Monday, June 2, 2008

God's Not Like That

I heard him when I was walking out of the building supply store in town--a gentleman who attends the same church as me. I had politely waved hello on my way in, but he was on his cell phone so I didn't stop to talk. As the door clanged shut behind me I heard the yelling and a chain of four letter words that clanged into my ears and fell like rocks into my gut. It was him--the friendly man I see every Sunday letting somebody have it like they'd never gotten it before. Nausea climbed the walls of my stomach like biscuit dough rising; I was stunned. "Please God," I mumbled. "Let that be someone else I'm hearing." But it wasn't someone else. The very man who praises Jesus with the best of them on Sunday was cursing another human on Friday. And I couldn't shake it. Of course there is hypocrisy in the church. Of course there are sinners in the church. If there weren't sinners we wouldn't need church in the first place and we certainly wouldn't need God. And frankly, most days, I feel like Paul did--chief among them. But never, in my thirty-one years have I actually come face to face with a person who lived two different lives. I've got no problem with someone struggling and being real about it. I can relate to that--I struggle too, daily. And I've got no problem with somebody spouting out some four letter words like a faucet that drips. None of us are one hundred percent sanctified--we're all works in progress and God's love is not conditional upon our perfection. These aren't things I question, but I've never met somebody who flat out pretends to be one thing and then is something else entirely. So when that reality stared me down, it knocked the wind right out of me. I wanted to forgive him immediately. Maybe it was just a really bad day, but the words he said weren't strange to him--they were as familiar as my cup of half-caff coffee first thing in the morning. I prayed and asked God to help me to see how I am no different. In God's eyes, speaking venomous words is no different than being judgmental of another Christian. I knew God's will for me was to love this Christian struggling on his journey and let God have room to work in his life. This man needed only grace and the truth is that if someone were to catch me in a weak moment I would plead the same from them. There are days when I wish I could just wear a t-shirt that says, "I'm not perfect. In fact, I'm horribly flawed, but look inside my heart and I promise you'll see I am as sincere as I can be in my desire to obey God and love Him." So forgiveness of this man was not in question--I forgave him and prayed for him, his marriage, his business and his family. But the words he said ran through my mind over and over and over and over for the next two days. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was genuinely disappointed. When it came to mind I prayed about it. Judging this man was not my intention, but I just couldn't shake the shocking difference between what this guy claimed and what he really was. It wasn't until Sunday at church when we were singing that God spoke to my spirit. We were singing the words "Holy Holy Holy..." and it was like God whispered into my heart, "Sarah, that's why you sing about my holiness--because I really am what I say I am. You're upset because this guy wasn't what you thought him to be, but I am without question everything I claim to be." In that moment I realized something for the first time on a very practical level. Of course I've known it intellectually, but God used this man to visually show me the difference between God and humanity. There is not one single claim that God makes about Himself that we will ever find untrue. God's holiness is sort of a sacred topic. I always get pictures of stained glass and cathedrals when the word holy comes up. To me, God's being holy is sort of like having pate when His being a friend is more like cheese whiz for me. One's just a little more familiar and comfortable than the other. But here's the thing--God's holiness is really one of the most down to earth concepts we'll ever chew on in our Christian walk. Holiness literally means "set apart." God's different. He's not the same as what we know in human terms. Every single negative human interaction we've ever had could be bagged up like lawn clippings and left. God's not like those experiences. He's different. It's that simple. He's holy--different--unique--unlike what we know. On the other hand, you could take every single positive experience you've ever had and bag that up too. When compared to God--He's still just way different. You see video of children in third world countries content to play with a jagged tin can because they've never known the luxury and joy of toys that westerners know. All of our greatest human experiences are like that tin can compared to what we'll know when we interact with God. He's still just better--not like anything or anyone else. Exodus 15:11 says, "Who is like you, O Lord among the gods? Who is like you? Majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?" Did you know that the word holy appears almost three times to every one time the word faith appears in scripture? Obviously God's holiness is crucial for