When I was in high school and college I had a pen pal who was in prison. He talked about his faith a lot, and he thought of himself as the most incorrigible sinner that God ever met. Grace was the most amazing thing in the world to him, because he was such a vile person that if God could forgive him and love him, truly nothing was impossible for God.
I found out years later that he was in prison for molesting little kids. I was a pastor by then, and I immediately thought of how he characterized his faith in his letters, describing God as the holy and righteous one, who released and redeemed him from his evil nature. God is the Ultimate Good, who alone can forgive sinners. His testimony still means a lot to me.
But his understanding of Christianity isn’t helpful to the people he abused. I now know a lot of people who’ve been victimized by sexual predators, and they’ve told me many stories in which church was a place where people told them how awful and in need of forgiveness they were. They felt gross enough before going into church, and didn’t need more baggage, thank you very much. If they didn’t abandon Christianity altogether (and many of them have) the Jesus who helped them find salvation wasn’t somebody who told them they were bad, but someone who told them they were good. This was the Christ who met them in their devastation, offered healing and strength, and walked with them on their journeys of courage and re-imagined hope.
Sometimes Christians talk about a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. It’s not personal like a private friendship, or an otherworldly connection that diverts our attention from our relationships and accountability to people here and now. It's not personal or private in the sense that it has nothing to do with who we are in a larger community. Faith is never “Just between me and the Lord” . We don’t work out our sins or our salvation in isolation from the world around us.
But faith is always deeply personal, because Christ meets each of us in the truth of our unique lived experience. That's why the bible uses so many different images and concepts to describe God and Jesus.
When we are guilty of evil deeds, Christ convicts us and shows us what is necessary to change and begin again. When we are hurt by the evil of others, the Crucified One is nearer than ever, and helps us prepare for our own unfolding resurrection story.
When we are lost because of our own rebellion or carelessness, Christ is the shepherd who seeks us out, or the compassionate father who welcomes wanderers home. When we are lost because we’ve been targeted for being different and cast out of community, Christ is the great Host, who prepares the great feast, and throws the doors open for us, no matter what the haters say.
It is a great responsibility for Christ’s followers, but also a liberating gift, to know fully and deeply that God’s love is personal. Our job is not to superimpose our unique understanding of the Divine onto everyone else in the world, and our burden is not to try and force someone else’s orthodoxy onto our life experience. Instead, we are invited to imagine how all of us fit into the Kingdom Vision that Christ is bringing about in the world, where love is sovereign, and where everyone’s story comes together in a fellowship of grace and peace.
God’s love is true for all of us, in every way that love can ever be real. Of course, that’s the only way it could be true at all.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa seeking transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm
102 E. 2nd St. Davenport Iowa, 52801