A friend of mine tweeted this after the recent Justice Conference in Philadelphia, “Don’t be in love with the idea of yourself doing justice; be in love with the just King.” (If you’re curious as to his other insightful tweets, check out his blog: Kyuboem Lee.) In the wake of rising humanitarianism, which also encompasses the wider Christian population as conferences such as the Justice Conference seems to attest, Kyu’s tweet resurfaces some thoughts that are actually related to other aspects of the Christian conservative disposition.
It has come to my attention that I am not very good at loving God, and I think Christians (I should probably say American Christians) in general are not very good at it either. Of course, it would be an whole entire discussion to describe what the meaning of “loving God” is but to simplify one maybe has to take a peek at how one loves others. In Christianese (that is Christian lingo), it is often said that the vertical relationship affects the horizontal, which simply means that if you are correctly loving God, then it should show in your love for others. But it seems most do not understand how often that translation from the vertical to the horizontal does not happen so naturally. Most Christians, I believe, mistake loving what’s right with loving others, and in turn, mistaken loving God altogether. Lately, I have had the privilege of listening to a number of people who claim not to be Christian and it seems one big reflector of this ‘loving right’ tendency is reflected in the way Christians make them feel: dirty, unworthy, second-class. Even when Christians do not intend to do thus, mistakenly thinking you are loving God when you are only loving what’s right will naturally convey that sense. As somewhat of an aside, it is good Christian theology to think that all humans are sinful, dirty, unworthy, but the question of concern here is in reference to whom? Good theology says that it is in reference to God, but often in our practice of ‘loving right’ we make them feel unworthy in reference to us. This becomes very evident in Christian dealings with peccadilloes, not to say that condoning such things is the right thing to do, but raising the condoning or not condoning as the first question illustrates that our primary concern is with strictly ‘doing what’s right.’ This seems to fall in line with a critique stated by one of my professors concerning pastors of large (mega) churches, that they have the luxury to simply state unhelpful mantras like “Jesus plus nothing equals everything” because they don’t have to get into the messy lives of individuals. When throwing principles and mantras from a distance, one tends to miss the details, important details, and in worse cases, it can produce a culture of woodenly following principles as equal to ‘loving God’. This proclivity of ‘loving right’ is also illustrated in the inability of Christians to engage humanly with such complex issues as homosexuality, and in some ways, it becomes evident in almost trivial issues like underage drinking and smoking (i.e. partying). Christians are so concerned with finding what’s right, or to push the envelope, doing what’s holy, that they dehumanize those with whom they engage.
Part of the reason, which I don’t want to get into here, is that Christians a lot of times are not very humble people. The other part why this is so, I suspect, is because Christians (me including) suck at dealing with messiness. We hate it. We think it’ll taint us. We think we are actually clean ourselves. We operated in the Old Testament (Hag 2:11-13) sense that if you touch something unclean (dirty) you will become unclean (dirty). We proudly scream that Jesus gave us his rightness, but in practice, we act as if we’ve earned it by denying the manner in which that rightness was given to us. We forget that the manner in which Jesus engaged uncleanness was to plunge into it. And we forget that we live in the NT era where when the unclean touches the clean, no longer does the clean become tainted, but the unclean becomes clean (Mark 1:40-42). Ironically, the Pharisees were the ones who did not know this, they were NT people who operated in the OT schema. They could not deal with messiness around them. They made people feel dirty, unworthy, second-class. They loved being right, while thinking they were loving God. And while we think it may be so far from us, the ‘they’ starts becoming the ‘we’. We say we are loving God when all we are doing is loving what’s right. Maybe then, it’s time to pause… and acknowledge, “Maybe I don’t love God as much as I thought I did.”