In February 2012, David Brooks in an article in The New York Times, ‘How to Fight the Man’, related the story of Jefferson Bethke, a 22-year-old man. Bethke had ‘produced a video called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”. Brooks noted that Bethke argued: ‘Jesus preaches healing, surrender and love,… but religion is rigid, phony and stale. “Jesus came to abolish religion”…’
‘The video went viral…,’ Brooks commented. ‘It speaks for many young believers who feel close to God but not to the church. It represents the passionate voice of those who think their institutions lack integrity — not just the religious ones,…’
According to the article, Kevin DeYoung, one of the many who replied, ‘pointed out,… it is biblically inaccurate to say that Jesus hated religion…. In fact, Jesus preached a religious doctrine, prescribed rituals and worshiped in a temple.’
Brooks noted that ‘Bethke responded in a way that was humble, earnest and gracious,…’ Apparently Bethke responded to DeYoung: “…I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100 percent.”
I refer to this article of David Brooks because we are seeing in the current electoral processes in Britain, Australia and the United States the way the integrity of institutions is being questioned – and not just amongst the young.
It was interesting to read an interview with the actor Kevin Sorbo on Fox News (July 1, 2016) about the new film, Joseph and Mary. Sorbo commented: ‘the problems in America would be avoided if people had “any moral principles — any biblical principles in their [lives].”’ He further remarked that ‘fans ask him every day to continue making faith-based, family-friendly films’.
With these thoughts in mind we might ask how we relate with one another and how others in the wider community see us. Do we come across to others in the wider community as people who live out our faith, people of integrity, or judgmental and unforgiving?
In Luke 6:37ff we read Jesus’ further words in his Sermon on the Plain: ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
Judging others indicates a critical, condemning attitude that ignores the reality that we all fail God. It is important that we distinguish judging from discerning.
Closely linked to Jesus’ command not to judge is the one not to condemn. Whereas judging suggests an attitude of mind, condemning reflects an emotion of the heart and the will.
Judgmental and condemning attitudes spring from a patronizing self-righteousness that forgets we all stand condemned by God (Romans 14:10-12). Jesus graphically condemns this in his parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:11-14).
Judgment and condemnation have the same outcome – a breakdown in relationships. Forgive, and you will be forgiven challenges us to forgive from the heart everyone who has wronged us personally.
This does not remove the right of the courts to uphold justice for the good order of society – as we read in Romans 13:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13-14.
MESSAGE OF LOVE
Furthermore, the command to forgive doesn’t mean that sin is to be overlooked or brushed aside. However, we need to keep in mind that God chose to forgive us through a costly means that perfectly satisfied his righteousness. We in turn are called on to resolve broken relationships with one another.
If we expect God to forgive us, we should be prepared to show mercy and forgive those who wrong us. In Colossians 3:13 we read: Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Our failure to show mercy to one another reveals an unrepentant spirit, and an unrepentant spirit is hardly honest and humble enough to receive God’s pardon and deliverance.
How then do we relate to one another? Does the world around us today say, as Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century: ‘See how those Christians love one another’? Are we as God’s people known for our integrity – known as a forgiven people who hold out a message of love and forgiveness?
© John G. Mason
Note 1: During June and July, my Word on Wednesday is adapted from my commentary, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God (Aquila: 2012), pp.80-96