I understand that Christianity as a religion is offensive to a lot of people. As an organized institution, we kind of suck sometimes. I can’t possibly begin to profess to know whether each individual responsible for various types of meanness are “actually saved” or in a “real relationship with Jesus” or whatever. But what I can say is that, at the very least, as a religion, we need a better marketing plan.
Our ugly acts get the most airplay. Whether it’s the abhorrent and ridiculous Westboro Baptist Church of Idiots, the Catholic Church’s pedophilia or the way the political right has completely hijacked the term “Evangelical” to the point I don’t want to be called one, our reputations have definitely taken a hit. I sometimes wonder if the Holy Spirit isn’t face palming Himself in disgust.
Rightfully so, people who are not followers of Jesus get angry. Take, for example, the story of this priest behaving badly at the funeral service of my friend Linda’s family member. Wouldn’t you be offended? Wouldn’t you want to tell the world that a so-called Christian wasn’t acting very Christianly? (I realized after I posted this originally that this reads as if my friend Linda’s family are not followers of Jesus. I honestly have no idea if they are or not and did not mean to sound as if I were saying they are not. They were, after all, having the service in a church — but only each of them individually can say what they believe. I did not mean to speak for them.)
Of course, as a follower of Jesus I have witnessed more acts of grace and kindness than could fill a lifetime of Oprah Winfrey shows. The love of Jesus has been shown to me over and over again through the body of Christ, and always right on time, too — in a way that solidifies my belief that He is living and breathing and cares deeply for every aspect of my life.
This is, for me, what it means to be a Christ follower: to be radically, passionately loved to such a measure as I could never repay. To be completely indebted and yet not — to have a clean slate and a passionate lover of my soul. To be unequivocally, completely, and graciously adored by the King of the Universe, the ultimate Victor.
But none of that gets on the 11 o’clock news. And so people have a very good reason to hate us, or at least not like us very much. And because they don’t like us very much, they have a great reason to not look at Jesus. They think when they see us, they are already seeing Him.
Still, it made me wonder. If someone is willing to look past all the awful church-i-ness — and yes, all it takes is some willingness — why is this Jesus thing still so difficult? Once someone has gotten past all our junk — all our crappy humanity and meanness and yes, even our human sin (who said that word?) — and once they really look at Jesus, why are they still so offended?
What’s so offensive about the Gospel? And why do we resist it?
I’ve been able to come up with a few reasons. I am sure there are many more.
1. It’s freaking radical.
If my daughter, who is currently 8 but let’s pretend she’s a teenager, okay? Let’s pretend she’s got some boy who seeks her out, who professes to love her unconditionally (even though she’s really nasty when she’s hungry and is super competitive), who hunts her down and then says, “Yo, I’ll die for you!” Well. Let’s just say I might get a restraining order. That kind of passion is a little in your face. It’s a little overwhelming. And in our human society, it’s often outright dangerous. I’m not saying Jesus is a stalker, but still. It’s a little weird.
2. It’s insulting.
Once I get past the whole Jesus was God who was born of a virgin bit, it’s a little insulting that He’d have to do something so radical as to die to cover my sins. I mean, my sins aren’t that bad, are they? I could understand that He might have to die for, like, a child molester (bastards!) or a murderer. But what’s a little white lie on my taxes? What’s the big deal if I covet my neighbor’s Audi? Or that anger that burns in my chest every time I think about that time….I mean surely, all that should require is a little slap on the wrist, right? On Jesus’s wrist, that is. Don’t lump me in with the child molesters. Don’t even lump me in with that idiot priest who was rude at a funeral. I’m a good person. I have common decency after all.
3. It’s illogical.
It doesn’t make sense, and it’s certainly not fair. Why would a God who is good and just and righteous require death and destruction in order to show His love for me? Why would He choose blood instead of, I don’t know, two rounds of the Hokey Pokey and some time in the corner? Why does He have to be so radical about it all? So emotional?
And why does He even care about me? Little ol’ me, way down here in New Jersey? Isn’t He busy managing black holes and smiting evil leaders of Communist countries? (oh — did my liberal New York attitude just slip out? Sorry. But God loves Communists, too, even if they don’t love Him. That’s how He rolls.)
