Saturday, 11 August 2012
I appreciate Reverend Billy Graham. I heard him speak many years ago when he came to my college. I was struck by his humbleness and grace -- and met God there. I also appreciate the heart-felt concern he expresses in his recent open letter to America, and have noticed the behaviors he mentions. I'm disconcerted though by his carefully worded implications.
His letter references old testament Bible verses and implies that the behavior of Americans is similar to that of residents of Nineveh and Sodom, ancient cities that God threatened to or did destroy according to the Old Testament. He implies -- but doesn't directly state -- that America faces similar punishment from God. His solution to America's current problem is to evangelize the unchurched in every neighborhood in America, inviting them to repent.
Graham has a long history in 'tent evangelism' and has touched many lives, my own included, and he's totally gifted in that style of ministry, but does God punish 'nations' today and is repentance by the unchurched what God requires to withhold his punishment -- or to bless the people of a nation?
punish (M-W definition): to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation; to inflict a penalty for the commission of (an offense) in retribution or retaliation
The idea that my suffering is my own fault and God's punishment for my sin is tempting to believe. If true, then it also must mean I have control over the circumstances of my life here on earth, but anyone with any significant life experience knows that's not true; bad things happen to good people, and take a look at the Psalms. So I've found total benefit in relationship with a living God, but freedom from punishment for my sins is not one of them. That I've noticed through experience or Bible study.
I believe that God forgives my sins, offers freedom from condemnation, rest while in relationship, and as I continue to follow Him into risk filled adventure -- a deeper faith and freedom from fear leading me to see life giving choices as alternative to sin. He has opened my eyes to feel the shame of my own sin and to recognize my desire for intimacy with Him and others, praise the living God.
Saying a prayer of salvation was merely a first step on my journey -- Paul offers some precedent for the idea, but it doesn't come up in the Gospels -- as was water Baptism, Baptism in fire, and I've discovered something hugely important: transparency every day in relationship with God and others as I walk out risky choices by faith. That last one I'm finding is what leads to holiness (i.e. authenticity).
So I'm learning humbleness, patience, communication skills, more intimacy with myself and God and effective boundaries with others that I hope is the means for deeper intimacy. As I read the Bible, this personal holiness and intimacy is what God desires. Blessing and suffering, or as some mystics called it: consolation and desolation, are the circumstances God uses to invite us to deeper intimacy and maturity and perfection. This also seems the fulfillment of the law -- no longer are we punished for our sins, because Jesus took our punishment -- but the law was and is merely a tutor showing us the way to holiness. Holiness, where the law is written on our heart and as the law punishes murder, our heart reminds us that even saying Raca to our brother is the same as murder.
So does calling for the unchurched in America to repent lead to freedom from punishment for a nation? That doesn't seem unworthy, but perhaps if the church (me) repented of sin, saw injustice, allowed myself to learn how to love, fed the widows and orphans and pursued holiness, then God would do the rest: call the unchurched, bless us as His children, see our own shame and unconstrained desire for Him, and experience His love individually and in community.
I, of course, think He's already doing all this; just as He called me and first loved me, he's doing the same for others. As I seek His face, He's revealing His love for me, and my lack of control. So perhaps as we, His church, become Holy -- and discover that's a life-long individual journey and a communal one too -- He will teach us how to love others rather than evangelize or condemn, fill us with His grace and continue to fulfill His plan for the earth and all His children in spite of all our plans, certainty of who God is, and lack of grace towards our fellow sinners and pilgrims on the journey.
Did you read Billy Graham's open letter? Do the sins of the unchurched lead to punishment for a nation? Is it correct to assume that God holds the nonbeliever to the same standard as the believer? What is the role of personal pursuit of Holiness in a church community? And do you think that is helpful to transforming communities or a nation?