‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5.8, NRSV).
Over the past few weeks a friend from the US has been ringing April and me to talk through some problems she is having. As the situation intensifies, so does our friend’s anxiety. I of course cannot detail the problems, so I will leave it to say that it involves hurt from another person. The issues she has been dealing with have been enough for one person, but the church she has been attending appears to be compounding the problem.
Going to the church leaders (whether ordained or lay, we cannot tell) for help, the message from the church leader says, ‘You need to get yourself right with God and confess your sins to him, and then you can be close to God.’ (This is more or less the message as it was handed on to me third-hand.) The implied message, you are in this because of your sins, and there is no way God will help you while you are still sinful. Our friend rang us, heartbroken.
I don’t want to say that I take sin and its effects lightly, or that sin in our life not dealt with can cause a rift in our relationship with God. But even in this God is still close to us. God continues to pursue us no matter how hard we resist (Jonah is a great example). This strange form of works righteousness advocated by this church leader that says God will only help you in your suffering once you dealt with all your sin is rubbish. The message of the cross is that God came to us when we had no way of helping ourselves – either in our own sin or in the sin of which we have been the victim. I don’t doubt that this church leader was attempting to be helpful, and as my anger grows at this leader, I need to remember what I am writing.
It’s easy to see how the message of this church leader is easy to believe. Whether its presidential candidates trying to win us over or a judicial system that works only on retribution/punishment and not restorative justice, I wonder if all of us have something inside us that feels we have to earn God’s love. All we see around us is how we have to ‘earn’ love and expect punishment when we fail. We don’t even have to go to the big sins for this: I know in my own life where I can hold a grudge over a small slight that from years ago. Forgiving love is hard to accept when we see little of it.
So, to our friend: God is close to you now, and please don’t let anyone give you another message as you work through all that’s going on. On this blog in the past week, we have had a discussion about the incarnation, and this is a doctrine for more than just Christmas. In Jesus, God emptied himself to be one of us, living alongside us whatever comes. God is with you now.