4. It’s challenging.
Being a follower of Jesus is not an easy path. Go ahead. Go tell your friends you’re a Christian now, just to see what they say. Play it all the way out — be radically saved for just a few minutes. Feel uncomfortable yet? Just wait — you’ll be made fun of more times than you can count before you’re done with the day — on t.v., by your friends, by your loved ones. They’ll think you’ve joined a cult and will automatically assume that your I.Q. just dropped about 10 points. They might even start talking more loudly and slowly, as if they think you’ve become deaf and dumb, too.
But really, that’s not even the hard part. The hard part is looking at Jesus. And that’s because Jesus is looking right back at you. He’s challenging you to faith. To a life that’s not about you anymore. He’s looking at you, pouring all that love and passion and emotion right into your heart and wanting you to see Him. He wants to bring you to the end of yourself. And that, my friends, is a scary precipice on which to stand.
By its very definition, faith is difficult. We practice in our society a shopping cart religion. I’m not even talking about moral relativity — I’ll leave that to the philosophy majors to hash out. I’m talking about a wimpy spirituality that lets us think we’re off the hook but simply put the chains around our ankles instead. Because really — when was the last time you felt good enough? Take some time to really think about it. Be honest.
I still struggle with being good enough daily. But I can tell you this — every once in a while, in my quiet time or on a walk or in the middle of screwing up royally — I suddenly find myself riding the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)…a place where I actually am good enough because Jesus was more than enough.
We run around spending a lot of time not looking at Jesus because it’s way more comfortable to look at His followers and judge them against their own beliefs. And inevitably, they (we) will fail miserably. Look, the church is a messy place filled with messy people. It was like that back in Jesus’s day, too. There is not a single person in the Bible besides Jesus who isn’t fatally flawed. That’s why we need Jesus. Paul was not perfect, Peter was not perfect, and neither were any of the others. An awful lot of New Testament writings are spent addressing the messy issues of the church — working out disagreements and figuring out how we are supposed to behave when we’re radically saved but still contained in this humanly form.
I recently came across this interesting post about a woman who is a Christian who doesn’t go to church because of all the messy people there. While I don’t completely agree that all churches are filled with horrible, hurtful people — I experience evidence to the contrary every single day as a staff member of a non-denominational church — I get it.
God’s in the process of bringing her to the end of herself, where all she has left to look at is Him. Because that’s what He does — like Marine boot camp, He strips all the self off of us. All the false idolatry, the placements of power we bestow upon others, the false expectations and the defensiveness. He slowly chips away at our anger and our hurts, our pride and readiness to be offended. He is gentle but firm. And yes, sometimes He takes us out into the desert so we can fast and heal in solitude. When John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, was he less loved by God? Absolutely not. This unchurched Christian is still passionately loved by God, and God is bringing her on a path to the end of herself and I know that He will bring her healing.
She’s not the only one. Bigger names in Christiandom than she are finding God in all sorts of places. One of my absolute favorite writers is Donald Miller. He is a Jesus follower who doesn’t go to church sometimes, either. And lo and behold, he’s willing to talk about it. Personally, I love to sing in church, and have found that when I completely surrender myself to worship in public — without the self-consciousness of wondering if people think I’m weird when I lift my hands — something amazing happens inside of me, and I feel God’s powerful presence. But I can find God on the beach, too. Or teaching others, like Miller does. Or in the shower. You get the idea.
My friend has a dream to start a church of misfits — filled with all those people who have been othered and outcast. Bring us your drag queens, your homosexuals, your prostitutes and your heroine addicts! What a beautiful picture. And I can imagine Jesus being right smack in the middle of it. These are the kinds of people He came for — but He also came for soccer moms like me.
I think I have to stop now. When I struggle to get a message across, I keep writing to try to work it out. But I can’t explain away the radicalness of God’s love. It’s just radical. Scary radical. I can’t make it make sense to you. It just is, and it just does. I can’t keep you from being insulted — you’ll have to make your own way to the edge of your self and stand on your own damn precipice.
But I can challenge you. Dare you, even. Double dog dare you to take a good, long hard look at the man they call the savior of the world. Look at Him historically, critically, spiritually, poetically, viscerally. Go ahead and look.
Because I promise. He’s looking at you.