruit some outside help with that.

Which is fine, except, life. Oh, and the whole following Jesus thing. Being a follower of Jesus surely is about following Jesus? I wonder if being Christian is something completely different.

Many teaching streams within contemporary evangelical Christianity have become little more than a way of helping fearful and uncomfortable people feel less out-of-control, and enabling capable and comfortable people to feel they deserve everything that happens to them. These streams confirm the self-doubting, self-deprecating persons worst suspicions about themselves by telling them they are worthless, corrupt and have no good thing inside them of any value whatsoever, and they won’t be able to do anything without Gods direct help. Also, this kind of Christianity conversely confirms the ego-driven persons sense that all their critics are wrong, all their actions are justified and all the success, recognition and comfort they are able to arrange is their God-given entitlement. In this way, many of the teachings of contemporary evangelical Christianity speak not to the King in people, but to the devil in them. They speak deeply to the fearful heart of the person who suspects they are unworthy, less-than, and will always be unable to handle any kind of stress, rejection, criticism and change. The teachings reinforce the belief the person could never cope if bad things happened to them because they are weak, intrinsically evil, selfish, depraved, untrustworthy, and had it coming. These ideas also often support the premise that God is angry, and purport to reveal the truly ugly, repulsive nature of human beings ever-present sinful nature by provide compelling evidence for what happens to people in the real world when God and our sin intersect, i.e.: bad things happen.

However, in the real world, when faced with the terrible things that often happen, regular people are for the most part not weak in the face of it, or lacking capacity and resilience. They also do not appear to deserve it. In fact, in everyday life, regular people very frequently do not behave or think in a way that is bad or evil. People are usually good, or are trying to be. They have good hearts, and the majority of people in the world want to do good things to help themselves and others, whether they believe in a Creator, or not. And not many Christian teachers and preachers are going to tell you the truth about this. They are a little like the snake-oil salesman who convinces you you’re sick and then sells you the cure. These ones want you to believe you are a member of the only group of truly good people who exists on the earth (Christians) and they’ll tell you everyone else is to be feared, suspected or denigrated in some way, because they are rotten through with worldly evil and wanting to kill and eat you, or some damn thing. But it isn’t true; the bit about the people who are not in your church, or the part about you being sick with sin and needing a cure for it. People outside Christianity are not all bad, and the people we Christians hang out with have no monopoly on good.

The truth is human beings – Christian, or otherwise – are generally not weak, stupid or lacking in creativity. People outside your church will mostly not want to steal from you, or kill you, or even criticise or judge you. They are good. Also, they are incredibly resilient, adaptable and able to cope with huge stresses and change. However, most people in the world experience fear, and feel they are lacking in some way because they do, and most have desires and impulses and needs they are trying to get met as well. This can make people do things which harm others, or which take away others liberties, and even their own or others lives. Nobody wants bad things done to them, and a great many people who do bad things wish they could stop doing them. Bad things happening in the world may not actually be the incontrovertible support for the premise everyone is essentially bad and evil many Christians would like us to believe it is. I am interested in the way many evangelical charismatic Christians are able to observe some evil things done by some people sometimes by people who are not Christians and use this as support for the premise all people are intrinsically evil all the time, whilst at the same time justifying as totally without avarice all the completely evil things they do to people inside and outside of Christianity, and because the Bible apparently told them to, to boot.

When you teach people often enough and with enough conviction they are weak, stupid, and evil, of course they will begin to doubt their capacity to cope if bad things happen to them. And they will think it makes more sense to avoid bad things than to get better at coping with them – who wouldn’t? In the real world, bad things are going to happen – this is the first truth we need to get our head around. Unless you are very well organized, or never leave your church, or are perhaps lobotomized, there is no way to avoid it. And some of the bad things that happen are certainly worse than humans could possibly be expected to endure. However, most people really do have enough resources to cope with most of the bad things that will happen to them. People really are incredible. And you’d think evangelical Christianity, claiming as it does to be really into people generally, and into helping them recognize their God-given gifts, would be right onto this. But rather than teaching people how to draw on their God-given gifts – their inner strength, wisdom and capacity to cope with stress, change and disaster – many modern Christian teachings are instead advocating for the asking of God to arrange for Christians a greater blessings-to-bad-things quotient, and a more materially, physically and socially comfortable existence.

Which, as I said, is fine, except, life.

