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To Love, or not to Love?

(with comments & reply)

read 1 John 4:7-13

Note:  the following article (in its original form)  provoked a discussion on another site entitled, "Walk Away from Fundamentalism" (http://www.aimoo.com/forum/postview.cfm?id=319472&CategoryID=22217&ThreadID=528621).  Part of this discussion, and my replies, are included below, following the article.

  ... the love of God has been  shed   abroad  in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given to us. ...  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, when we were  still  sinners and separate from God,  Christ  died for us.  (Romans  5:5,8)

  THIS  is  love --  not   that   we   loved  God, but  rather  that  He  loved  us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved ones, if God so  loved  us,  then we  also ought to  love  one another as He loved us.  (1 John 4:10-11)

Have you ever stopped to consider what it really means that God's love is shed abroad in our hearts?

If  this is really true, then we should love as God loves.  But how did God show love?  By sending His Son to die for sinners.  God didn't just permit His Son to go -- God prepared Jesus, trained Him, and taught Him that this was His crowning purpose in life.  And when Jesus in human weakness was tempted to turn back, His Father urged Him on.

The logic of the Scriptures is clear and unescapable.  If we have the love of God, then we should love as God loves, in deed and in truth. We should  be imitators of God, act as He acted, and parent as He parented.  But do we have the ambition to see our own children give up their lives for the faith?  Do we instill in them (and model for them) the zeal and willingness to shed their own blood for His sake?  Do we prepare them mentally and practically for the possibility of future martyrdom? Do we actively urge them on, as God did with His own child?

If not --  then do we really have the love of God in our hearts?

Of course we will try to make excuses.  Here are some I've used myself.

Excuse #1:"Christ already died for our sins -- so we and our children don't need to suffer or die for the sake of the Gospel."
But Christ died for the very purpose that we might also be energized and inspired to lay our lives down for the Gospel. In 2 Cor 1:5 Paul says, "The sufferings of Christ abound  in us".  In Colossians 1:24 he says, "I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church."

Excuse #2:  "We are only God's little infants.  He would not want us to undergo such a difficult and painful trial as to lose a child".
The apostle Paul says, "In regard to evil be children, but in your thinking be adults" (1 Cor. 14:20).  Maturity in Christ is a matter of our own choice.  We may choose to remain as infants, living for pleasure in the here and now: or we may choose to follow Jesus' path and embrace hardship, loss, and sacrifice for the sake of a future, greater reward (Heb. 11:35).
     If the nascent love of God within us is to grow to full and rich maturity, we must do the things we see God doing, just as Jesus did.  ( Jn 5:19).

Excuse #3:  "My child is too precious to me. Why should I allow or encourage her/him to put her/his life at risk?"
Was  God's Son  any less precious to Him?

Excuse #4: "But God knew He would receive His Son back again.  If my child dies, he is gone!"
This response reveals that the root problem is not the difficulty of the sacrifice, but rather our own lack of faith.  For we will reunite with our children, together with scores of eternal brothers and sisters who will entered  God's kingdom  over the bridge formed by those who have laid down their lives for Jesus' sake.

Excuse #5:  "1 John says that we are to love one another as God loved us.  So we should love other Christians in a self-giving way, but not throw our lives away on hostile unbelievers."
When John speaks of 'one another', is he  referring only to those who already believe?  Did we already believe when He showed His love to us?    God saw us as His own children temporarily estranged from Him, and in His great yearning to restore us to wholeness braved our insane, childish rage and deliberately made the ultimate personal sacrifice.

Though we cannot escape the logic of the Scriptures, we are still unwilling to embrace the inevitable consequences.  The inescapable conclusion is that we do not actually  possess the fullness of the love of God in our hearts.  We do not yearn for the lost and dying of other nations as for our very own flesh-and-blood  brothers and sisters.   We do not recognize that their spiritual death is infinitely more terrible than our own physical death, or the death of our loved ones.

