Tag Archives: Christian

Resisting the unfairness of God

Learning to enjoy the massive unfairness of God

The gospel message has a problem. Always has had. Here it is: a lot of the very people who embrace it most whole-heartedly seem like they don’t really like it.

At its core, the Christian message— the “good news”— is intended for all of life’s “outsiders”: you are welcome too! So how have we gotten into the “us” vs. “them” mindset— insiders vs. outsiders— so often encountered in relations between Christians and non-Christians today? One factor, found in scripture, is that some believers can find themselves offended by the “unworthiness” of those still “in sin”— the unfairness of claiming that God’s love is for “them” as much as “us”.

Biblical Examples

Believers have never liked the breadth of God’s grace; it goes way back before Christ. Jonah is a classic example. Forget  the whale; the real story is about the prophet called to preach to people he considers undeserving. He would literally rather be thrown in the ocean to drown. Spoiler alert: when the whole city of Nineveh finally turns to God as a result of his preaching, Jonah is furious at God for showing mercy toward “them”.

Several of Christ’s parables address the same point:

  • In the prodigal son, one of the bible’s great portraits of redemption, an inescapable feature is the anger of the righteous elder brother.
  • In the vineyard laborers, the hard-working laborers grumble against the master for over-kindness; he responds, “Do you begrudge my generosity?”
Alive & Well Today

A recent study showed that atheists are nearly the least trusted group in America, ahead of only convicted criminals. Discussing the article on reddit, many posters used scripture to vociferously defend that scornful attitude. The only scripture I could think of, as I read their harsh, condemning remarks, was Romans 2:1: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else. At whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you do the very same things.”

In today’s culture wars, so much of our focus seems to be on detachment. If we can demonstrate from scripture that someone else’s behavior qualifies as a “sin”, we feel we have justified any possible range of responses without need for further reflection. But viewed in the lights of scripture, our responses may be more troubling to God— more “sinful”— than the sin that provided the justification in the first place.

If you see anyone as “enemies of Christ”, go among them, befriend them, do good to them. That’s what Jesus did for us when we were all his enemies.

We may quote Psalm 14:1 to justify our condemnation of an atheist, but can’t we, surely, keep reading for just two verses more to see that our own shortcomings are every bit as offensive? “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man… there is none who does good, not even one.” You would have to change the scripture if you wanted it to read as an indictment of atheists only. We quote scripture to call another of God’s creatures “a fool”, but in so doing, in the eyes of God, we have literally used a word, and committed an act, that Christ said was no better than murder.

A Christlike Response

It is impossible to imagine that we are more aware of, or troubled by, the world’s sin than was Christ himself. So why do we feel we can justify responses so much more stringent than his? Christ’s separation from sin manifested in his own personal obedience, not in aloofness from others less pure. It was an article of faith among First Century pharisees that intermingling with sinners was tantamount to approval of their sin and rejection of God’s law. Christ’s free intermingling with “sinners” on non-hostile terms was consistently seen by the pharisees as scandalous (see here and here and here and here, for example). Why, then, does our behavior towards the sinful of our own day resemble their attitude so much more strongly than his?

In response to the problem of error and doubt and malice, Christ came near. Into a world where “none does good, not even one,” Christ boldly came and lived and called himself by the name “son of man”. To the heavenly ear, I imagine that sounded as discordant as a pastor unapologetically proclaiming himself as “son of harlots” or “son of drug-dealers”. The words of scripture abound with tenderness for those we reject as “lost” or “fallen” or “disgraced”: “feed my lambs“, “restore them gently“, “repent and live!

If you see anyone as “enemies of Christ”, go among them, befriend them, do good to them. That’s what Jesus did for us when we were all his enemies.

Spiritual lessons from Spirit Airlines

3 Spiritual lessons learned flying the dreaded Spirit Airlines

In Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy asks Lizzy Bennet to dance, she curses herself: “Why could I not think of an excuse? I promised myself I would never dance with him… hateful man!”

So, you can imagine how I felt when I recently found I had no choice but to fly on the poster child of all that is wrong nowadays with air travel and, by extension, our country: the dreaded Spirit Airlines. The Internet is crawling with Spirit Airlines horror stories, but booking last-minute, the only alternative would have been 5 hours out of my way for 3x the cost. So, I decided to bite the bullet, buy a ticket, and do my dance with the devil.

