That’s Not Our Biggest Problem

That’s Not Our Biggest Problem January 4, 2022

I came across another notable Christian last week who was proposing, as so many do these days, that the Christian life, or faith, or whatever it is, should be boiled down to the pithy maxim “love God, love your neighbor.” If only all Christians would just do that, this person reiterated, everything would pretty well fall into place and a lot of our problems would go away. Some—though this person didn’t explicitly go that far—suggest that this idea of “loving God loving your neighbor” is, in fact, the Gospel, the very Good News that Jesus came on purpose to vouchsafe unto us.

The notable Christian writer went on to position this important command, that one should “love God and neighbor” in opposition to the sort of “Bible Knowledge” that many Evangelicals grew up expecting was going to be their salvation. If they just memorized enough verses and won enough AWANA prizes, they would have the assurance of eternal happiness with God. That “gospel” the author asserted, needs to give way to this new one of “love.”

I have, as I said, heard this idea before. It is very popular now and has microscopic grains of truth inside it—namely that, if you parrot all the words of the Bible on cue to whoever demands them of you but have not love, you will probably not be happy and may not even be a Christian. “Head Knowledge” as some call it, eventually has to produce, or at least be in the service of “Heart Knowledge.” Even Satan can quote the Bible but loveth not the Lord, obv.

But the idea that Christians now know the Bible at all I do find specious. And the way that we can know that Christians now don’t “know” (in any of the multifaceted layers of that word) the Scriptures is because most of them do think that “love God love your neighbor” is good news and not the terrifying weight of the Law that is supposed to make you despair of yourself and your own loves and run to the mercy of Christ for the actual gospel which is that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. Love, too many Christians today believe, is just “love.”

So anyway, as I was clicking away from that notable Christian writer, I landed on two supposedly provocative items from America’s Paper of Record that are, nevertheless, not provocative at all, but are the thing that everyone thinks already.

The first is by a person who has had enough of not being loved—even though she admits that she basically is—and so has taken up the discipline of sending herself affirming and loving notes, along with small presents:

When I picked it up, the chocolate shop’s owner chuckled and said she loved the note. Reading it back to myself behind my steering wheel, the chocolate bar in one hand and the note in the other, was an affirmation. Yes, I do deserve it. The act of writing the note forced me to snap out of my funk and acknowledge that I’m doing my best. Reading it back further reinforced the message. All it took was $6 (a fancy chocolate bar, indeed) and my words in someone else’s handwriting to lift me out of a slump that day. No one else was going to do that for me, because no one is in my head reading the internal news ticker of my emotional state. This new habit isn’t foolproof. Sometimes, the note gets overlooked by a vendor. But, hey, the act of typing it is half the battle. Stopping to consciously think about what I want to celebrate about myself at that moment is part of the point. But when the note is there, it’s that much sweeter. Of course, I could just write myself a note without buying a gift, but where’s the fun in that?

Because “love” as all of us know, should be fun—and “spontaneous”:

Part of the joy of this expression of self-love is the spontaneity. When will my not-so-secret admirer strike again? Only time will time will tell. In the meantime, I have the notes I’ve written to myself previously scattered around the house as little reminders, to me, from me.

What I “love” about American culture now is that everyone believes—even Christians, sadly—that love in its greatest and weightiest glory is little more than warm feelings of emotional affirmation. It’s possible, of course, to give those feelings to God and other people, but because they are a limited commodity, stuck in shipping containers of the coast of California, they must first be lavished upon oneself. Loving anyone else only ever comes after the greatest love of all—ME.

But also, let’s take a quick glance at this interview with a notable American poet. The poet finds her students reticent to talk about race, and thinks that they shouldn’t be, because none of them own slaves now or anything. But she also thinks that an end to abortion will amount to the enslavement of all American women. Women, she declares, will be the new Blacks. But the part that really surprised me was her answer to the question of whether there could be any redemption for Kyle Rittenhouse:

No. I don’t think there’s any hope for redemption for him. One of the reasons that I don’t is that I as a Christian know that Jesus didn’t love everybody. When he was on the cross, he turned to the man on the right to comfort him, and the man on the right said, “You say you’re God, but you’re up here with the rest of us.” Jesus, he realized, That’s a fool, and I’m not going to waste my time on a fool. He turned to the man on his left, and the man on his left said, “I do believe you are God.” And Jesus said to him, “You will be with me today in heaven.” You can’t assume that every fool is going to be saved. Because they’re not.

But what about empathy, asked the interviewer.

I don’t think empathy is a burden, and I’m not trying to say who deserves it. I’m saying that I can’t. If God says, “Nikki, I gotta write this check on you because you hate,” I would say, “I understand, because I do hate.” I hate Donald Trump. I hate what he’s done to our nation. So I will pay for my hatred. I don’t mind.

Sooo, I don’t want to be obtuse or anything, but I think it is important to note that not everyone who says they are a Christian—just like back in the day not everyone who could find the passage the fastest during a sword drill—is a Christian. Also, the biggest problem for Christians today is not that they know the Bible too well. Or that they know how to read it. Or that they are even bothering to scroll past it on their phones. Or that they go to church too much and listen to too many sermons.

The biggest problem for Christians today is that they don’t know the Scriptures—either with their heads or with their hearts. They, just like everyone in human history, are not able to love God or their neighbors. They can’t keep the greatest pillars of the law, the bit out of which everything else flows. They do only love themselves and are incurious and unempathetic about God and everyone else. I think it would be so lovely if notable Christian influencers and thought leaders would not drive wedges between knowledge of the scriptures (both with the head and the heart) and being able to know and love God. In fact, I wish they would join me (Noted Christian Influencer ™) in begging everyone to crack open the text for just a minute, and decipher its strange and unhappy meaning by hard work, sweat, and then humble acceptance of and obedience to its words.

For indeed, when Jesus turned to the thief on the cross and proclaimed, “today you will be with me in paradise,” he was not saying “I’m not going to waste my time on that other fool.” At that very moment, he was spilling out his redemption of the world in his own blood–a world that hates him. It is a complicated and devastating question about who is saved and who is not and why—one that Christians have toiled to understand for two thousand years now. It is true, though, that the fool says in his heart that there is no God, and that loving ourselves instead of God is the most foolish thing any of us do. It is a waste of time, and can only be cured by staring at those pages full of small words and letting the God who put all those words there pour out his blood on your soul to cure you of all your ignorance and sin.

Oh goodness! My blogging time is up. Have a nice day!

Photo by Emmanuel Phaeton on Unsplash

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