By Bill Forbes
As New Day has been thinking about our new mission statement, I have been encouraged and lifted up by the reflections on God’s love for me and for us, and the profound implications of the greatest force in the universe being Love – and not just a vague theoretical love, but a personal love for me and the people in my life.
And while I have found this to be inspiring and comforting, at the same time, I have felt a deep questioning rumble in my gut…something is gnawing at my sense of comfort in this message. And I think that uneasy feeling is related to the implications of God loving EVERYONE this way. If God LOVES everyone like this, everyone I walk by, everyone I see on the news, everyone I drive by….what does that mean for how I live my life? If this is true, then the state of the world should make more than just uncomfortable. It should somehow stir me to live profoundly differently than the norm.
What does this mean in a society that seems to be increasingly shaped by division and fear? We are constantly force-fed a diet of news and memes and blogs based on fears of other groups’ agendas, fears of potential threats and harm, and the importance of sticking together with your own people –people who think like us, look like us, act like us, and vote like us…so we divide ourselves and start by putting our group first—claiming that this is our right, this is the way the world works, this is how it must be.
But as I think about the truths of God’s love for everyone, I know in my heart that I have to think and live differently than this. If God truly loves everyone we see and hear about and blog about and shout about – then there are profound implications for me, and for us.
God, I think, declares that this is NOT the way the world needs to work, NOT how it must be. Jesus says our neighbor (love your neighbor as yourself) is the Samaritan (someone the world said should be feared based on ethnic, religious, political and grounds) who we can look to for love and help, rather than threat or harm….Paul says again and again that one of the first and most fundamental implications of the Gospel is that these dividing walls have been destroyed, and that the Christian community needs to demonstrate a different way of living—in which man and woman (gender differences), slave and master (economic differences and historical oppression), Jew and Gentile (ethnic and cultural and religious differences) all now look into each other’s eyes and call each other sister, brother.
And Paul does not say we should just BELIEVE this, and worship God for it. He says we need to LIVE it. He challenged his congregations that how they ate, how they used their money, how they hosted, how they lived—needed to demonstrate that because of God’s love, they were different. As followers of this God who is love, fear and division do NOT define how we spend, how we vote, how we socialize, how we love, how we serve. God’s love for everyone around us does. Paul, I think, recognized that this could be one of the most compelling signs that Christianity is more than just another competing social or political club, not terribly distinguished from every other group which exists to serve it’s own. But we are community that knows that something far more fundamental exists than unity based on loyalty and sameness. Instead, there is the love of God for everyone, which redefines everything.
This is all very inspiring to me, until I start to wrestle with what does it really mean for how I live? Where is my life demonstrating this to the world? And how is New Day an actual living sign that we live by a different ethic, a more fundamental truth? Do I go beyond believing that God loves everyone, and actually demonstrate it? I fear that while I BELIEVE differently, my real, actual life is more like the norms we see in the rest of the world—mostly hanging with (and worshipping with) people who look, think, feel and act pretty similar to me.
I know some of you are heroically reaching across boundaries in your work, in your schools, in your neighborhoods. I know that some in New Day are living this out every day. But I struggle with this myself. I have dedicated my entire adult working life to serving the poor and oppressed, but still feel this sense that my life does not demonstrate that the love of God has “torn down the dividing walls of hostility”.
So out of our reflections on these things, Heather and I are starting a couples group in our neighborhood, of churched and unchurched, coming from different backgrounds, with different understandings of Christianity and even of marriage. Because this is what our neighborhood looks like, these are our neighbors. And we hope that through this we can in a small way learn about and demonstrate God’s love for all of us. This is one small step in a lifetime of pressing forward to discover and demonstrate the truth that YES God does love me profoundly and intimately. And he also loves everyone else the same way.