By Chad West
God’s unmerited loved is the only motivation for real change. But it doesn’t guarantee change, and that scares us. So we hold on to the false safety of the lie that being good is the Good News. But, real love—grace-inspired love—that’s the stuff. It doesn’t follow any outlines or logic we’re familiar with. The gospel works against the way of the world that seems so natural to our sinful minds. We spend a lot of time trying to domesticate Jesus into some kind of weenie watchdog we can control, but sick on our enemies when need be. But the Creator of all just laughs and loves the unexpected. He won’t be tamed. Can’t be. Like a flower growing in the crack of a sidewalk, his love blossoms in those who belong to him. The uncanny, unexpected treasure of God in the old cracked jelly jars of our hearts.
Cocaine and taking her clothes off for money in an Atlanta club was Victoria Teague’s life for over ten years before Jesus walked in. She kept that side of her life a secret for another ten years until Jesus sent her back in. Now she leads a ministry inside strip clubs, giving what she calls baskets of love full of everything from makeup and nail polish to bibles and chocolates, and nonjudgmentally sharing the love of Christ to the hungry of soul.
Upstanding church members aren’t known for spending a lot of time among strippers (and if they are, it isn’t for the best of reasons) …Unless you know Jesus. He’s love.
I remember it well—the sides formed quickly. On the right were the evangelicals, supporting the fast food restaurant, Chik-fil-a, because of their stance against same-sex marriage and their support of anti-homosexual groups. On the left were homosexuals and those accepting of them. They were picketing the place, swearing off delicious, delicious chicken sandwiches for their greater cause. But, the behind-the-scenes story few knew was the friendship that formed between the owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy, and Shane Windmeyer, the out executive director of the national organization that began the campaign against the restaurant.
Shane wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about the experience, saying that Dan Cathy, the owner, reached out to him and lovingly, patiently listened to his concerns, even changing his giving to certain groups because of their disrespectful behavior towards the LGBTQ community as a result. Shane wrote, “he had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as ‘the blessing of growth.’ He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.” The title of Shane’s article was Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.
This is supernatural love we’re talking about. I mean, this is a world of judgment. Christians just aren’t friends with unrepentant sinners. It isn’t done… unless you know Jesus. He’s love. Upright, bible-toting believers just don’t befriend gay activists unless… Well, you know. This kind of insane love is the heart of the kind of relationships Jesus had.
The people that society looked down on, the ones the religious community pointed to as negative examples, they were the ones Jesus was fast friends with. I’m not giving you another rule to follow. I’m not saying, go out and love, or else. I’m saying, walk in the Spirit and watch this stuff happen. When I stop holding on so tightly to my petty prejudices, God’s love takes over.
These kinds of stories are what it looks like to supernaturally love. Broken relationships are healed, hate melts, and love springs up, judgment and fairness are traded for grace. Go to God and get loved and you’ll love like he does. Serve your politics and misguided religious traditions, and you’ll continue finding reasons to turn people away. Because, now that the law isn’t the measure by which you are judged righteous, you’ll find yourself fulfilling it through love.
There’s no cosmic gun to your head. There’s a Father who loves his child, who loves the world, who died for it, and the healthy response to love is always more love. So, when you know you’re free, you will find yourself—more and more—happily spreading that love like some Jesusy Johnny Apple Seed. Yeah, sometimes you’ll still be selfish. Sometimes you’ll still judge and be all snotty about who you think you are. But you’ll be more sensitive to the Spirit’s kindly tapping you on the shoulder. You’re going to get mad and roll your eyes and not feel like loving anyone but yourself at times. But God will always be there, arms wide.
The point is, God is awesome, and his love is uniquely foreign to our experience in the best way possible, and that’s why we need him so badly. We want our love to have limits. We want to show off our knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:22) in the lives of others. But that always leads away from love.
In a 2013 piece in Slate, Larry Lake talks about when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Friends would drive her to her radiation sessions, stopping for her favorite ice cream on the way back. They sent cards, made phone calls, emailed links to helpful information and sent food, piles and piles of yummy food. But, 10 years later, when his daughter was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with a bipolar diagnosis after years of secret substance abuse, there were no calls or casseroles.
The rest of the world can love like that. They can judge what might be deserving of tenderness and pork chops, and what deserves silence and shame, but we can’t. Our call from God isn’t to judge the non-Christian, as we’ve seen, it’s to blanket the world with love. Love is taking casseroles to people we are tempted to judgmentally dismiss. You may be thinking that’s encouraging sin, but it’s actually being like our Savior. We need to get over the silly idea that wagging our finger at something will keep it from happening. Use wisdom, don’t buy a six-pack for a recovering alcoholic, but maybe hold their hair back while they puke their guts out. Don’t become the codependent provider for your Christian family, but do become the all-seasons friend without an ounce of pride who gently corrects and guides (Gal. 6:1).
We should be well-known for the most insane acts of love. Christians should be the ones the world knows won’t judge them when everyone else does—the ones who won’t turn their backs when even their family has. Instead of being known for our hateful rhetoric we should be known for jaw-dropping acts of mercy.
Love looks like Nadine Collier, daughter of one of the nine members slain in a Charleston, South Carolina church by a young man motivated by racist hate. She said, “I forgive you,” to the young man who shot her mother. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
“May God have mercy on you,” said Tywanza Sanders, whose son was killed by the boy. The sister of the church’s Reverend, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, who was also murdered, said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family …. is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”
Not often do you see such humanity, pain and anger acknowledged and overcome by the love of Christ. To forgive the boy who despised your family so much due to the amount of melanin in their skin is supernatural. To wish on him that he find true hope in Jesus Christ is terribly powerfully otherworldly. The pleas for this boy’s soul, said the granddaughter of the murdered Daniel Simmons, were the confirmation that “hate won’t win.”
Grace trumps hate. It doesn’t discount pain, it comforts it. It doesn’t shame the grieving, it finds them wrapped in God’s arms. It decimates true hatred for an enemy, and replaces it with the love of God. One doesn’t stand in front of the killer of your family with tears dripping from your eyes and forgiveness from your tongue without something as big as God’s love at work within you. That’s the fruit of the Spirit. That’s the truth of love. No, we won’t be completely like God until we see him face-to-face, but we’ll be more like him tomorrow than we were today by the work of God’s Spirit. (And you’ll probably be the last one to know).