Where has All the Freedom Gone? Part two

Is it possible for democracy, freedom and faith to be worked out in this world? Let’s continue to wrestle with what it looks like. I know I talk too much 🙂

How many times have we witnessed inspiring platforms, exhilarating promises, real change is on the way!? And then the let down, the watering down, the stepping down. It would be cynical and wrong to suggest that no promises are kept or that change is always absent. But usually the follow-through falls short of expectations and high on explanations. Democracy is fickle as the mob grows impatient and restless. But it’s the best we have as an alternative to dictatorship, police states, and one party rule.

It’s getting harder to control and indoctrinate the mob. Internet and cell phones allow communication to break out of prison censorship and spread like wild fire in one hour. The old methods of selective messages, shiny public images, and celebrity mystique fail to convince or impress. People talk back, ask questions, raise their voices, and don’t like to be brushed aside like in the ‘good old days’. No one knows their place anymore. Where is the respect? It’s there, but now it has to be earned.

And where are the Christians in this long walk to freedom? In many places we have become chameleons, willing to sacrifice so much of our substance to gain influence and enforce a few chestnut issues. We all know what they are. Gender equality, Roe verses Wade (abortion), institutional racism, women in the workplace, assisted death and…? Don’t get me wrong. Each issue is significant and important with ramifications for all of us, and needs to be tackled. But is the Christian solution to make a podcast, pick up a megaphone, declare the end times (yet again), call the great unwashed to repentance? How’s it working?

To implement our agenda we have devised a scheme whereby we label issues, divide into camps, shout slogans, and base our positions on soundbites, hashtags, and one-eyed newsfeeds. The goal being to get the ‘right people’ in power so that laws can be made to force everyone to live life our way, which of course aligns with God. Or does it? Perhaps there’s both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in the answer.

Consider this and cut me some slack in the imagining please. If God, as revealed in Jesus, is a loving Father He is probably the most balanced, caring, wise, and stable parent you could wish for. Yet throughout the pages of the Bible spanning thousands of years his children are disobedient, rebellious, unappreciative, and extremely hard to lead anywhere. Most of history is about Him offering to work things out with his creation.

God hands down the Ten Commandments, the ultimate directive from the ultimate Supreme Court. Guidelines for a peaceful and productive life together on earth. Right off the bat we throw up our hands. Have no other gods, love your neighbour, don’t lust, don’t murder…..

Many, many people have heard that list of Commands read, turned around and walked away. “I’m not religious, I can’t do that, I’ll never be good enough.” They respond with honesty and integrity. And those who do believe focus on one or two they’ve obeyed with a superficial reading and avoid the scrutiny of the rest.

How did rules from the Highest Court in the universe work on snapping people into line? How did rules stop abortion, lead to agreement on gender equality, and accomplish whatever else you’re voting for?

“Well if we can’t make rules, what’s the point?” The answer may provide clues as to how to live in a democracy.

Let’s ‘circle back’ as they say in business to the Ten Commandments. Chip off centuries of religion and excavate the thinking back to the heart of God, the perfect loving Father, remember? There’s a context to those slabs of rock with writing clutched to the bosom of Moses coming down the mountain with thunder and lightening in the air. God’s just rescued his people from slavery. The ‘commandments are embedded in “love the Lord your God with all you have.”

Everything flows from that statement. When confronted with the opening clause and then all the other commandments, I too, give up. “Can’t do it, haven’t done it, will never do it.” It’s discouraging and depressing. No surprise most people choose to stay as far away as possible. We hate rules because more often than not they spotlight our weaknesses and failures. And yet we rally around issues to elect political leaders who will impose rules on others to make them obey ‘God’s laws’, which we can’t keep. In Jesus day he called such people, the religious leaders, whited sepulchers filled with dead men’s’ bones.

Not a pretty picture.

Continue to imagine…. What if God is the most loving Father. He positions us in front of his Ten Commandments much as we’d stand before a full length mirror and invites us to look. We read, we consider, we squirm, we dread the outcome and the judgement. We close our eyes as shame and despair fall over us like a cloak because we know we can never live up to what is before us.

“Open your eyes John (insert your name).”

