Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

Everybody is a Child of God?

“Everybody is a child of God” they say, and I feel a tickle of pleasure at the sound of those words.

The idea of a big-bosomed Grandma god who bakes pies and welcomes everybody in to the banquet table at the end of all things feels good to consider, and maybe that’s how it will go.

by Norman Rockwell

by Norman Rockwell

Maybe there’s a tiny little gap somewhere in exegesis that I’m missing.

The people of the Old Testament sure didn’t expect the mercy of Jesus to come crashing down on their sin ledgers. All those years of bleeding lambs out for human wrongs had crystallized Israel so that she couldn’t think beyond activity representing grace into the cosmic extravagance that her activity meant.

The Bible is a complicated book, and I can sort of squint one eye, and hold my breath, and look at Scripture in a slant-wise sort of way that allows all paths to lead to God. I’m telling you that ahead of time so that you’ll know what I’m about to write isn’t due to a lack of imagination.

But imagining how something could go is different from making a promise that it will go that way.

These days I see people assuring one another all the time, talking about how believing in a general sense of love is all it takes, arguing that any god worth his salt wouldn’t condemn anybody long term.

But that’s an awfully big conclusion to just spout out as if we knew it to be true.

And even though I’ve stared pretty hard at this, I don’t see how anybody who respects the Bible at all has the nerve to ask anybody else to take that risk. The consequences of being wrong here are too severe. I would never just assure a cancer patient not to take chemo because I didn’t like the thought of what it does in a body. I don’t have the qualification or the right to convince somebody of something so costly.

Yeah, I get that fear has been abused by various sects of religion, and that because of this abuse, people are trying to help other people heal by presenting a kinder, gentler god. Some of these folks offering universal grace are trying to reduce anxiety, trying to create unity. They are trying to keep warring factions from murdering one another, for goodness sakes. But it’s possible for the best desires to fall victim to false solutions.

I think our present culture is particularly vulnerable to this because we have a disdain for meta-narrative (big stories that are supposed to explain everything). We also don’t like authority much.

I think that’s why we see so many bloggers who tend to use Christianity as a vehicle for promoting social justice or compassion. Who doesn’t agree that those are nice things?

But like Chesterton warned, it’s possible to pick only certain virtues from within the faith to embrace without embracing the faith as a whole. And that makes for a super dangerous divide. The Bible becomes monstrous when it is squished down and vivisected.

Let me show you a little of what I mean. Read this bit from II Thessalonians and see how it strikes you:

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Here we have a passage where there is a delusion SENT by God. Whoa.

People are always asking, “Does God save people in the jungles of Africa who have never heard about him?” but I think this passage is way harder. This is God intentionally putting people in a place of misunderstanding to expose the truth about wayward hearts. And the consequences are severe.

If that doesn’t shake you up just a little when laid up next to the ooshy-gooshy god most folks talk about these days, I’d be surprised.

What place is there in anything we believe about a loving Christ for this kind severity? Doesn’t it defy the easy, honeyed gospel we have been offered?

Not that you need anything else to make you more cynical about religious people... but let's talk practically here a minute, because you need to see this straight. 

In a world where bloggers build platform, and platform can mean tends or hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars a year... well, I hate to say it, but most people are going to tell you what you want to hear.

Hardly anybody will forward a post like this one. It’s not warm and fuzzy feel-good stuff; it's a message that is lethal to my platform in this day and age, and I write every word understanding that. Because if I go all out and say, "God has wrath against sin," how does that make you feel?

You want to yell, “How dare he," right? Or “He put us here! How could he expect us to do any better?” Or maybe, “Yeah, that's what religious cults say before they try to herd the masses.”

Hard language makes you mistrust me. I can feel those objections rising.

That's why I'm tempted to just wax with feminine eloquence about grace every single day. It would make me fast friends with believers and non-believers alike. But how could I love you, really love you, if I think there’s probably more to the story that I never tell along side the pretty parts?

And is it fear mongering to tell someone about a danger that is real? How could it be kind to tell you what would tickle your fancy if you are in legitimate risk of experiencing something awful that most people are too scared or too insecure to mention? Do I really love myself so much that I’m not willing to risk telling you more of what I think is true? Maybe so. It's hard for me to write this. I'm super uncomfortable right now. I know how this kind of proposition settles in our culture these days.

Maybe that's why a lot of people avoid talking about it. Really, the only folks I see discussing divine justice lately are either Westboro Baptist weirdo-types or televangelists looking to use fear to ignite donations. A lot of evangelicals are either busy trying to build insular megachurches based on "felt needs," or they are trying to be cool about saving the world by hipster osmosis.

