For God so loved the world...
These are the words that every Sunday School student memorizes. Every convert is given this word as a testimony to the character of the God that saved them. Many a tract-disseminator looses this verse into his verbal witness hoping for a bite.
So when do we get to actually believe it?
Author, speaker, and proclaimer of the gospel Brennan Manning, leading a retreat in the autumn-tinted Blue Ridge mountains, characteristically hit the nail on the head very, very hard.
Once I described this old ragamuffin to someone, admittedly with a slight over-readiness to judge the person's faith based on their response to my description. "His central message is that God loves us as we are and not as we should be." The response was "Well, yeah, that's good, but the danger of that message is when it's presented in such a way that keeps us from wanting something more."
Ok, not as bad as it could have been. Something more, though? And what is this "more" that stands outside of the bounds of God's gift of himself? I'm pretty sure I can't think of much "more" to be gotten that doesn't fall under the category of "God's love for sinners." Not holiness, not miracles, not spiritual discipline. Nope, there's nothing else. You might take a lifetime discovering the breadth of what "God's love" actually means, but you will never get outside of it.
No, I'm convinced there really is nothing more, sir. Nothing at all. Could it be that this attitude is really a fear-hounded mindset terrified of releasing the vulgar masses into the true freedom- freedom to mess up, act unspiritually, miss church, whatever- that God bought and handed out unconditionally to formerly dead people? Because true freedom might not look so "spiritual."
As C.S Lewis brilliantly portrays in the Screwtape Letters, Satan considers God "so unspiritual."
But if they plunge themselves into the spiritual revolution of God's love, they just might neglect the very important tasks of managing circumstances, manipulating appearances, garnering spiritual accolades, ensuring proper behavior, climbing the social ladder, maintaining comfort, keeping in good health, listening to approved music, reading approved books, eating approved cookies, wearing approved underwear.
Now I don't think my friend's comment was quite as exaggeratedly afoul of the mark as the picture I'm painting. But I do think that churches in general are. And I do want to scream every time I here the implied "Grace + ....(fill in the blank)" dogma.
HEY CHURCH!!! GOD LOVES YOU!
NO, REALLY... GOD ACTUALLY DOES LOVE YOU!!!