17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
I could go on a long, redundant rant about how important it is to show love always, but I feel like we’ve been there before; I’d rather take another approach for once.
Lyndsey and I have been swapping Bible verses lately. We want to make it part of a weekly tradition, and discuss what we’ve learned from the verse and debate our interpretation, if necessary. This week’s verse was mine to choose, and I chose John 3:17, partly because the Christmas season just passed us (unless you believe that Christmas decorations should stay up until February like I always begged my parents to do) and partly because it’s something that’s always on my mind.
The New Yorker did a profile feature on a young woman who left Westboro Baptist church. Honestly, if you haven’t read that story, please read it through to the very end. The last sentence brought a tear to my eye. The story touches home with me not because I’m estranged from my family and home church, but because I recognize how important it is to expand your horizons and find faith in what works for you. Your faith is yours, friends. Be mindful of what your religious text is truly teaching you, but don’t forget that your relationship with God is a personal relationship for a reason. Often times, churches and Christian communities can be very focused on the condemnation called out in the Bible, but don’t realize the historical context behind it. They forget about the love that the New Testament actually speaks of far more often than they should. The ending of the aforementioned profile–without giving too much away–is a message of redemption. Somehow, despite all the years of hate, love spoke through. God’s love.
Essentially what Megan Phelps-Roper learned, from parting from the church, is that the world isn’t as sinful and scary as she had been taught–there isn’t a reason to turn your nose up in disgust at everyone and everything (to look at the world as if it’s nothing more than a ball of mass in space that God will soon smite down). It’s more important to keep your eyes open, to constantly learn and to constantly love. To be aware, but not to condemn. It’s okay to expose yourself to the world. It’s okay to relate and to appreciate the world around you.
I remember, years ago, I posted on Twitter that I wanted to try yoga (wiped me out, by the way). A friend jumped on the Tweet, instantly, and said that I shouldn’t because of its connections to Hinduism. I’m not trying to tempt fate with Shiva, or “open myself up to” something I shouldn’t. My goal is to get fit and stretch out my body. Yoga’s roots are buried in Hinduism, yes, but just like language, food and fashion, exercise and therapy is yet another thing that we have adapted from other cultures. If my friend heard that the Hindu diet included a lot of eggs and meat, would he–for fear of “mingling” with something he shouldn’t–stop eating eggs and meat? Not likely. I don’t intend to meditate to another deity, I intend to practice the yoga we have adapted in our society as part of relaxation and exercise. In fact, sometimes when I am doing yoga, I spend some time thinking positive thoughts, counting my blessings and praying. A couple of years before that, one of the first things I was told by my (loving) preacher when I was accepted into college was: “You be careful out there. We read stories all the time of students losing their faith when they go away to school.” I definitely get what he meant, but just that fear in what he said made me feel like I was being warned more than being congratulated for my hard efforts in school. Why as Christians, if we are saved by the grace of God, should we be so afraid?
There is simply no reason to act as if this world is out to get you. Yet some are–some are so afraid to go outside of what they know because of verses in the Bible that speak of being fearful of the sins of the world. I get it, you’re living by the Word, but remember what John 3:17 says? The Bible (and God) never asked you to hide away, it asked you to keep your eyes open. God never intended us to be hermits. He never wanted us to condemn the world. He wanted us to show it love and appreciate the life we do have while we’re here.
As someone who has explored only a few corners of this world, all I can think about some days is how much I want to spend the rest of my life exploring even more. Perhaps that’s the journalist in me. I want to try new foods, meet new people, see new places, visit anything from small village shops to large temples of greater historical value than little ol’ me. I want to write about it all and share that wonder with others. God created the world and us in it. That’s why it’s important to show it all love. That’s why it’s important to remember Jesus’s radical role in religion and faith and remind ourselves that the way we box ourselves in as Christians isn’t healthy or wise.
How can we show God’s love and spread His Word if we spend literally our entire lives confined to a small section of the world and the same people always? More importantly, how can we even determine what’s right for ourselves in faith and life if someone else is always pulling our strings?
Don’t be afraid of this world. Show it some love. God didn’t go through all the trouble of saving it for us to shy away from it.