Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Loving & Judging

Most of the church communities to which I have belonged have had a strong grounding in the holiness movement. Essentially, it's a focus on "right living," sometimes interpreted as avoiding sin. This movement definitely plays a powerful role in my life still, but I've struggled with it and how people approach holiness.

There is this nebulous disagreement I have with some approaches to holiness that have been difficult for me to really define because theologically, I can't fully disagree. Yet something feels off. It was this same sense of some sort of difference from some Christians that Richard Foster's Stream of Living Water helped define. In this book, Foster describes six streams, or traditions of Christian living and belief. They're not opposed to one another, and in fact, all are important and should co-exist. Yet most of us emphasize one over the others, causing theologically subtle, yet practically significant differences.

What I recently realized (this Sunday to be specific) is that it seems like some of the differences occur with how some of us perceive and relate to God, thus affecting how we approach holiness. John Eldredge discusses the varying and ascending metaphors to describe our relationship with God. He argues (well and biblically, in my opinion) that the ultimate relationship God desires is that of lovers. Close intimacy. Even before that, we are friends and children.

Yet what often happens is many times we view God as judge. Is God a judge? Yes. But I don't think that's his primary role. Just as lovers hold one another accountable, God holds us accountable, but that feeling of accountability is different than that of a distant judge.

When we view God as judge, I believe we approach holiness as a way to avoid judgment. As I heard someone say this weekend with reference to the sexual immorality of the US, "If God doesn't judge America soon, he owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah." There are theologically errors in that connection, but regardless, there is this sense of God as Ultimate Judge and not much more. We must live sinless lives in order to avoid God's destructive punishment.

Yet as many people argue and explain, God's primary mission as clearly laid out in the Bible is love. Jonathan Brink wrote a nice reflection on this recently. RELEVANT Magazine also posted an article about love.

In my experience, when we have a close, intimate relationship with God, we want to be holy. It's a way of moving closer to God and becoming like Christ. It's not out of fear, but out of desire. What may look like the same actions are in fact totally different.

Holiness out of love is what I want, not holiness out of fear.

1 comment:

  1. The missing piece in most discussion of judgment is an understanding of what the Bible means by the term. The most detailed "judgment scene" in the Bible (Daniel 7) results in judgment being given "in favor of the Saints of the most high" (vs. 22).

    Another major judgment scene (Zechariah 3) makes it clear that the accuser is Satan and that the result of judgment is a rebuking of Satan and a divine "extreme makeover" of people who come into the courtroom dressed like homeless bums who have been sleeping in a car every night for a month without access to a shower.

    Throughout the book of Revelation that repeated response to judgment is singing the doxology. It's good news--not something to be avoided but what the people of God want most.

    So God is our judge? Great news! Maybe it's time to join with the great throng of the book of Revelation who respond to that fact by singing the Hallelujah Chorus.




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