“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition of who I am. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” -Pope Francis
“Anyone who says ‘I love God more than people.’ Watch out, that person is going to hurt somebody.” -Richard Beck
Lately I’ve been reading our kids the Bible. The actual, real Bible, not the Children’s ones. I’ve tried to translate it to where they can understand it, but not edit it. Which means that they are hearing all the stories, Tamar sleeping with her Father-in-Law, God giving the Philistines hemorrhoids, and how David chops off giants heads, not just throwing stones.
Like I said, all of it.
I’m not sure that this is a good idea just yet, but I am sure of one thing, they are much more interested in story time.
One of the things I appreciate the most about the Bible is that the people in it are real human beings. They are deeply flawed 3 dimensional characters who can’t quite fit in our categories of good or bad…which really describes all of us.
So I started writing this Good and Evil series as a way to think through the show “Breaking Bad.” I wondered why this show was so incredibly popular across so many different demographics. And I think it’s because it helps each one of us explain ourselves to ourselves.
One of the more tragic parts of this show, is how Walt starts out to provide money for his family. He begins doing evil things for noble purposes. But the more the show progresses the more he destroys the thing he loves. Family members are killed and now he lives in a shed in New Hampshire and his son, who idolized him, now yells at him when he calls home.
The Road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but it still leads to the same place.
In the past decade of doing ministry I’ve been blessed to do is work alongside a lot of different non-profits, run by amazing and passionate people who want to make a difference for God, just like I do. But I’ve also noticed something…
Sometimes those of us who are the most driven to make a difference for Jesus, are the least like Jesus in the way they treat the people around them.
From ministers to NGO leaders to board members, we’re just as much a part of the problem as we are a part of the solution.
Tyler Wigg Stevenson is a founder of a large non-profit, and he says it this way:
“I frequently see…men and women whose good intentions and grand ambitions blind them to the terrible ways they interact with real human beings, including their coworkers and family. You’ll find leaders who love a concept-peace, community, flourishing and so on-but don’t seem to like people very much…[There are plenty of] activists who almost seem to wish that everyone would just get out of the way so they can get on with building a good society.”
In other words, one of the worst parts about developing a Messiah complex is that we stop caring so much about the people that we are trying to save. We just want them to get out of the way so we can save them.
A Sinners Prayer
Let me confess a bit here: I struggle with this everyday. I am pretty driven, and I have a lot of hope for the local Church and what kind of difference she can make in the world. So much so that I can get frustrated easily, I can be short-tempered when people disagree or don’t see the world the way I do.
And that brings me back to reading the Bible. Worked into the Bible, are thousands of stories very similar to Breaking Bad, and if read in their original context, just as tragic and gruesome. Including this powerful idea, that we can’t save the world, because we are a part of it, we are also a part of it’s problems.
Think about the first time Jesus meets a demon in the Gospels. It’s in the Synagogue. The first time Jesus is confronted by evil…it’s in church. And if you’ve spent much time around religious people, it probably doesn’t take much imagination to get this story. But it’s not just religious people, at least in the way we use the word, it’s anybody who is out to make a difference for good in the world.
Because the people who fall in love with their ideas about God or serving the world, are often the ones who hurt the people around them the most.
And maybe that’s why the Pope’s interview last week stunned the world so much. Because the most influential person, historically the most powerful person, in Christianity…defined himself not as God’s representative on earth, but as primarily a sinner. He captured the world’s attention, by using the most radical of Christian virtues: humility.
He was honest about Himself, so he could be honest about the Grace of God.
The truth is, all prayers are sinners prayers. And all ministry is broken and flawed. We cannot save the world, we aren’t the heroes we’ve dreamed we were. There is good and it’s worth fighting for, but there is evil and it tends to be what we use to fight with.
We have big plans, but we are called to be little Christ’s. And to be like Jesus, we have to remember that Jesus refused to separate what it meant to love God from what it meant to love and serve the person right in front of you.
And anything else, no matter how good the intentions may be, leads to a place none of us wants to go.