A life where bad things never happen is not going to happen to you. Everyone has things happen in their lives that are not what they wanted or hoped for. That is a given. God knows this. Further, God is not going to stop bad things happening to you, just because you are a Christian and you asked Him nicely. Now, when you’re a Christians and bad things do happen, even though you asked God nicely could they please not, some Christians people will tell you this is because He doesn’t want to stop them even though He could, but He has a special lesson to teach you instead, or a special job for you to do in the world of the bad thing. In my opinion, that God is not a very good God. That God is an asshole.

God doesn’t stop bad things from happening to you because He can’t.

He can’t stop them. The way I see it, God is either good, or all-powerful. If God is all-powerful, He cannot also be good, because the things that happen to people along the gamut of bad things can be so horrifically bad, any God who would allow those things when He had the power to stop them is not a good God.

God is good.

And you are good too.

So, my friend, having said all that, let me tell you this. You did not deserve the bad things that happened to you because you’re a sinner and deserved it, you forgot to become a Christian or didn’t know how to pray a certain way, or because the world is intrinsically evil and depraved and the devil is out to get you. The bad thing didn’t happen because God thought you needed a special lesson in how to not die of anxiety and stress, or how to survive being raped as a child, or knew you’d one day inspire thousands with your story of how you lost your legs in a car accident. The bad thing happened because you live in a human body, and you live on a dirt planet, and all kinds of things can go wrong when we all start messing around with the dirt and bumping up against the other human bodies and the people inside them. The world and the people are beautiful, but they can get messed up. And it’s not your fault the world is dirt and so is your body, and you and all the other people have to bump into each other from time to time. It’s just the way it is. Good things, bad things; it’s just the way it is.

And He is not going to stop it, because He can’t. Remember, the truth is not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. The truth is what is.

So, this is the truth. God can’t stop bad things from happening to you. But, whenever you, through your incredible resilience, extraordinary courage, awesome creativity, intrinsic wisdom, and burning desire to help others, or because of a massive spiritual, clever or just damn bloody determined effort, able to turn the bad thing that happened to you into something useful, beautiful, admirable, inspirational, encouraging or meaningful, God falls back in awe of you, and claps the slow, loud clap with a huge grin on His face. Tears spring to his eyes and His breath is taken away for a while. He looks at you with immense pride and wonder, and He says, my Person, how on earth do you do that? I marvel at you, at your resilience, courage and creativity, at the alchemy of what you just did, of what you are doing. You are able to make bad things into good things, and I am amazed at this. I am proud. I am celebrating! Woohoo! Go you! You are my darling, the thing of which I am most proud; who of all the things I’ve made is most glorious, clever and good. Well done, my beloved, well done you!

He loves and admires you when you do that thing, when you make a good thing from a bad thing and confirm all God’s deepest suspicions; that you are stronger, wiser, braver and more creative than you think, and that you are good. When you realize the bad thing could not be God’s fault, He cries with relief. And we can know God didn’t do it on purpose not in a saving-His-reputation, defending-His-honour kind of way. But in a knowing God truly loves you, believes in you, and is on your side kind of way. He is not the Asshole God, really. He is the Good One.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether we believe in Good God, or any God at all. What matters is that He believes in us. All of us. All the time. Whether we believe Him back, or not. And He’s not angry about our not believing when we don’t, or can’t. He is okay with it. He still celebrates, because we are His darling, clever, dirt people. We have all believed faith meant us believing He exists, and that all the things that have been written about Him are true. And we hope they are true, hope they are truth. But truth is not an abstract. It is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what is. And His love is.

God’s love for and belief in us is the truth; a truth so true we can build a house on it and live there. Our faith in God is incomparable to the faith He has in us. And yes, okay, even the Bible says faith and hope pale in comparison with love. Imagine how much there is then – faith, hope and love – from God, towards you.

Believing in God and being a Christian is not about having a perfect life. It’s about believing God believes in you. It’s about knowing God wants more than anything to confirm your deepest suspicions about yourself; that you are resilient, courageous, creative and wise. It’s feeling in your heart of hearts that when you do that thing with the bad thing that happened to you, He falls back in wonder. And that’s His glory, you, being you, amazing God with your capacity and your courage to turn your crazy, messed up life into something true. Our truth is not what we wished would’ve happened. It’s what actually happened. The truth is what is. You amaze Him. It’s knowing in your gut that while God is not in control, that’s okay, because God is absolutely good, and is cheering and bragging about you. Look at my darling creation, isn’t she amazing, isn’t he the best.

Your bad things, your struggles to accept and deal with them, and your generally imperfect life, my darling, are nothing to be ashamed of.

Because God is good, and so are you.

With love,

Jo xx

The love you think you deserve.

