This past weekend I traveled through torrent rain, and massive dodging wrecks, mud, and waist-deep water all to be part of a normal human event. Yes, I broke my dad’s first commandment; never try to navigate through a city from which the Weather Channel is currently broadcasting live updates. Yes, I watched as a car dipped past my line of traffic and hit a tree at 80 mph flipping and banging around like a video game graphic. Yes, I missed work and did not begrudge the money lost. I did all this to participate in the funeral for a family member. I don’t really enjoy funerals, no one really does, I guess, but I go to support my family and pay my respect to those who have gone before me, and made my life what it is. So with this in mind, one can imagine why I am a little sensitive to those participating in these kinds of deals on this particular week. One might understand why reading about the funeral of a young man from down the street might catch my eye on such a week. One might also understand why I might respond a little more emotionally to a group’s announcement that they plan to picket the event. I cannot imagine having to face the scorn of an angry mob on such a day; really this past weekend I did not even want to deal with the waiter at the restaurants to which I retreated between funeral home events. Much worse are the pictures showing the planned types of outfits they will be wearing, here’s an example:
Strangely enough this outing is called a love crusade, but I cannot help but wonder if those in attendance at said event will really feel the love. The group posts this burb to explain the love they are broadcasting nationwide: “Since 1955, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has taken forth the precious from the vile, and so is as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19). In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 43,283 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth…. God is america’s (sic) enemy: 5,347 dead soldiers; $11 trillion+ in national debt.” So this is the peace and love of God poured out on our cities? One wonders if they have gotten the vile and the pure mixed up somehow.
Add this example of some strange kind of love to what is also happening in the grand state of Arizona. Much bloodletting has occurred within the social media as Arizona enacted a draconian set of immigrant laws this past week. I, for one, received many boos and dislikes for asking a simple question: “Is this law really representative of what I (and others) stand for when we proclaim ourselves Christians, or even Americans?” I argued that the preponderance of scripture leads me to believe in showing grace, mercy, and openness to the aliens among my nation. No one answered my query on the place of scriptures, but many stated their disagreement on political grounds.
My friends, the fag-haters, did have a scripture for me. Here is their quote: “God doesn’t love everyone, you simpleton. How long will you love simplicity? Prov. 1:22.” That did not seem a verse I had seen so I went to the source and have pulled the verse in context (their ‘quoted’ verse in bold):
“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:20-33 NRSV)
In a sense I can see the fag-haters’ interest in this verse. It kind of makes a tangential point to their message; i.e. that God is a God who judges the world and at times brings calamity to those who choose not to serve him. These passages which populate large swathes of scripture are among the most difficult with which to deal: what to do with the image of God as righteous judge. If we are to be Christians who believe in the Word, we have to deal with this image of God and we have to faithfully confess that God judges the world both in the here and now, and most radically and fully in the age to come.
It does not, however, say what they say it says. Nowhere in the passage is the love of God mentioned explicitly and likewise nowhere in the passage is the lack of God’s love made explicit. The love of God, however, is implicitly shown in the passage. God states that He has called His people to himself; He has reached out to them and sought to draw them to himself. It is this motif, God reaching out to His people that stands at the centerpoint of the Bible’s teaching on God and His judgment. As John Wesley has famously stated, no one discuss God’s righteousness with first understanding God’s great love.
The writings we now call I John stand as an excellent discussion of God and His love. The beloved apostle closing his account with these words:
“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:6-8 NRSV)
God is love. Love is who He is. Love is His essential attribute: it defines him, and is in turn defined by Him. One explicator of scripture has written of this passage saying:
God is “An infinite fountain of benevolence and beneficence to every human being. He hates no thing that he has made. He cannot hate, because he is love. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He has made no human being for perdition, nor ever rendered it impossible, by any necessitating decree, for any fallen soul to find mercy. He has given the fullest proof of his love to the whole human race by the incarnation of his Son, who tasted death for every man…. It has been well observed that, although God is holy, just, righteous, holiness, justice, abstract, as he is here called LOVE. This seems to be the essence of the Divine nature, and all other attributes to be only modifications of this.” (Adam Clark’s Commentaries on Scripture as quoted from http://www.studylight.org.)
Many in the church have also harped on this point, mainly which love is the essential attribute of the triune God. The church father Augustine, himself, stated that God as trinity could be best understand in this context that God stands as lover, beloved, and the love which passes between them. In this sense of three persons in one essence, united in love one for another, we can only understand God as the example community of love. Scripture, itself, would define this type of love in this way:
“ If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-6 NRSV).
The Bishop N.T. has rightly recommended that when we read this passage, we substitute God for Love. If one follows this pattern, here is what we get:
“ 1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not God, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not God, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not God, I gain nothing.
4God is patient, God is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8God never fails.”
It is interesting, then that the passage continues:
“But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-12 NRSV).
I say this is interesting because it brings us to another point often surrounding this strange God of love: chiefly that He desires to command a people who follow Him into this kind of love. Listen to the prayer of Christ as He humbly submits Himself to the coming sacrifice of his body and soul upon the altar of the cross:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17: 20-26 NRSV).
