So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 16-21
Wonder Woman Underoos clad little Jane, fiercely taking down any opponent, and Braveheart inspired 20-Something Jane, running to the front lines of any battle for God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (caring for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the oppressed) has been reduced to leisurewear Jane staying home, on the sofa, under a soft blanket and steering clear of all battles, controversies, and social media. My heart cannot stand up under the perpetual judgment grenades thrown from one group at another, one friend at another, one media personality at another, one politician at another, and sadly, neighbors and family at one another.
Public discourse has emboldened us all to step up to our own mic on our own podiums and preach our opinions and perspectives AT each other, not with the invitation of a delicious meal to nourish one another's hunger, but like a food fight of rotten porridge where everyone needs to retreat and shower when its over. We have been encouraged to point out the specs in one another's eyes, publicly and loudly, with increased certainty that we have no branch in our own eyes. We are rewarded not only for the firm lines we draw about the failures and harmful ways we see in others, but lauded for placing "them" not just at arms length but for banning them indefinitely from our every association. To suggest compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and especially LOVE for these clear enemies is to be complicit and fully aligned with their wickedness and evil ways.
Isn't this why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much?
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt 5:43-48
The story of God's love for His people which began in Genesis and is told through all of Scripture is one of love sacrificing to resuscitate those dead in their rebellion, selfish ambition, self-absorbed pride, and delusional sense of self-reliance and self-righteousness. Jesus lay down his life (comfort, safety, health, affluence, power, reputation, and ultimately his own human life) for the sick, the sinners, and the despised of both the elite and the evicted in society. Even when I was not seeking God, He sought me...behind the fig tree, in a valley of dry bones, and cursing and killing his followers until an encounter on the Damascus Road. It wasn't my innocence that made me endearing to Him but rather because He is perfect as His love for me has always been perfect. I am the capitol rioter and the Target window smasher, the white supremacist and the Marxist, the mask enforcer and the maskless. God is not kind, patient, forbearing, full of grace and mercy, and loving toward me because He is complicit with my sin but because He has covered it. He took on all the suffering that my sin causes, to the point of death.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ Matt 18:32-33
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:8-13
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18
How can I claim to comprehend what He has done for me, how much I deserved wrath but was instead shown immeasurable mercy, and simultaneously stand in judgment of my neighbor, friend, colleague, or any member of any community in which I find myself? Like the unmerciful servant whose debt was forgiven but who continued to hold his debtor accountable for the full amount owed to him, so goes the internet (and dinner table) these days by we who claim to be "followers of Christ." We are merciless toward those who vote differently than we do, who make decisions based on different information or life experiences than we have, who come to different conclusions than our own even with the same information, who use a word or phrase that signals "Aha! You just exposed how racist/Marxist you actually are and now I know how dangerous and disqualified your ideas truly are!"
Those of us who are believers, do we also know how dangerous and disqualifying our own thoughts, motives, desires, ambitions, best intentions, and various versions of self-righteousness are to our own inclusion in God's Kingdom? Even so, God has shown me mercy, kindness, patience, and love as He transforms me more into His image. How have we come to add political agendas to the completed work of Jesus? Why am I now comfortable mercilessly judging others in their sin (note we are not denying sin and wickedness in our family, friends, neighbors nor in our own hearts) as if Jesus were no longer the only hope for forgiveness and transformation? How have I come to believe that others are responsible for cleaning themselves up, changing their wicked ways, and making themselves new when I have believed the story of God's word that only Jesus can regenerate hearts dead in sin? How have I come to believe that my words of shaming, blaming, calling out, and all forms of self-righteous judgment are effective tools of Grace?
Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:3-4
What if I start to fear the judgment of God more than the judgment of the people who I really want to please and in whom I really want approval? What if I walk in God's approval, in the fullness of the grace in which He has given me, choosing to speak graciously about sinners "on the right" and sinners "on the left" not because they are excused for their wrongdoing but because we all are hopeless apart from the rightness/righteousness of Jesus alone? What if my relationship with others doesn't neglect present bodily needs for safety, food, housing, education, medical care or the emotional and psychological needs of trauma, abuse, neglect, criminalization and disenfranchisement but cares all the more passionately about them for the joy set before us than for the anger of what is behind?
If He has so loved me, the dangerous and disqualified, should I not respond with love in kind? That certainly seems like Good News.