You open your eyes and see your reflection. Behind you a figure stands with his hands on your shoulders and the broadest, warmest of smiles.

“Why are you looking so miserable? What do you see?”

“All your rules, and I can’t keep one,” you reply.

“I know that, they’re a description of my Son, Jesus. They’re not really rules so much as a description of who he is and how I created you to be. My intention is that when you look in this mirror you recognize your need for help to become all that I intended you to be. And I’m here to help you.”

Imagine the difference in your response as you discover the figure behind you is not judging and condemning but is loving and offering to help you – personally. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Every commandment from God begins from the place of our discovering what it means to ‘be loved by him’.

What if that principle of love first is intended to be the hallmark of Christians, rather than rules first? What if God brings about change by loving his sons and daughters first and leading from there? Rules are easy to make and even easier to break. When you run out of love you lean on the rules. Rules are meant to be training wheels. And training wheels provide safety and security while you have fun learning to ride a bicycle without falling off and getting hurt. In our political climate way too many people are making rules while way to many more people are falling off and getting hurt. It’s not fun, it’s not God’s way, and there’s not a whole lot of love.

Someone understandably said that they wished people would be more consistent. So do I, but we’re not. Paul said. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Isn’t that the truth?

Love doesn’t mean weak, mindless, lacking passion and conviction. Love is not jettisoning God’s principles or declaring truth has no value. It does mean having empathy and sensitivity to where people may be struggling and helping rather than legislating. Isn’t that what God has offered each of us when we have failed? In my early twenties I came very close to agreeing to an abortion because a pregnancy would have been very inconvenient and awkward. Fortunately I never had to make or share in that decision, but I quite easily could have. Working in a veterinary clinic for a few years I experienced how easily I could become desensitized and practice euthanasia with animals. When I was married I vowed to never be divorced and now I have had two marriages fail. I’m a terrible Christian, if that means keeping rules without failing. And I was/am a pastor!

Then I think of Adam and Eve, Moses, David, Jonah, Isaiah, Peter, James and John, Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Paul….. just like me?!

I know what it’s like to feel shame, unworthiness, and that I’ll never be enough. It took me to the brink of suicide. I am familiar with the hypocrisy of Christians (me included), the judgement and pointing of fingers, the double standards, the hidden sins, the superficiality of religion, the politics of church. I also know what it’s like to feel the hands of the Father on my shoulders, to hear him calling me his beloved son, to feel forgiveness cast off the shame, and to experience the embrace welcoming me home. I know the grace from friends, the encouragement from unexpected places, the faithful support of those who don’t even know God yet.

It isn’t condemnation that changes a heart from angry stone to warm flesh. It’s love embracing and accepting us in all our messy imperfection. Love ‘with skin on’ holding us close until we can dare to believe that hope is rising for us as well. Relationship leads us to the places rules describe but can never take us. Most significant issues are simple in the telling and complicated in the living.

Healthy democracy means that Christians can belong to most (not all) political parties and still be faithful to God first and foremost. What is being lost right now is that Christians have become little more than prostitutes peddling their votes for thirty coins of influence for a very short time. It would be great to see Christians standing firm on principles of democracy even when it was inconvenient or quite possibly political suicide.

Enough wagging of the tongue and the finger and more bending of the knee and washing the feet. God didn’t condone the cruelty of Roman conquest and rule, or celebrate the liberal choices provided by multiple Greek gods. Instead, he sent his Son to be born and live among them as a revelation of truth and a witness to a better way. Jesus was crucified when he could easily have made political compromises to fight another day. But politics is not, and was not his way of building a kingdom ‘not of this world’.

Politics is necessary as we need some form of government and communal organization. It’s important to be involved but it’s never going to inaugurate heaven on earth through human lobbying and design. How we handle freedom of choice, consequences, differing belief systems, and legitimate voting procedures is the essence of democracy. It takes guts as Doris Lessing says.

Here’s the story of a man whose life was changed through love and acceptance first – then positive change blossomed 🙂 Followed by him singing a song of freedom to men in prison.

John Cox

Offering Pastoral Counselling to encourage, heal, transform, and give hope.

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