Just as it is the love of God that brings each person to Him, it is the desire of God that each person would best represent that same love. John, himself, would write that “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (I John 3:16-18 NRSV). Peter, who argued with Paul over the inclusion of Gentiles in the faith, would eventually encourage his readers to “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 1:16-17 KJV). Last, Paul encouraged the Colossian church: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:11-13 KJV). And similarly he advised Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-8 KJV). As one follows the advise of those chose to the savior, one might just be able to “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1).
If one were to take these verses at face value and seek to place them at heart, one might just see a sea-change in their life. Imagine what it would mean to treat the poor Mexican family to a buffet of sacrificial love instead of fear, and mistrust. Imagine what it would mean to greet the fag with this kind of love, one that lays down it’s desire to be right and just be righteous. Imagine what it would mean to stand on a roadside and watch a funeral procession go past and imagine just what kind of sign one might write for the eyes of these poor grieving individuals. Granted anyone from that church or any number of people who grasped at my status-line might protest, “But once again what of God’s holiness, should we not stand up for that? Should we not stand up for righteous conduct? Should we not confront our brothers with the sins of their lives?” To that line of questioning I would say, “But of course.” Holiness does matter and in each of the scriptures quoted above, there is nearby a call to righteousness and clean living. Love and righteous go hand in hand, but only one of these is called the greatest attribute we should attain. Furthermore we are called to do one of these in the pursuit of the other. Going even further if one must pour deeper in scripture, one might see that those calls to holiness often describe God’s great love for humanity and how He has given his life for these people. The call to righteousness can only be seen in this context: that of a man hanging dying and dangling from a tree. As Paul put in best in his letter to the Roman Church:
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and wec boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but wed also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:1-11 NRSV).
How then can we say that God hates that which He willingly died to save? If the Mexican, soldier, or fag was worth so high a price, how can we degrade it? In a world in which hatred and violence seems to grow on trees, would it not be lovely to find someone who lives and breathes this kind of loving righteousness. A perfect example of this love can be found in the prophet Hosea, who God had marry a prostitute. In this image of a righteous man married to an unrighteous woman, we find an example of God and His people, and in this image we find out just what sort of God we serve, and what sort of God we are to imitate. Going back to the ill-chosen verse on the front page of the fag-haters, one is reminded of the God who reaches out to the least, the lost, and lonely and says, “enter into my rest.” This God who calls, and then watches in horror as many turn from this call and bring destruction down upon their own head; this God is our God and we are to be His people. Our mission should we choose to accept it, is to advance this call, and grasp unto this God, and occasionally gasp in horror as someone limits themselves to the death which comes apart from His presence. And when they do we are called not to laugh, but to lay down our lives that they might find life. And the last time I checked there was nothing in the playbook about that kind of love putting on t-shirts with cutting, cruel slogans, or treating others as second class beings or nuisances who do not belong here because they did not have to foresight to be born here. No, I think that our God would call us to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.
I love the story of Desmond Tutu. In his account of fighting Apartheid, he would call up the worst offenders (often titular Christians) amd invite them to join the winning side. He would also caution his followers to pray for their oppressors. Tutu did this because he felt that the hate and anger of the white colonists was becoming something that did not just destroy the African brother but the white oppressor as well. Yet he had faith that eventually the love of God would break out in his country and white and black would come together as brothers and sisters in power of Christ’s redemptive purposes. I would like to offer that prayer and that offer here as well. To those scared that the brown brother is here to steal your job and destroy your country, i say join the winning team. Love your brown brothers and sisters. Give them jobs, and support and show them what it means to be in the melting pot that has been America for the past 200 years. To those worried that fags are leading are country into disarray, I say love the fag, hug the queer, and kiss the transgendered. We may not always agree on what constitutes the good life, but we can treat each other with mutual respect. We can agree to disagree with honor.
I guess were I to create a sign for the signers, I would use this verse, “My soul will weep in secret for your pride; My eyes will weep bitterly And run down with tears, Because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.” Yes Satan is alive and well and leading people unto destruction, but sometimes it is the very church of Christ that He is leading astray. May the God of all mercy have mercy on those too proud to show mercy.
 Though this is an easy concept to state, it is much harder to prove or discuss empirically. For a mostly disasterous, but well-meaning attempt at just such a feat, one might read the work of Steven Keillor. For his discussion of 9-11, see Keillor, Steven. God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill.; 2007). He actually makes several insightful comments about how American policy predicated the attack, but America being stupid does not prove God’s handiwork. For his enlarged discussion of America at large see: Keillor, Steven. This Rebellious House: American History and the Truth of Christianity. (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill.; 1996). Once again I give the guy kudos for showing how America got slavery and other institutions wrong, but again, does not prove God’s involvement. For an example which fails miserably and has no redeeming content whatsoever read the comments of Pat Robertson on any of tragedies of the last 10 years.