You’re haunted at times by that bad thing that happened to you, my love, you and I both know it. You suspect the bad thing happened because bad things only happen to people who deserve them. You’ve believed it was your fault – literally. You’ve believed if you were somehow able to be enough, if you were not too much and not too much trouble, if you were more beautiful, more obedient, more brave, their real daughter or son, smarter, stronger, quieter, not so much of a show off, not the way you are, the bad thing wouldn’t have happened. You’d be okay now, and you’re not, but that’s what you get.

Oh, honey, no. That’s not okay. You didn’t get something bad because you deserved it. There can be so many reasons why bad things happen to us, but your deserving it is not one of them.

The something bad that happened to you didn’t happen because you are bad. If you head down that road, you’ll never get to the end of it. Nobody will ever find a way into your heart, not a friend, not a lover, not even God. Because you’ll never feel like you deserve their love, no matter what they do.

You only accept the love you think you deserve.

Why do you think so many people believe their God is angry at their sin? Why are so many people walking around angry, defiant, or broken so deeply they can no longer function?

They are deflecting love they don’t think they deserve.

The thing is, love, and all it’s fruits, are there for you. Not “out there”, beyond being “all fixed up” or “forgiven for your part”, or “when you’ve paid your dues.”

Love is there. There, as in right here. Because God is love and is right here.

“Deserve” isn’t part of the economy of God’s love. You’re in Jubilee when it comes to the love you “deserve”. All debts erased. All defaults forgotten. All obligations met, all bonds redeemed. Walk away, beloved one, under grace, you owe nothing. Not to anyone. Only love.

Love is for you, and all that comes with it.

Blessings,
Jo xxx

Just love ’em.

Your much-loved, much-lauded, beautiful son finally marries the love of his life, but despite your pride and delight, you can’t brag on him or his new partner to any of your friends at church. Because the love of his life is actually a man. What do you do?

You hide.

Your daughter moves out into her own place just a few weeks after she graduates high school. She’s bought a new car with her own money, and has a great job she can support herself on. But despite the fact you raised her to be independent and she made it happen all on her own, you can’t tell anyone, because she’s now living with her boyfriend and they have no intention of getting married. What do you do?

You hide.

Your husband is an alcoholic, and despite desperately needing support and advice, you can’t share with your pastor about it, because he preaches so often about how a real Christian man should be able to “hold his alcohol”. What do you do?

You hide.young girl

You had an abortion fifteen years ago, but you can’t tell your counsellor because her husband is an elder in your church. Nobody can know what you did. What do you do?

You hide.

You have to take your daughter to get a pregnancy test in the next town, because the pathology collector is also the church secretary. Everybody wants to know why you need the day off from work. What do you do?

You hide.

Four years ago, your third child was stillborn. You know you need to talk about it, but you’re so incredibly tired of hearing people tell you, “That’s so awful, but you know, God is in control!”. You can’t face being fobbed off with cliche’s any more. What do you do with your pain?

You hide.

The first time you had cancer, everyone prayed and it went away and you all thanked God for your healing and you were their own little walking miracle. But now the cancer is back. What do you do?

You hide.

Despite your distress, your pastor insists the only way to be free from your drug addiction is to forgive the man who sexually molested you when you were a child, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. What do you do?

It’s at this point you realise you just can’t hide any more, and you see this pain and the lies will never go away until you do something about it. You decide it stops here.

So you commit suicide.

*****

These are real stories. These are people I know. And some of these are my own story.

But listen, I know – this isn’t your church. No way – we don’t make people feel like that. I know nothing I say can convince you the Body of Christ could ever advertently or inadvertently cause someone hide their pain and their truth.

But it is your church. This is you. And this is me. On both sides.

We do this.

These are the women – and yes, the men – in your church. These are their lives, their burdens, their hurts and their histories.

These are also their nows.

These people are us.

We create this system of silence, lies and hiding whenever we promote a culture of perfection and shame. When we say the only true and authentic expression of the Christian life is a successful life, an abundant life, a life where nobody gets sick or hears voices, or dies or divorces, where nobody is anything but English-speaking, employed, middle-class and heterosexual, where nobody is addicted or abused or bitter or angry, or could possibly have ever been hurt, offended or abused by us, then we tell A Great Lie. Great Lies force people underground, into the dark, and sometimes that darkness is within ourselves. We force people to turn away from their pain and their truth, we make them split themselves in two, and sometimes into even more little pieces. And folks learn they can only ever show us one kind of face, tell us one kind of story. The perfect face. The story with the happy ending.

But these happy, perfect stories and faces are not what Jesus came to heal.

If people feel they cannot bring into church what Jesus came to heal them of, then what the hell are we doing, Church?

