Finding the Voice of the True Shepherd

“Think. Please. Please think about the effect your words have on your outlook. Please. Please don’t condemn people if you don’t know their heart…”

I was sitting in on a conversation a few of my friends were having about the nature of God. And I was silently screaming those words in my head. Because what was being said about the Bible was so distorted I couldn’t even recognize Jesus in it anymore. It was said that God withdrawing His hand and “giving people up” to their sin, is a form of His mercy because that means they’ll hit rock bottom sooner. What. How can we talk so nonchalantly about people hitting rock bottom and being so broken they have nowhere else to turn. You talk about that like it’s beauty. It’s not. It’s a mess. It was said that even though technically God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, sometimes their death brings about His greater glory and God takes pleasure in His own glory. No. These are people. People you’re saying God tritely sent to hell and you’re ok with it. You’re OK with people going to hell? It was said that God doesn’t just hate sin, He also hates sinners. Except when he doesn’t, and we should be thankful for the fact that for some reason He doesn’t hate us. Have we forgotten that behind the theory is people? Maybe if we could visualize what each of our statement means for individual people around us, we wouldn’t make them so tritely. Maybe we wouldn’t say “God sends people to hell and that’s OK.” so quickly if we saw how many of the people we love are included in that statement. Those statements are heavy. And they shouldn’t be discussed as if they’re not.

I don’t worship that kind of God. I don’t worship the bipolar, narcissistic version of God that’s playing chess with the eternal future of His creation. Saying I should love God and be thankful because I got the lucky numbers and someone else didn’t, is a poor argument. That doesn’t make me grateful to be chosen, it makes me question why me over someone else. As Micah Murray phrased it, that kind of outlook gives me “survivors guilt.” It’s not an issue with the doctrine, it’s an issue with the way people have come to view it: as a lottery. And when portrayal of specific doctrine has the power to intrinsically alter how people view God and view themselves, we have to be very careful. Are we using our presuppositions and opinions to interpret the Bible? Or using the Bible to create our presuppositions and opinions?

I am guilty. I have promoted grievously incorrect portrayals of God in an effort to “win one for the team.” I have done so because it’s what I was taught. What kept me comfortable. What made God fit into my ideas instead of making my ideas line up with truth. And I’m tired of doing that.

So I have been reorganizing and re-evaluating what I believe about the very core of my faith: the Gospel and the nature of God. I have gone back and tried to understand the difference between my religious tradition and Jesus. I have begun to weed out the gross deviance from truth I’ve seen in Western American Christianity. I have questioned a lot of things I didn’t think I’d ever have to question. And I think it’s time to strip away the decorations I have added to my faith, until I can see the heart of it again.

I really don’t know many things right now. But I know that the New Testament paints a beautiful picture of Jesus. I know that true, undefiled religion is helping the poor and orphaned in their affliction. I know that if I’m going to cling to theological purity, I’m eventually going to have to recognize that theological purity can, and too often already has, become its own idol. I know that idolatry, not even idolatry of “good” things, has ever been part of the Gospel. I know that I’m tired of the American Church wanting to be pitied for the so-called persecution it’s facing, and applauded for maintaining morality in legislation no matter who is hurt along the way. I know that Jesus said whatever I have done for the least, I have done for Him. I know I have done too little for the least. And I know if I can no longer hear the voice of the True Shepherd above the bleating of the sheep, it’s time to walk away and let Jesus find me.

I have seen things in the church recently that have broken my heart. I’ve seen individuals and institutions sacrifice integrity and reason in an effort to hold on to tradition. At the very least that’s Pharisaical. Either way, it’s not the sacrifice Jesus wanted us to make. In the end, He wanted us to sacrifice our lives in love for others; not our logic in a debate for a specific theological stance. And I am tired of winning so-called victories for Christianity all the while leaving a trail of victims in my wake.

I have begun to ask these questions and I hope you will ask them too. Because it isn’t true faith to only feed the poor if the food comes with a tract and only touches the hands of someone who shares the exact same theology as you. It isn’t true grace to  only bind of the wounds of the broken if they agree to be converted in the process. It isn’t equality if it only includes those who act, and believe the same way. We have continuously done this. We have lived as if it’s OK to condemn sinners, as long as they’re sinning differently than us. As long as [we think] they’re not part of God’s chosen. As long as God [or so we believe] has already given them over to their sin. We have pursued justice and rightly so but in the process, forgotten to love mercy and walk humbly as well.

I don’t want my definition of Christianity to be chained to a version of God that hurts people. I don’t want to go into conversations trying to prove my theology as the most right. I want my faith to look like Jesus and most of the time what I’ve seen and what I’ve done looks starkly different from the man who loved people so selflessly He’d rather die than condemn them.

These are hard things to write. I have debated whether its worth it to write them at all. I have edited and rephrased and re-evaluated. My dear friend Audrey recently asked on her blog “How honest are you allowed to be on the internet?” and I am asking that question too. Words have extreme power over people and most times my words need to simply be kept to myself. But I am broken by the way I and so many others have tried to reshape Jesus and contain Him inside of our own boxes. So I am working on a more honest conversation. I am working through the problems I have with religious institution and reminding myself that correct theology reveals Him, it doesn’t contain Him. I am hoping to live with more truth as my focus. I am working on a better story.

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3 thoughts on “Finding the Voice of the True Shepherd

  1. Emily,
    This was so beautifully written. I hear your pain and frustration. I have grown up in Ecuador and had a chance to experience two different cultures. And although I think American Christians have some good ideas, they have some bad practices too. Americans aren’t always right. I might not be very popular for saying that, but I think it’s true. Thank you so much for willing to stand up and speak the truth, even when no one else seems to be doing so. Thank you for your boldness and most of all for your compassion for those who are hurting.
    I love reading your blog and will continue to do so whenever you post. I love hearing your thoughts.
    Thanks again.

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