I’m driving a lot this week, which means I’ve had the chance to listen to some different podcasts. One sermon in particular caught my attention yesterday. The speaker claimed that the overarching theme of the Bible is that we need to treat other people better. He claimed that this is THE choice Jesus offers us, and that when we’re nicer to others, this is what allows God to bless us and set us free from whatever problems we feel stuck in.
My first response was, Huh?
Then a few minutes later, when the speaker re-iterated his point and it was clear no nuance or additional perspective was coming, I pulled up to a stoplight and said out loud, “Oh, THANK GOD that’s not true!”
Don’t get me wrong – It’s a fine thing when we make the effort to treat other people well. It makes for a more pleasant day. But it doesn’t bring the transformation I’m looking for when I’m on my face in the mud, hoping against hope that God can help.
Nice doesn’t break the grip of depression, or heal multiple sclerosis, or help an addict say no to one more drink. Good manners don’t heal family dysfunction, inspire people stuck in a dead end to set out on a new course, or create deep, honest relationships that last. And while resisting the urge to swear in Boston traffic might build character, it doesn’t make a dent in racism or classism or narcissism or terrorism. It can’t make forgiveness real. It doesn’t take old dead things and make them new.
Nice is, well…nice. It’s a small player in a much larger spiritual landscape. Treating other people well is sometimes the result of our spiritual quest, but it’s not the message Jesus came to bring. It’s not the Good News.
The interaction between our earthly lives and our Father in heaven is a mystery. The role Jesus plays as intermediary between these realms is confounding and awe-inspiring. Death. Resurrection. Salvation. New Life. We don’t get it. We’ve spent centuries trying. And yet the more deeply I come to “understand” what this all means for me, the less able I am to describe it…and the less apt I am to try to simplify it for others. All I can do is invite you in. The mystery of Jesus–his death, resurrection, the hopes and miracles and promises we’re told to reach for as the result–is much more profound than a nursery school lesson about trying to be a better person.
How could something be the full message of God if we came up with it on our own?
I don’t normally critique other people’s take on Christian faith. But the world feels especially insane right now. Ferguson. James Foley. ISIS. Ebola. Not to mention ALS and a million buckets of ice water dumped over heads around the world. It makes it hard to breathe. In this time of utter chaos, I want to say that if you’re someone who heard that sermon (or one like it) this week…that is not the whole story. That’s not even a rough approximation of the Story, or what Jesus offers. God is more than an “a ha” moment about how we treat one another. We don’t get to understand the whole thing yet. But when you see it in real life? You know it’s true and bristle at the suggestion that we should settle for less.
If there’s one are of life where we should reach for more, it’s what we expect from God. I leave you with this, from C.S. Lewis:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
May today be a day where we are less easily pleased…enough so that we wrest our eyes off of ourselves and each other, and lift them them instead to God.