the follower of Christ to grasp. The reason this is so important is because ultimately it's in Him we put our faith, our hope, our needs, our hurts, our dreams, our desires, our most intimate thoughts. We trust Him with the precious contents of our lives--our children, our marriages, our finances, our parents, our siblings, our illnesses--and we need to know that we know that we know that He is WAY different than anybody else. When he says, "I'm good." Count on it. He's good. And when He says, "I will be with you always." Bank on it. He's not leaving. And when He claims that He can bind the broken hearted and set captives free. Go ahead and bring Him the pieces of your heart and drag those chains to His feet. He'll heal. He'll free. He'll restore. He'll help. He'll love. He'll be patient. He'll be long suffering. He'll love. He'll love more. And He'll love even after you've done unforgivable, unforgettable things. Because He's not like us--He always forgives. He always throws our sins as far as the east from the west. He's holy and that is the foundation on which we must recognize we are standing. You and I, my friend, stand on the back of a God who will not let us down, will not disappoint us, will not waver, will not change. Jesus said, "In this world, you'll have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) We are inevitably going to deal with other broken, sinful humans. There's not a one of us that couldn't have a day like the guy at the building store. If we look around at the people that surround us we will always be disappointed. It may take someone a while before you find a crack and with others, you'll see or experience gaping chasms right away, but count on it like the sun rising--people will let you down. But Jesus overcame this world--he already did the human thing and defied it by rising from death. If our faith is hinged upon our fellow Christian's infallibility, we're in big trouble. But when our faith is firmly planted in our holy heavenly Father, we are rooted like a six by six in cement. What I saw that day at the building store was a picture of the things that God is not. But what must grieve God's heart so desperately is that so often we treat Him as if He is like that man. We had a stray dog show up to our house a few years ago. Every time my husband went near him, he'd cower and tuck his tail in as though bracing himself for a blow. We wanted so desperately for that poor dog to know we'd never hit him--that we weren't like what he had previously known. It's the same way with God. So often we cower before him bracing ourselves for disappointment or worse yet, we stray away like that dog had done because we figure that when things get difficult He'll hurt us. We never give Him the chance to prove His holiness and we never experience the peace of dwelling in the shelter of His character. The ironic thing is that the nearer we come to God the more we will mirror His image. The closer we are to a God who is holy the more we will convey His holiness to a world desperately needing to experience the relief of knowing the God who will never let them down. If we embrace God from a distance--a Sunday only kind of relationship--we'll never know intimately the thrill of a relationship based on complete truth. I cling to God's holiness when I'm not sure how to raise my children--God's not like employers I've had who've given me jobs and not given me the training to complete the task. I stand on God's holiness when the economy is falling apart and peers are losing their homes--God wasn't just blowing smoke when He promised to "supply all your needs according to his glorious riches..." I praise the holiness of God when again I've fallen or failed in some area because He and He alone forgives unceasingly. His promise of being "faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness..." wasn't just a bunch of pretty words. He is what He says He is, He does what He says He'll do, He provides what He promises to provide, He helps, He saves, He redeems, He shelters, and He will not go back on anything in His Word. For every moment you are tempted to question, to doubt, to worry, to wonder, to give up, to quit, may you remember that you are loved with an everlasting love by a God who will not change because He's just not like that. He's holy. Worth reading: Psalm 99, Psalm 103 Listen: Holy is the Lord--Chris Tomlin You Are Holy--Michael W. Smith has a good version Holy--Nicole Nordeman


Breath of Fresh Air said...

I don't feel I'm being judgemental. I disagree with you. Someone who has been a Christian for a long time and has a good testimony in church but foul language during the week reminds me of Jesus words that good and bad water doesn't come from the same fountain. And He does say we shall know people by their fruits. Now if he were a new Christian I could understand that he might not be convicted of it yet.

Sarah said...

Breath of Fresh Air,
Thank you for reading--I'm so glad you had a chance to stop by. Isn't it wonderful that even when our fellow believers do show bad fruit we can look to God and see His faithfulness. The beauty of our heavenly Father is that He is not like us in this way. He never fails and never disappoints! I hope you'll stop by again.