Our churches may look great from the outside, but if they do, we have nothing to brag about. Most of our churches look great not because they’re populated with the whole, the helped and the healed, but because they’re filled with hurting and heartbroken people who have learned how to hide.

Our quest for perfection works against Gods greatest gift to us – His grace.

We must cease from this creation of perfection-centred cultures, and promote love without condition, without pretext, and without agenda.

Just love ‘em.

I pray our eyes and our ears will be opened to the reality of the vulnerable amongst us  – the we, not the them – who must lie, hide, repress, forget and otherwise numb themselves simply so they can hold their heads up in our presence. May we repent from our culture of perfection, and embrace the raw, salty, bloody wound we all carry: the shame of not being All Fixed Up and All Right Now – the authenticity of having lived and tried and failed and fallen in this, The Real World, the world You came to heal and make whole. Amen.

*****

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Terrible and Good

God is good. He is love. He loves the world, and loves His creation. He loves us. God so loved the world, He gave His son to us to do with whatever we would do with Him.

And we did with Him whatever we would do with him. We listened to him. We baulked at him. We tried to lay hands upon him and we accused him. And in the end, we led him like a lamb to the slaughter. And it was terrible.

But God is also terrible. He too is violent. He is powerful. At times, he appears arbitrary. And as the beavers tell Susan in Narnia when she asks if Aslan the lion is safe, he is not safe. No, God is not safe.

But He is good.

And we too, are capable of goodness. We are capable of kindness and mercy and compassion and acceptance. We can do it, but this good we sometimes will to do, we do not do. Instead, we capture and crucify the epitome of goodness, the expression of the very best of God and of us. We beat him and scorn him and bruise him, because we are beaten and scorned and bruised. We forget that it is not the capacity for instilling terror we ought to draw upon when we are afraid, but our capacity for expressing love.

We are terrible. We are good. Made in the image of God.

But we are not alone. Because God too is capable of both extreme violence and extreme mercy. And because of this, our sins are not too difficult for Him to forgive, nor are they too difficult for Him to comprehend.

We fear God, and we love Him too, and rightly so.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Hating The Sin Whilst Loving The Sinner, And Other Incredible Christian Feats

Love the sinner – hate the sin. All Christians I’ve ever met have said this, and some of us have even believed it, as if it were even possible. I think I probably once did, but I don’t think it any more. Oh, you can think you’re loving people whilst hating the things you think they’ve done wrong, but what you’re doing isn’t what you think you’re doing. Here’s why.

Christians are not the boss of deciding what’s sin and what isn’t. Even if the thing we’re calling sin is in the Bible as we claim, we are not the police of sin. As if we all weren’t sinners in the first place anyway. I think most Christians struggle with knowing what sin even is – our thinking we get to label people as sinners, well that’s just arrogant. You think you can tell me categorically what counts as sin? Tell me  – is cigarette smoking a sin? When you’ve worked that one out, come see me and I’ll give you a harder one.

Jesus didn’t emotionally blackmail people with his affections. One of the things I love most about Jesus was that he came across sinners all the time, (funnily enough) but never said anything that might lead them to think he was doing them a huge favour by being with them. I can’t imagine Jesus chatting to people with that wan, barely-tolerant expression on his face that we Christians sometimes have, especially when someone who we don’t usually hang out with mentions something that confuses and confronts us, like their being gay. In fact, Jesus often let people know straight up that he understood exactly what they were all about but never made out like he was just dying to get home to clean their atmosphere off his body. In fact, he talked about people, and to people, as if all the aspects of their being and existence were not going to be a problem for him, even if they had been a problem for them. Now wouldn’t that be refreshing? No wonder those who knew they really needed help, salvation and forgiveness just loved Jesus, and those other people who stood to lose something should the kingdom of God turn out to be an equal playing ground just couldn’t wait to get rid of him.

We belong to God – He doesn’t belong to us. I’m curious…just who exactly made us Christians the gatekeepers to God? It must be very painful and frustrating for people who are trying to reach out to God with their whole being to be blocked by smarmy, self-important Christians who feel they get to decide who may get close and who may not. How very capricious of us. On the one hand we preach a God of acceptance and love, and yet on the other we continue to patronise and marginalise the very ones who probably need Him the most. Maybe even more than we do, but perhaps not for the reasons we think.

The reason they need Him more than we do may not be because they need to be “cured” of some depravity we’ve judged they have, but perhaps more likely because they have been subjected to horrible and abject prejudices all their lives, and perhaps even traumatised by those. They appreciate that only God can heal this kind of hurt, because they know He made them, and He loves them. The people I know who have been marginalised by Christians really do get that Christians cannot bring themselves to love them properly, or just do not want to. But for His sake I think we ought to get out of the damn way and just let God do what God does best, which incidentally, may not actually turn out to be burn up all the people we don’t like or are afraid of in a big bonfire we get to dance around.