Prayer: Heavenly Father,  apparently Your love is not shed abroad in my heart as it ought to be.  If Your love truly is there, it is stillborn.

 I have no recourse but to confess to You, and yield to You as much as my weak and stubborn will allows.   Lord, I believe in You -- help Thou my unbelief.  Please breathe into my heart to revive the love which lies dormant.  Operate surgically  through circumstances in my life -- though it may require tribulation, though my flesh may sqirm and rebel.  Nourish my spirit intravenously with hope, that I may overcome the infection of the flesh which saps me of strength and joy.

 Father, about my children  -- I have told You they are Yours.  Only You can change my heart to harmonize with my words.  As simply and sincerely as I know how, I release my children and my own heart into Your hands.

I pray in the name of  Jesus Christ, Your own precious Son.

Comments from www.aimoo.com:

From "StormyMountain":

Hi everyone,

I've been away for a couple of months doing research and looking in on some (fascinating) theological debates on other sites, but tonight my surfing brought me to an extreme fundamentalist site called CrossPollen, and one of the articles I read disturbed me so much that I had to post it here.

Obviously, most Christians do not think this way - in fact, the majority would probably be just as appalled as I am at reading this. I also want to add that I do not make a habit of trolling evangelical websites for things to take out of context and hold up for others to ridicule - some internet 'skeptics' might do this, but it is pointless and dishonest in my opinion to construct an argument against a particular belief system based on a fringe group or sect that does not truly represent the mainstream.

On a personal level, however, I was impacted by fundamentalist dogma at a young age, and the encounter was not a pleasant one, which is why I am in the process of walking away. Part of that process has consisted of sharing my experiences with others on this site and getting feedback (and offering it to others). The sick diatrabe [above] comes close to the kind of thinking that was taught at the Pentecostal school I attended, and when I come across this kind of material on the internet it often helps to post it here and talk about it.

From "Flagrat":

What's disturbing is that every one of his essays says the same thing: "You're not good enough, you're falling short of god's standard of holiness, shame on you, repent..."--the guilt of the reader is taken for granted. There are a lot of fundies like that; their "ministry" is to make sure that other fundies feel bad about themselves. This is the high and holy ministry unto which the lord hath called them. What a lunatic! At least Marrs and Hovind are sane enough to direct their hatred at the enemies of christianity, but this guy is tearing down and demoralizing his own people. Some fundies emphasize "Christ-centered" or "resurrection-centered" Christianity. But cross-centered? How morbid can you get?

From "catlady1362":

This is horrible.  What is bad is that it is very serious and likely to really appeal to some hardcore fundies out there who are trying to be good enough for god.  I agree that the underlying message is that we're not good enough, still falling short of god's absolute demands..........(however, in certain areas of the world, it's not only okay to teach your children to be martyrs for god, but to actually make your children martyrs for god). dangerous stuff.  this is something to be afraid of.

My response:

Dear StormyMountain,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article.

It is evident that many of you folks have been emotionally and spiritually abused  by misguided "Christians" (like me!).  On behalf of all of us religious fatheads, I would like to apologize for all of the manipulative, coercive, bigoted things which we have done "in the name of God".  You may consider this apology to be hypocritical, but I offer it as sincerely as I know how. I respect your beliefs, and the integrity of your convictions.  We are travelers on opposite roads -- the least we can do is smile and wave at each other as we pass by.

I agree with you that my article was somewhat 'over the edge' (this is what happens when you don't have anybody to look over what you write!).  I did not realize the impression the article was making.  Please allow me to clarify what I really meant to say.

First of all, I did not mean to imply that I was in favor of using young children as "cannon fodder" and putting them in a position where they will be martyred.  Jesus freely made the decision to die  as a fully self-conscious, mature adult  -- the decision was not made for Him.

Second, I did not mean that we should teach our children to court death, or to pointedly seek out risky situations so they can die glamorously.  Rather, we should express to them (and model for them) that neither death nor life matters,  but the pursuit of truth and freedom for all people is paramount.

