I grew up with Sarah McLachlan music. She is tremendously subtle musician, but her theology is not very good at all. The poverty of her theology struck home today as the following words sang out from my IPad this morning:
Cause we are born innocent / Believe me, Adia,
We are still innocent. / It’s easy.
We all falter. / It doesn’t matter.
I listened to these lyrics in the context of learning, two days ago, that a friend of mine from way back is serving a 12 year sentence in prison for doing something VERY stupid. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I knew back then that he was capable of such stupidity. He was looking for help, and I was among those trying to help him.
Some of those conversations we had were through messaging online, and I still have the transcripts. Going back through those transcripts over the past couple days, I have been struck both by two things: (1) my friend’s sincere love of God and desire for goodness, and (2) my friend’s conviction that it’s God’s job to forgive us. I’m happy to say that I encouraged #1, but I’m sad to say that some things I said might have encouraged #2, as well.
It’s not God’s job to forgive us. Whether or not we born innocent, we are no longer innocent. And that means something has to change.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a term for the idea that God will just go on forgiving us, and all we need to do is “love” Him: cheap grace. His point is that grace that doesn’t cost me anything, that doesn’t make me change, that doesn’t make me come face to face with my ugliness and sin, is worthless. Or rather: that’s not God’s grace. That is “grace” that comes straight from the devil. We go to Church and worship God with great enthusiasm, and then we receive absolution from the gates of Hell.
This sort of absolution is more like a rubber stamp than an eraser. We say “Your will be done” with our lips, but in our hearts we add “… but not yet.” There is nothing more natural than this, and nothing more toxic either. I’d much rather be an atheist who trembles before the law than a Christian who drinks the devil’s Artificially Graced Kool Aid.
And yet how easy this is to forget! Oh, sure, we recognize that “those” people need radical conversions: people like murderers or rapists or thieves or racists or the like. But us? God is happy to forgive us for our “little” and “habitual” sins, our sins that “don’t harm” anyone. But that was how my friend felt those many years ago. He was trying to do the right thing. He felt righteous, because he brought his failings before God. But his habits, his “little” sins – these were things he was not willing to part with, and it was God’s job to forgive them. (“I mean, honestly, God, it’s the least you can do. Think of all the sins I want to commit, but I resist! I deserve a little love.”)
I pray for my friend, that his time in prison will be a time of conversion and repentance. But I am under no illusions that he is “still” innocent. He is not, I am not, you are not. Sarah McLachlan said “It’s easy”, but it’s not. Our faults cement our character. In the end, we are either providers like our Heavenly Father, or murderers like our earthly one.
Harder. / You said “harder than hell”.
But hell’s so easy. / You just stop caring and you’re there,
And there ain’t nothing you can do about it.
No, harder. / Harder than hell, harder than life.
Hard is the kingdom of God.