A couple of months ago I started this YouVersion app that would have me read the entire New Testament in 30 days.
(Did you catch that? A couple of months ago? Yeah. I fell a little behind.)
Anyway, in conversations in the past, occasionally people have posed the question “What is your favorite book of the Bible?”
I always felt, for some reason, like this was a trick question. Even though my suspicions were completely unwarranted, it felt like if I said anything other than one of the four gospels, that it would be looked down upon in some way. Suddenly a team of “real Christians” would come and give me this “…Really?…Ok.” kind of look. You think my thoughts are extreme? Try being in them 24/7.
But again, I digress. Even though of course it is difficult to pick a favorite, I am at the point in the Bible plan where I am now reading mine, if I had to pick one: 1 John. I have thought a lot about getting a tattoo for the last year or two (learn something new every day) and every time I think about it, I literally wish I could have this entire book written so that I would have to read it every day. I try and pick a favorite verse and it just can’t happen. But today as I was reading through it, one in particular jumped out at me that summarized so well what I have been thinking about lately:
I named this blog post Crazy Love after a book by Francis Chan. In it he seeks to strongly convict us of about both how much we are loved, and what that means for our life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Christianity is socially constructed in this culture to mean the same thing as “rules”. You can’t do this, this or this. And God forbid you mess up because the God who is watching you from afar is just waiting to beat you down with religious rhetoric while angels playing harps float around in the background.
When you try to look through this lens from the outside and you see rules and commands first, and God’s love second, then His love is cheapened. It doesn’t ring true, and quite frankly it doesn’t make sense. It feels like if you have to do all these things in order to qualify yourself in God’s eyes, then it definitely isn’t unconditional. I remember spending my teenage years in half-pursuit, half-panic over “What if I mess up? Are these thoughts okay? How much is too much of something? Where do I draw the line? What about this? Have I done something wrong to displease God? Is that why I am feeling this way?” and so forth. I was seeing God and Jesus through the lens of: going to church, singing songs, not messing up too bad, and celebrating certain holidays is what makes you a Christian. It wasn’t until late college that I really began to have more of an understanding of religion versus the Gospel.
I would make the argument based on the entire New Testament, but I will specifically reference the book of 1 John here, which is completely focused on love: People in general do not have an understanding of just how loved they are. This applies to me and everyone else, for that matter. When you are able to understand even just a fraction of how loved you are, suddenly the rules do not seem burdensome. You know that no matter how badly you mess up, you still win, not because of anything you have done in your past or that you have to do in the future, but because of what has already been done for you.
There was a quote that I heard once in a movie that has always stuck with me, over ten years later. Drew Barrymore plays a character who has a son when she is a teenager. One afternoon her and her best friend, who also had a child at the same time, are talking. Drew’s character says, in reference to her son, something to the effect of: “Sometimes I don’t know if I really love him, or if I just have to love him. You know what I mean?…..What’s wrong with me?” and the friend says “Trust me, you love him. Sometimes we love people so much that we have to be numb to it. Because in reality if we felt it all, it would kill us.”
I truly believe that if we actually felt how much God loves us, that it would kill us. Or at least, because that sounds kind of unintentionally sadistic, we wouldn’t be able to function.
I heard this sermon illustration recently, and I really liked it. It isn’t perfect of course, but work with me here, I am doing the best I can to remember it.
You are an Olympic ice skater about to compete. Any one, tiny, little mistake can cause your entire score, and years of training and sacrifice, to just go down the drain in one split second. With sports like basketball or soccer, you have the potential to come back as a team in order to beat the other team’s score in the end. Ice skating, though, is different. Everything rides on your performance and appearance. But before you get on the ice, the judges make an announcement: “We are still going to let you skate, but based off of the performance of this other guy who went before you, you are receiving a perfect score. You can also perform perfectly, or you can spend the majority of the song falling on the ice in your sparkly costume. But either way, you win. Straight 10’s.”
Now how are you going to go about skating? (Aka living your life?) Knowing that because of someone who came before you, you cannot lose. Regardless of the number of times you mess up, the pressure, guilt, condemnation and fear of judgment is completely gone.
It is all about a relationship now, rather than a performance.