(This content is also available at https://youtu.be/olZYFHYCc24)
By Sarah Nyhan
I was telling someone the other day that the initial response religious people tend to give me when I tell them that I believe everyone is already included is then that means I am telling people they can do whatever they want. Yes, that is true – but not complete.
Previously I thought everything was transactional. So if I did X then God was supposed to do Y. Or if God did Y then I received X. There was even some talk of the devil, but he was still on God’s leash per se.
Now I see differently with this already included knowledge. I’m not completely settled yet on God having a totally hands-off approach with humans. But irregardless, we still have a great measure of freedom that we are accountable for. For really the first time in my life I am now taking responsibility for my choices. With complete freedom comes complete responsibility. I am waking up and realizing that I have been the cause of special slices of literal hell that I have experienced.
Even if there are contributing factors, I get to decide to a certain extent how long I want to let those circumstances define my narrative and the quality of my life. For example, there may be things that are outside of my control that are the reason that I started gaining weight and have continued to hold onto that weight. Fair enough. However, at what point do I allow those factors to define the rest of my story? At what point do I say I want a better life and take the steps that are now in my control and do what I can do to feel better?
This has been a shock to my entire mode of being. If I didn’t have the hope and love of Jesus then I would be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what this means for my life. However, there has been another unexpected benefit from the realization that I am responsible for many if not all of my actions, decisions, etc. That great surprise to me is that for maybe the first time in my life, I feel empowered to also hold others responsible for their choices and in turn not accept people treating me poorly. Let me clarify a little more:
I experience being treated poorly for specifically what I believe about God and this already included message. I have been dismissed and treated as a heretic. And there is a certain level of acceptance of this behavior because it’s kinda part of the gig when you sign up for this line of thinking.
As much as I’d like to think that people who I previously knew as mostly rational would process what I am presenting from a logical perspective, the whole point in the first place is that they are blind. And they are blinded in a large part by fear. So when I go dancing around all that fear then logic has a tendency to fly out the window. Instead, people’s responses reflect their wrong thinking.
To a certain measure, I can accept their reactions without reacting or holding it against them. For instance, when my friends suddenly label me as deceived, a heretic, with the devil and false teachers – ok, that is really sad and pushes all of my buttons, but I don’t have to react. I can put my ego aside to a large extent and trust them to the Holy Spirit. If anything, that is a certain “cross” we bear as we walk in the steps of Jesus.
Yet, there is a fine line there. Even though they disagree with me, there is a still a certain level of human-to-human respect that I think is healthy and kind to expect from them. They can be adamant with their disagreement with me, but that shouldn’t automatically translate into me permitting them to treat me poorly. Or me excusing their poor behavior due to their theology.
Shouldn’t it be the opposite? In theory, if their theology is so great, shouldn’t the love be expressed even more so?
To permit them to treat me poorly is to enable them to repeat how religious people of so many times have managed to alienate so many from the God they claim loves them. It is religious groups going in and attempting to justify their abuse of indigenous peoples by their “unbelief”. In the extreme, it is Hitler “cleansing” the Jews.
As a human, I have to stand up to that wrong behavior. Previously I thought I was “suffering for the cause of Christ” when I put up with it without resisting.
There is the fine line. Yes, I suffer for the cause of Christ, but enabling you to continue to hurt me – without resisting – is now in my opinion where things go awry. Where the grace, love, and acceptance of this already included message goes too far.
To attempt to glorify my inaction in the name of Jesus is in some way blasphemy. This walk requires courage that is infused only by the life abundant that we fully experience as we embrace the kingdom of God being truly at hand. To back down from that – and I only speak for myself – is hiding the light in me out of fear; taking the salt out of my life. It is letting fear be my god, not God. It is blasphemy in that respect.
Are we not beloved children? I must stand with David. What these Goliaths are saying is not ok. To be silent – how can I? If this means Pilot’s wife accuses me of rape and I get sent to prison, well – I have Joseph’s life as my hope. If this means I have to be bold like Esther, it is only the love of God that empowers me. To stand by and not say anything – what then is the point of this life? This Promised Land is already mine. Will I turn back now? After I’ve been brought so far?
And so because I believe in the unending love of Christ, that does not mean I sign up to be your whipping boy with no reservations. Jesus did all that ever needed to be done in that respect. He tells me not to continue to throw my pearls before swine. They will trample me. He tells me to turn away and go find others when you run me out of town. And there are others, thank God.
