In America we are a crowd of independence addicts. I don’t mean that in a negative way necessarily, but I do mean it like it sounds. I read an article yesterday about the backlash from Facebook’s facial recognition application that attempted to tag pictures automatically based on analyzation of features, and while I don’t think that’s really necessary I’m not quick to jump on the “they’re-rounding-us-up” train quite yet either. And I know that some would power through a detailed argument about how freedom is threatened and we would visit various places and periods in history to see how it happened then, but to be honest we are talking about the beast of technology and whether Facebook uses it or not the technology exists and will not be thrown onto a bonfire to burn with Nazi libraries.
That being said, there is a powerful sense of imposition in us here in the West. The issue of taxes is a central struggle in the presidential race, as it usually is, and that struggle originates from the idea that we are not going to stand for a government that expects us to pay for it to run…and we also won’t stand for a government that attempts to provide for itself…maybe the point is that we just don’t like the government. Every move that lawmakers attempt to make is met, from one side or the other, with violent opposition and accusations of oppressing the middle-class, or oppressing the marginalized, or oppressing the environment, or oppressing the left-handed, red-headed, vegetarian hermaphrodites…you pick the group, they’re all oppressed at some point in our system.
In the world of the church we see a mighty machine that has been chugging away for a while now. The evangelical voting block with its high profile voices and grass-roots power has literally shifted elections and policies over the course of the last two decades (at least). But the message of this group isn’t really delivered in a significantly distinguishable manner from any other group that has an angle (right or wrong). There is just as much vitriol spat from the mouths and platforms of the “religious right” as from the “liberal left” or the “manicured middle” or the “freaky fringe” or whatever other political denominations we’ve declared and laminated. I’m not saying that the message is right or wrong, what I’m saying is simply that the delivery of those who claim to follow Christ must be of a different manner than those who do not.
We are the people of grace. That fact alone should be a game-changer for us. We don’t spit hate, we drip mercy. We don’t yell acidic taunts, we clean the wounds of our enemies. We don’t take great pleasure in being right about the wrongness of someone else, we take the burden of their destiny upon our own hearts and plead with our Lord for them. We are not the people of imposition or manipulation, we are the people of proposition and compassion. F Scott Fitzgerald said this:
Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
-F Scott Fitzgerald
Jesus was never caught throwing hate-speech toward Caesar, despite the fact that Caesar was 100% wrong in his self-deifying, God-denying, counterfeit sovereignty. Jesus knew that changing the world meant touching individual people. He knew that imposition would never be the source of lasting change. Imposing something upon someone gets them to alter their behavior, it never resurrects their dead heart.
Even Jesus’ call to His followers, to those He had specifically chosen, was not an imposition, it was a proposition:
If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
The danger of this Christ-like method is that it has very little pragmatic punch. Loving our enemies is a long-term solution to what we feel like is a short-term problem. Walking the second mile, turning the other cheek, and giving our coat and shirt to those who impose on us feels like doing nothing. It takes faith to not shout. It takes faith to oppose in a graceful way. It takes faith to believe that the way the Bible says to live is even half as effective as the methods we devise. Considering all of these things, it’s not surprising that Ephesians 2 tells us that it is faith that tethers us to grace. Where there is no faith there will be no grace. And, I would suggest, in those arenas where we see no grace we are unlikely to find much faith.
Friends, are we people of the proposition? Or are we those who impose? Are we the tribe of love or the gang of hate? Are we walking by faith, or are we convinced that our methods are wiser and more effective than God’s?
This isn’t a post about politics so much as it is about our everyday lives. How are we treating those that we see everyday? Are we heavy-handed or compassionate? Do we really think that showing people every place that they are wrong is gaining any ground in showing them Christ? Or are we dedicated to acting out the advice of the disciple as he told his friend about Jesus:
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
May we walk by this kind of faith in the Lord of all creation and the Lover of our souls that lays the burden of supernatural change upon Him, and not on our own clever words or schemes.