Suppose you were a slave, and your children were born into slavery.  Wouldn't you teach your children to dedicate themselves to  freedom, for themselves and for others, even to the point of laying down their own lives?  Now, you may not share the convictions of us "born again" Christians, but the viewpoint we (supposedly) espouse logically entails the same conclusion.  I may be "sick", but at least I am consistent!

Many Palestinians teach their children that it is a heroic act to die as a suicide bomber.  This is not at all the kind of martyrdom I was talking about!!  Although I am very sympathetic with their pain, I do not at all agree with their methods.

On the contrary, Jesus' martyrdom involved laying down His own life, not terminating the lives of others.  Such a martyrdom was lived out by Mother Theresa  and a  host of others, including:

    Harriet Tubman (http://www.gospelcom.net/chi/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps130.shtml)

    Gladys Aylward (http://www.hillsdale.edu/dept/Phil&Rel/Biography/01/03.html)

    Nate Saint &  Jim Eliot  (http://world-evangelism.com/~bashore/jimeliot.htm)

    David Brainerd (http://world-evangelism.com/~bashore/jimeliot.htm)

    William Borden(http://www.wwy.org/wwy1100.html).

Not all of these died early deaths from violence or sickness --  but all took the risk.  Gandhi, though not a "Christian", was this kind of martyr, because He too believed in living like Jesus Christ.

"Flagrat" and "Catlady" interpret my message as,  "you're not good enough".  Of course we're not good enough!  If  God indeed is perfectly wise, perfectly righteous, and  perfectly loving, then there is no possible way to measure up to His standard.  The good news is, we don't have to!  All He asks us to do is to come clean before Him, admit that we're messed up, and depend upon Him for the power and wisdom to change:

"God has shown you what is good.  The Lord only asks you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8)

Believing in Jesus Christ  freed me from the need to "perform", and released me from the condemnation I felt for always falling short of my own ideals.  When  I surrender fully to Him, He takes upon Himself the blame for all my failures (and He deserves the credit for all my successes!).  It saddens me that so many have apparently had the opposite experience.

Though we do not need to "perform",  we can't just going on pretending that nothing's wrong.  We can't just resign ourselves to the fact that we're just hopeless shmucks and we'll always be hopeless shmucks. God Himself supplies the power to change, if we humble ourselves, acknowledge our need, and call out to Him. I do not encourage people to "try harder", but rather to depend more on Him and less on themselves.

Since God is so profoundly perfect, we should take for granted that we DO need to change, not only in our outward  behavior but also in our fundamental thinking.  Unfortunately, many Christians seem to have forgotten this. This is why my articles appear so hyper-critical.  I may be unbalanced, but at least I'm on the other side of the seesaw from everyone else.

I make no apologies for having a "Cross-centered" message.  The Cross and the Resurrection are inseparable, they are two sides of the same coin. Christians like to look at the "happy" side, and never turn the coin over. Again, I am making up for lack of balance.

Again, I want to thank you for pointing out to me some wrong impressions my article was leaving.  I have made a few changes which I hope will clear things up a bit.

By the way,  I am not a "fundie" in the usual sense of the word.   I am not a political right-winger. I do not believe that the universe was created in seven literal days.  I do not believe that the Bible is word-for-word infallible and inerrant, and that it contains factual slips and inaccuracies. However, I do believe in the literal death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to which the Bible testifies from beginning to end.  I believe that I have experienced the power of His literal resurrection in my own life.

©1999 CrossPollen. CrossPollen articles may be copied without permission from the author AS LONG AS (1) the article content is not changed (2) the original copyright notice is included. If you have been stimulated or challenged by these articles, please consider making a financial contribution to CrossPollen."Do not muzzle the ox who threshes the grain... If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?"(1 Corinthians 9:9-11) Please contact us via e-mail. Thank you!

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Copyright © 1999 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 28, 2003

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