“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. -1 Corinthians 10:23
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1If I have a theme for my life, it's my oft-repeated "It's not about me". Whether or not I'm happy on any given day; whether or not my wife says or does something that makes me sad or angry or happy; whether or not my children are or are becoming the people I want them to be; whether or not the world conforms to my wish or demand that it be a certain way; these things, even any one of them, would be an indication I was in need of some kind of therapeutic intervention.
The same is true when it comes to my faith. The whole Christian story, the person and work of Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb, the movement of the Holy Spirit through my life in the body of Christ and the friends and loved ones who have made a difference for me - none of it took place with me in mind; none of it would be any less real, any less true if I didn't exist, or if I refused to believe it. Were I to utter the words, "God does not exist. I am in no need of the salvation wrought in Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection. The Church is a group of deluded fools pouring money down a rat hole," it would be as meaningless as claiming I danced on the Moon with Gene Kelly. The great mistake, the great sin, is the insistence that our professed beliefs make any difference.
It is with this in mind that I find Mike Lindstrom's musings at United Methodist Insight more than a bit disturbing.
First of all, I cringe whenever I hear or read the words similar to "God was trying to capture my heart." Even as metaphor, this is an epic fail. The heart is a pump. God doesn't want a pump. God isn't interested in any of our internal organs. God has zero interest in Mike Lindstrom's or Geoffrey Kruse-Safford's "emotional center", as if somehow it were a "thing" that, should we just allow Divine access, then things like "salvation" and "new creation" will follow for us regardless of other circumstances in our lives and the world.In my life I began to realize that God wasn’t trying to control my actions, God was trying to capture my heart. God didn’t want me to figure out the best way to be a “good” Christian; God wanted me to spend my life with Him. I began to see it more like a marriage or a friendship. Instead of asking my wife: “what can I do to make certain you don’t divorce me?” I ask: “What can I do to honor you and love you?” Instead of asking my friend: “what can I do so you’re not mad at me when I call every few months?” I ask: “What can I do to make your life better or help you accomplish your goals?”For me, the question had to change. If I wanted to have a relationship with God in Jesus Christ and through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, if I wanted to know the love and peace and strength of God in my life then the question had to change. Instead of ”Why can’t I____?” or “Can I____?” My question has become: “What would you have me do?”
Second, the phrasing here - "God was trying to capture . . ." - is more than problematic. Really? God was trying to capture your heart, Mike, but kept failing for some reason? What about the power of the Holy Spirit, moving through the lives of the faithful around you, and the testimony of the witnesses to the Passion as the once-for-all Divine work of salvation for the world? All that, yet something in you or about you managed to prevent God "capturing" your "heart"?
Finally, and no disrespect to Mike, I a quite sure he is, as are all of us Christians, living his life as faithfully as he can, I can only wonder about the constant first-person pronoun. Part of the freedom granted us through the Spirit in the Son for the Father is the freedom from ourselves. From that peculiarly American obsession with what "I" say or do or think. The Christian story, the event of salvation for the broken, sinful world, is not our story. It is first, last, and middle God's story. Whether or not Mike Lindstrom prays every morning, or every other morning; whether or not my wife and I give eight-and-a-half percent of our income or ten percent of our income; whether or not someone somewhere says just the right words about who God is; these are all evidence we are still trying, desperately and rooted in love to be sure yet nevertheless also a broken, sinful love, to earn the salvation that has come to the world freely in Jesus Christ.
Living in the light of that event, in the light of the salvation granted all of us, the judgment that is pardon frees us - or should, anyway - from worrying about ourselves. Freedom, real freedom, the kind of freedom Paul writes about in Galatians, then clarifies and qualifies in 2 Corinthians, is the freedom from fear that we might be doing something wrong. We have been granted our lives. Our lives for God.
The dichotomy "Religion versus Relationship", like most dichotomies, is wrong precisely because it assumes itself the answer to a question that isn't even asked; furthermore that every question has only one right answer. Thus the spiral down the rabbit hole of "I", which is much like Nietszche's abyss.
We are free. We are free by God, for God. It isn't about me, so I neither worry nor care whether or how I live will be pleasing or acceptable because that is no different than trying to perform all the works of the Law and earn salvation. The only thing God wants from me is praise in and through a life lived with and for others to make known the simple message of the Gospel, summarized in 1 John: God is love. The rest, to quote St. Thomas, is all straw.