The Heart of the Matter
In light of the many political and social controversies arising from the arm-twisting of certain ultra-conservative groups, I would just like to share something I read in my morning devotions.
Disclaimer: I do not consider myself liberal. I don’t even consider myself moderate, though I do abide by what Chesterton said:
The business of progressives is to keep making mistakes. The business of conservatives is to keep mistakes from being corrected.
In John 5, Jesus approaches a man who has been trapped at the pool of Bethesda for years. The man is a cripple, and like all the others there, believes that if he gets into the pool first when the water is stirred (some explanations hint that the pool is a hot spring, and that periodical eruptions of water are seen as an angel stirring the water), he will be cured. However, he has absolutely no ability to get into the water–no one cares to help him, and he himself can’t even get up.
When Jesus passes by, all the man asks is that Jesus help him get into the water. Jesus instead bypasses the ritual and tells him not only to get up, but also to pick up his mat (forbidden by Sabbath regulations). As such, the people nearby castigate the man for carrying his mat, and when they find out that it was Jesus who instructed him to do so, they start persecuting him.
Jesus that explains the reason for his actions is his relationship with His Father, and that as He has a relationship with the Father, so can we—and this is what truly brings people to life. Jesus then goes on to say that while some people are trapped beneath a cloud of superstition (like the crippled man was), others trap themselves under the yoke of legalism and ritual:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” -John 5:39-40
What happens here is that instead of people understanding that the Scriptures point to an Ultimate Arbiter of right and wrong who reaches out to them to relate to them on a personal level, they practically worship their law and their Scriptures.
Perhaps the same is true in this land. There are some who see Christianity as a vague superstition—much like the crippled man—who believe that by performing certain rituals or devoting themselves to certain practices, they can somehow strong-arm God into giving them what they want. God here is seen as a genie who is bound to what WE want because of what we do.
On the other extreme, there are others—like the Pharisees of that time—who see Christianity as a set of dos and don’ts, and that if we balance out our good and evil actions (by sinning and then groveling) and come out in the end with a positive balance, God may grudgingly give us eternal life. In this case, we are bound to do what God wants, and maybe He might be nice to us.
The Bible says neither is true. In fact, all of John and the rest of the Bible do say that those who really have abundant lives regardless of circumstance and those who really do well in His eyes are those who actually have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus says that God will take us no matter where we are or how lousy we are because He loves us. THEN He gives us the grace that will change our lives. THEN we receive eternal life, but not by our own effort, but by His work on the cross. Neither God nor we are bound by anything but love.
Love is what constrains Him to give His Son to die for our sins. Love is what constrains us to love Him above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is in this relationship that we have life. It is in this relationship that we are made a new creation.
The heart of the matter of Christ is not a cloud of superstition. It is not a yoke of legalism. The heart of the matter is Christ himself.