Man, the butt of my practical theology is getting quite the wallop this semester. I know for a fact that it’s bruised, and I think we might be moving toward “blister” zone.
I’ve always assumed that my theology was healthy because my actions would give the casual observer the indication that I’ve spent my life practicing for the starring role in the iconic play “Christians ‘Я’ Us.” (Or maybe just “Really Nice People ‘Я’ Us,” but who’s to know the difference?).
I never considered the fact that toxic theology, a distortion of truth, can mirror healthy theology, with the result that though the image is backward, you wouldn’t have any idea until you try to wipe off a smudge.
My semester thus far has been serving as a theology antibiotic, and my spiritual life has been as trippy as a person’s mental life on Vicodin.
The baseline for this change came in the form of the tiny book, He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen. The shocking premise of said book is that God loves us. Or, more personally, God loves me. I’ve heard that premise by whole life, but I’ve always filtered it through a lens of “He loves me if. . ./He loves me when. . . /He loves me but. . ./He loves me begrudgingly, because He has to/He loves “the world,” but not me as an individual/He loves me manipulatively, so that I have to love Him back/He loves me in the controlling way an abusive person ‘loves’ his or her spouse/He loves me, and that means I need to watch my back, because He’s about to screw me over.”
That’s a lot of distortions for a Lover to work through, and God and I, we aren’t there quite yet. But this book presents God’s love in a way that I’d never quite been able to see before–as actual love. A love that involves enjoyment of the beloved, something offered freely and persistently. It’s funny, because I’ve heard all of the above before, but it has never pierced me beyond a cognitive level. And as it started to sink in, it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. My first fear was that it would take about 2.5 seconds after an understanding of God’s love sank in before I acted out and was barred from ever auditioning for “Lead Good Christian” again.
I’ll be honest–after getting a sort of understanding of God’s love, I went out and sinned hard for about three days. Freedom from the abject terror of God’s retribution that has governed my life for so long did result in a bit of a backlash. And (I say with caution), I don’t regret it. Those few days served as a few bricks in the foundation for me to really, really love God back. Instead of striving desperately to do the right thing because I was scared of God, I sinned enough that even I could acknowledge that I was a pretty base excuse for a human being; then I looked up, saw the pained eyes of persistent love, and realized that I wanted to love back. Sin wasn’t as appealing, because I didn’t have to avoid it as a means of attaining security–I had the security to choose sin and know that I would still be loved. And that freedom, that security, made me want nothing more than to try to live worthy of it.
This doesn’t imply that I could sin merrily through life and never face consequences; nor does it mean that there is no room for hard, grit-your-teeth-and-make-the-right decision choices in the Christian’s life. But my life has far too often revolved around acting out the fruits of the Spirit instead of bearing them. In many ways, I’ve been living the stupidest kind of life imaginable, one that rejects the pleasure of sin, while also studiously avoiding the pleasure of knowing the Father. No wonder I have proclivities toward deep guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, compulsions. . .I’ve been going far out of my way to live a pointlessly anal-retentive, pleasure-free life.
I was lamenting to my friend Heidi a few weeks ago that I feel as though I’m still a baby Christian, though I’ve believed the gospel since I had a thought in my tiny brain. And the more I think about it, the more sense that makes–of course I’m a baby Christian. My years of faith have been built on a bad foundation. I’ve been trying to live sanctified, when I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d been fully, lovingly justified.
More on my stumbling baby steps toward “learning to live radically loved” later. . .