Real friendship transcends differences – not barely tolerates them. Having someone reserve the right to think you’re disgusting while they carry on like your friend doesn’t feel very good. It doesn’t feel like friendship, and it certainly doesn’t feel like love. It feels at best like pity. At worst, actually also like pity.  If you had been on the receiving end of this kind of “love”, you would never, ever dish it out to someone else. Knowing that the person you are with has performed enormous gyrations of their personal morality and sense of propriety to be in your presence, for which they expect to be rewarded by God at some later stage, diminishes your dignity, and fractures all real hope of true fellowship. Finding out you are someones special Christian “love” project is far from humbling or pleasurable – its deeply mortifying. Take it from me.

All that really separates you and the person who makes you feel disgusted is in reality not their sin which you’ve decided you simply can’t ignore, but is in fact your own inflated sense of self-righteousness, and probably a deep suspicion that despite everything you’ve done, God is still somehow mad at you for something. If you truly knew His love for you, and understood the depth and breadth of His love for others, you wouldn’t find it as hard to be sweet to unChristians as you do. Laying down your personal sense of superiority is not a favour you are doing others – it’s actually a huge favour you are doing yourself.

God forgives and forgets sin – so why do you get to record and remember them? Someone important in a church I belonged to once called me a “trophy of grace”. I sort of knew she meant it as a compliment, but it always had the effect of letting me know that while I was included in church life, it would always be despite both me and my past. My presence served to remind people just how incredibly powerful grace truly was, because everyone knew the level of depravity I’d proven myself capable of. Lucky me. I always wondered when people were going to let me leave behind my “before” picture forever, but it never happened. Wondering why people leave your church? Maybe it’s because they’re sick up to here of being reminded what a huge leap it is for you to forget where they came from and what they did before you knew them in church.

In the end, it’s got to be about economy as well. Who’s got time for all this crap? I actually have enough trouble working out what qualifies as sin just for me, I have neither the time or the energy to be working it out for others. In fact, I haven’t got so many friends that I think I can pick and choose the less sinful ones out from the rest. I am friendly back to anyone nice enough to be friendly to me. Funnily enough, this seems to work great.

Every time I hear the expression “hate the sin, love the sinner”, I think of Jesus at the well talking to the Samaritan woman. “Give me a drink.” He says, breaking with all social convention and religious tradition (she was a woman, and a Samaritan – two reasons he had no business to be dealing with her). “Why are you talking to me?” she says, realising fully that he extends that which she has no right to demand or expect. Jesus goes on to explain not what a great favour he is doing her, but what he has to offer her, without judgement, without expectation. He knows full well she is a woman who has broken laws and transgressed her religion, but her life neither surprises nor elicits any judgement from him. In His eyes, she is not what she has done. “I know who you are – and I also know that you need what I have to give you.” he says. Beguiling, this Jesus. He is right, of course, and in the end, it’s his willingness to let go of his right to judge her in order that he may genuinely commune with her that wins her. Wins her so convincingly, that many come to follow Jesus because of her, and the things she says about Him. (John 4:3-42)

Jesus reveals what he knows about the woman at the well not so he can impress, frighten or coerce her, but in order to earn her trust. When He says “I know all about you.” it isn’t to elevate Himself with moral or religious connotations of superiority – it’s to show her that who and what she is is secondary to who and what He is. He is the Christ, and with that comes the mercy, the love and the purpose she has been looking for her whole life.

*****

I think it’s impossible to hate what you see as the sin of someone and also claim to love them. Any relationship between you will always be on your terms, because you will always hold them apart, deeming them morally and spiritually defective. There is an alternative, and it’s actually much simpler than you think. Like Jesus did, don’t see people as if they were what you think they’ve done wrong. It could turn out that what you think they’ve done wrong isn’t actually wrong after all, or isn’t as wrong as what you’ve been doing to all the people you think you’re better than.

We see things – and people – as we are, not as they are. If you are a person who sees all people as being the things they have done, just remember that one of the things you have done is to judge all other people as sinners unworthy of your authentic love. Stop it, now, or, in the words of Jesus, something worse may happen to you. As if there were something worse than only having the friends you think are good enough for you. I’m sure you and your cat will be very happy.

(I know I promised in the title some other incredible Christian feats, but this one is actually pretty big. If you get this one sorted out, and want to get back to me about it, maybe do so on the smoking thing at the same time. Cheers.)