Since “forewarned is forearmed”, before flying I engrossed myself the ways that Spirit had victimized others and was likely to try victimizing me. In so doing, I had the opportunity to reflect. What would Jesus say about the business practices of Spirit Airlines? What makes people hate them so much? What would Jesus say about that?

The business of ungrace

The truth is, unmerited grace has never come from profit-driven corporations. Love expressing itself through sacrifice is a much likelier source of the real thing.

The number one complaint that people had about Spirit Airlines was this: I was in some kind of trouble, and they wouldn’t help me. I was late for my flight, I had different bags than I’d planned, there was bad weather or a pilot overslept– none of these things are Spirit’s problem and they don’t care who knows it. It is on you to solve all of these problems yourself, at your own (often considerable) expense.

Likewise, the number one response of Spirit’s defenders was, “You should have.” As in, you should have bought travel insurance, you should have arrived earlier, you should have planned better. Everything is your fault. Which is true— you could have done all those things. It’s just that saying so isn’t helpful to someone awash in stress hormones.

Compare and contrast with Jesus. In Jesus’s time, the guilty flocked to him for grace— the woman caught in adultery, the too-short tax collector, even Peter upon first meeting Jesus— none of them pled innocence. And still Christ offered each what they needed but had no right to expect.

In our age, people have ceased to look to the Church for grace, and rightly so in many cases, I’m sorry to say. Vanishing grace is all too real. Corporate America has filled the void, to such an extent that people become volubly angry at Spirit when they fail to live up to the perceived social contract. But the truth is that unmerited grace has never come from profit-driven corporations. Disney will take care of you, but only because you’ve paid thousands of dollars to be there. Love expressing itself through sacrifice as modeled by Our Lord is a much likelier source of the real thing. No matter how many in the church may lose sight of that, there still are a lot who remember.

Innocent and crafty

I, for one, am thankful for the many people who took the time to write up their experiences on Spirit, such as:

  • Paying $100 to carry on a purse because it was 1′ 7″ in greatest dimension instead of the requisite 1′ 4″
  • Trying to check in just 44 minutes before departure and finding their tickets canceled (there is a strictly enforced 45 minute cutoff).

Those people were a blessing to me, and allowed me to make my flight (I left the airport hotel at 5:50 a.m. for an 8:45 departure) without extra baggage fees (I had stuffed my briefcase into my checked luggage and carried my laptop loose in my hands). But I wonder what was in their hearts when they wrote those stories down.

Were they thinking of me and offering me a blessing out of love for their fellow man? Or, more likely in our times, were they simply trying to get even? God is very interested in the condition of our hearts; as it says in Luke 6:45, “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I have been ripped off before to the tune of hundreds of dollars. I have been robbed several times. I have known violent thoughts as a result of both. It is hard to let go of the anger and find peace, but it is a vitally important battle to fight. Just ask Anakin Skywalker.

I think it is very appropriate for people, even Christians, to write about negative experiences in order to protect others from the same fate; we just need to guard our hearts in the meantime. The same scripture that urges us to be as crafty as serpents also cautions us to be as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Turning bitter leaves us no different from those who embittered us in the first place.

 Come near

Once at the airport and then on the flight, I have to admit I was surprised. No gate personnel or flight attendants went out of their way to be rude to me. My seat did not smell of puke or cause my knees to touch my chin. The climate on board was not uncomfortable. It was much like any other flight; not at all like going “in country” among a den of hated enemies. It did not feel at all like selling out the American way of life.

I still feel that it is a sadder world when businesses pursue low cost above all else; it leaves our society literally and spiritually impoverished. But regardless of the corporate policies they must follow, at the end of the day the employees are still regular human beings like the rest of us. Bottom line, what they want is to be treated nicely and have a good day at work.

We must remember that, regardless of how offended he was by the condition of the world and all of us in it, Christ came near. His name, Emmanuel, means “God with us”— not “God at a distance judging us”. He said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing” (John 14:12). So if we are to be his followers, we do not have the option of keeping our hands clean and judging one another. His solution to the problem of sin was move in with the sinners and stay for 33 years. No one is asking me to do that with Spirit Airlines, but I am glad I went to see them in person for the span of at least one flight. Very eye-opening.

For the record, though, I still prefer Southwest.