Radical, Moderate God

BreakPoint | Stephen Reed | Aug. 25, 2009

So often in Christian teaching, we learn that God, oftentimes a radical in His dealings with human beings, is also essentially a “moderate” when it comes to figuring out His will. By that, I mean that His procedure is moderate, even while His approach may be radical. Few can doubt Jesus’ radical love, proven in His dealings with His disciples or perfect strangers in the gospel accounts.

But many times you will hear learned Christian teachers stress in their lessons on theology that the path of a Christian lies not in being a total libertine, nor as a complete ascetic. Instead, as Jesus said so eloquently, we are to be both “in the world, yet not of the world.” Or when it comes to our mindset here on earth, Jesus tells us to be “as innocent as doves but as wise as serpents.”

In short, for anyone who sees the paradoxes of life on earth, the mixture of joy and sorrow, great tragedies and greater love, Christianity is right there with you, having already established itself on the paradox of a crucified and risen Lord.

Jesus was never taken aback by sin. He was painfully aware, long before His crucifixion, that sin was a present part of each human life. But while He could see quite clearly the effects of sin on a given life (e.g. Peter’s faithlessness, Judas’s ambition to defeat the Romans, or Thomas’s doubt), he never let sin get in the way of loving someone.

Take the woman caught in adultery, for example, who had not one friend left other than Jesus, who saved her life. Or the Samaritan woman at the well, who clearly had been sleeping around. Jesus knew it, so did she. And she was amazed at His love for her nonetheless, introducing her new best friend to the friends and neighbors in her village.

Sin, while offensive to God, is not as big a surprise to Him as it may be to ourselves when we confront the sin within us. God knows the odd combination of depravity and potential we are. He made us. So when Jesus came to wade into this chaotic sea with us, He undoubtedly knew that these were going to be choppy waters. Yet He came to be with us nonetheless. What’s more, as the Scripture says, “He loved us while we were yet sinners.”

An interesting human ability is in our grasp to adjust to new developments and then accept it as normal. So after we get over our amazement that Jesus would condescend to be with us here on earth, even indicating that He loves us, it might be tempting for us to think ourselves, well, good! After all, Jesus loves us, and He wouldn’t be here living among us if we were totally without merit, right?

So He tells us that He’ll help us, that where even just two or more of us are gathered, He’ll be there, too.

He supports us, even when we have messed ourselves up beyond recognition and know that we have nothing good to offer a holy God. Yet this is a God who paradoxically includes mercy with justice, gentleness at the very core of discipline, and has always had a definition of holiness that included love of the unworthy.

God’s holiness is not only way out there, as unobtainable as the furthest star. In Jesus, God’s holiness became as down-to-earth, accessible, and real to us as He could make it. But lest we imagine that our acceptance by Jesus means somehow that we are holy apart from Him, He reminds us that we are the branches, and He is the vine.

The vine can go on without the branches, but not vice versa.

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