So how does a regular person even start to shoot straight with you?

I guess one way to begin is with a story that was written thousands of years ago, long before the time of Jesus. From what I can tell, carbon dating places the earliest versions of this narrative 300-100 years before Jesus was even born.

The people of Israel were captive in Egypt as slaves. There’s a lot of history as to why they were there, but I’m just going to start in the middle of their imprisonment and move forward.

God told the Pharaoh to let the prisoners go, but the Pharaoh didn’t want to lose cheap immigrant labor. So God started ramping it up. "Let them go!" Sent plagues. "Let them go!" Sent frogs. "Let them go!" Sent disease. Insects that ate all their crops.

Pharaoh kept saying no.

Finally, God said, “I’m going to take all the first-born children.” And the only way anybody could escape that horrible outcome was to kill a perfect lamb and spread the blood on their houses.

"The Israelites are eating the Passover Lamb" by Marc Chagall

"The Israelites are eating the Passover Lamb" by Marc Chagall

When the angel passed by those marked houses, the people who lived inside them wouldn’t receive the penalty. They would be passed over. Didn't matter who they were. Didn't matter what they'd done. What saved them was the blood on their house.

That night, the angel came through and killed all the firstborn who weren’t living in a house with that marking. Killed them. Gone. Can you imagine the wailing that rose up the next morning in that city?

You don’t like that story, do you? It rubs us the wrong way.

We feel entitled to a world where everybody lives, blood on the house or not. After all, God is supposed to be love, right? How could he allow all those little babies to be killed? What had they done wrong? Who even believes this stuff?

But in this case, God was also justice. He did something absolutely severe as a result of sin, and the only way to escape that consequence was to follow the one route he offered.

It’s not an ecumenical plan, for sure. The Egyptians were spiritual folks, but not one of the alternative routes of spirituality that they chased worked. There was a single way to survive, and all those people who laughed at it, or hated the idea of it, or whatever they did the night before were grieving the next day. It didn’t matter whether they agreed or not. What happened happened.

The Egyptians were spiritual folks, but not one of the alternative routes of spirituality that they chased worked. There was a single way to survive, and all those people who laughed at it, or hated the idea of it, or whatever they did the night before were grieving the next day.

It’s not accidental that thousands of years later, Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples before he went to the cross to die. He was the Passover Lamb, see? He is the mark (the only mark) that can get spread all over us, so that when death comes, we escape it.

Ooh, it burns, doesn’t it? I can feel the hair on the backs of your necks rising. How dare He? But He did.

It’s difficult for me to know how to offer that sort of protection to you.

Progressive Christians say I can’t just explain the gospel forthrightly and then say, “Do you want this?” They tell me you have to be spoon fed, either by poetry, or by example... that you have to be kind of tricked into liking this, and that you can only take truth watered down.

But gosh, I’d hate for you to never have anybody say it straight and simple. God has provided protection for you, and it’s not just being a good person, or believing in the idea of love, or a general hazy grace that carries the universe. This is more primitive and severe, to our eyes. But I think it’s also true.

As unpopular as it is to say it, yes, I do think God holds wrath against sin. But I think He’s also provided a way to escape that wrath for those willing to take it. Jesus died so that we could be marked with His forgiveness before death; so we could stay safe in His house while the punishment passes by.

"The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" (by Hans Holbein the Younger)

"The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" (by Hans Holbein the Younger)

I certainly will leave room for God to do something unexpected at the end of things, and I will rejoice if He does. But I can’t make any promises that you’ll be okay if you don’t take Him up on what’s clearly before you right now. 

I hope you’ll receive the protection that He is offering instead of banking on your own sense of how things should work. Because really, you could stand before God in the end of things, and shake your little fist, and say, “I’m angry! I totally disagree with how you did all this."

And you could point to five different bloggers who are standing there with you, their mouths agape, all of you cussing and yelling, "Well, this ain't right!"

But that’s going to end up being a pretty small thing to say, if you are wrong.

So I don't see how I could love you if I didn't urge you to receive the offering that I know exists. There is a way to not only escape judgment, but to run from judgment into love and forgiveness you can hardly imagine. The way to do that is through asking Jesus to mark you with His blood and to trust in the safety He provides.

I don't claim to understand all the loopholes that might open up someday, but I do understand what is being given freely in the now. It's a gift that is sobering, and difficult, and beautiful, and almost surreal because it seems to work in a different dimension than the ones I'm used to.

But I know that what is offered through Jesus is love-driven. The kind of love that is costly. I know it's hope. It's newness of life. I hope you will let Him mark your doors. I hope you will decide to live inside love, protected from the coming storm.