May I still be stoned like Steven? It wouldn’t surprise me. As much as I dislike it, I now see why Paul says it is an honor to experience these sufferings – while at the same time wishing with all my heart that those accusers would be friends again “in the faith”.
At the end of the day, not all will be converted in this life. And that’s not my responsibility. But, I am responsible for what I extent I submit myself to your treatment of me. That is the short of it.
And in making that decision, I ask myself: “to what end?” Yes, call me all the names in the book. But to what end does it serve me to not call you out on your logic and keep submitting to your hurtful behaviors towards me? Am I then not some marytr on a cross but rather just simply appeasing you so that I don’t have to face your wrath?
And resisting doesn’t necessarily mean reacting. Resisting doesn’t necessarily mean confronting or speaking up. All of those may happen. Hopefully organically with an abundance of love. With a heart for healing amd restoration. Is it not God’s passionate wrath that refuses to give up on us also?
Resisting simply means for me most of the time, a renewed effort to live more honestly. To at least address the elephants in the room. And to protect the freedom and truth that lives inside of me. Not to force it on others. But to be vigilant to not allow anything that threatens this new life to setup camp in my space. Whether internal or external.
These boundaries change as I grow. I still feel like I am in the early stages. Much like how you care for a newborn infant. You protect it from most of the elements.
Yet, even in a year I can see growth in being able to sit more with others in silence and let them be where they are. When called for. Trusting God loves them more than I ever could.
Outright bad behavior that does not have any direct correlation to treating me differently because of my beliefs is also impacted by this already included message sinking deeper into my heart. I am referencing your typical human who has probably been hurt in the past and learned how to obtain a measure of power and control by then hurting others before they ever risk vulnerability. As much as I attempt to understand it, bad behavior is still wrong.
Before, I felt like I was encouraged by religious leaders to accept outright abuse in the name of Christ. That it was somehow to God’s glory if I allowed someone to mistreat me. Somehow allowing them to continue hurting me was incorrectly labeled as forgiveness and love. Blasphemy!
Even our precious Bible says God disciplines those He loves and judgement begins in the house of the Lord. And to spare the rod is to hate the child. Yet, as Paul references in the New Testmanent, there are wolves that have manipulated us because we allowed guilt to speak louder than God in our lives.
Now that I understand the TRUE love of God, i have found the courage to even hold the kings of this earth accpuntable for treating people kindly. Nevermind their position calling them to an even higher standard, to lead by example.
This is so empowering. And yet the difficulty in pinning is that there is no formula. The child throwing a temper tantrum is not going to get the same treatment as the calculating adult who knows better, or even the blundering adult who claims not to know better.
How I approach each situation is going to be different. And how each person responds to being told they are doing something hurtful is also going to factor into how I proceed further. I can stick around longer when there is proof of a person’s desire to change and do better. Even as they fumble through the process.
All these things have always mattered. Most of the religious leaders told me otherwise. Maybe because they had their own demons they hadn’t faced. Maybe in teaching acceptance of abuse, they then excused themselves from having to confronting difficult people.
Whatever the reason, if I know better then I need to do better. I absolutely do not want to confront anyone either. But this responsibility works both ways. Not only am I reponsible for what I do, but I am also responsible, as much as I have the power to do so, for what I allow others to do to me. And that in turn means I am holding them more accountable and more responsible for their behavior and choices.
Some of those who speak this “grace message” are still human. They have been raised and allowed to treat people a certain way. Old habits die hard. Especially when unchallenged.
I don’t care if everything we say is true, this message is most loudly communicated relationally in how we treat other people. Especially those we claim to love. And having the right answers doesn’t exempt us from living this out.
What does it matter if this message only enters our brain and not our heart? That is like the group of Israelites who chose to camp right outside the Promised Land. They battle with us but won’t go in. There is still plenty of territory to be claimed.
How great is this love! But if you still won’t let it in then you are blind . If you still squirrel away fears and vulnerabilites under fig leaves then what is the point of so much studying? This applies to me first.
This is real life and living. There seems to be a false security in the confines of religious doctrine and practice. I can wrap my mind around theology.
But tru freedom in Christ is as if I suddenly went from primary colors to accessing the entire spectrum. Now life is not based on what rules we keep. Now what matters most is who we are. All our choices matter.
What will we do will all of this? We start with ourselves and whatever is in front of us. The adventure only just beginning.