What have we as a church been teaching theologically that makes women in prostitution believe they can’t talk to God? That makes them believe they can’t ask for help in the midst of a rough situation? What is the theology we’re communicating that makes these women believe they have to have their lives cleaned up in order to earn God’s ear and grace and forgiveness before he’d intervene in their lives and situations?
Just last month I was sitting across the table from a woman in her early 20’s. She sat nervously pushing her food around her plate, avoiding eye contact and bouncing her leg up and down. She asked me repeatedly “do you think I am going to Hell?”
I met a young woman out on the track the other night, she couldn’t have been older than 17. She was terrified of her situation, hopeless and wanting help but felt too far gone. When we offered prayer she responded with nervous laughter and told us that she didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
I was talking to a lovely woman who has become a very dear friend to me over the last few years the other day and she began recounting a very dangerous situation she had managed to break free from – with many scrapes, bruises and a couple broken ribs to tell the tale. A john had grown increasingly violent and started to strangle and beat her. And in that moment, she told me, “I wanted to cry out to God to help me, to save my life. I wanted to pray, God just don’t let me die like this! But I knew he would never hear me. After the life I’ve lived…there is no way God would still hear my prayers or let me into Heaven.”
What have we as a church been teaching that makes each of them so convinced they are going to hell – that they are beyond redemption? That they don’t even deserve the ear of God anymore, that he is so far removed from them, he no longer desires to hear their voice?
Last time I checked, I was told each time I cheated, or lied or had lust in my heart or was gluttonous – I was free to turn back to God again and again and again. So why do we make certain sins unredeemable and DIRTY. I think that’s the difference. A life of prostitution, and those who are trapped in it whether it is their choice or not, is so taboo, something we can’t even really address or talk about from a pulpit so they are alienated. If their sin is so dirty we can’t even TALK about it in church, no wonder they think it’s too severe for God’s ears.
But Christ, by his death and resurrection – and even before that by his life on earth as a human – has redeemed these women – they are made in his very image, the imagio Dei. The baptism of Jesus paints a picture of our identity in God. Christ’s worth was not based on his merits, work, miracles or anything he did during his ministry on earth. God declared him “my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) before he had a chance to do anything, good or bad, to base the formation of his identity on. The fact that Jesus got baptized at all shows incredible solidarity with us as sinners. Baptism signifies repentance, and Jesus, the only human being who did not need to repent, identifies with humanity in its brokenness. He is not ashamed of us and is proud our identity is in him
Jürgen Moltmann in his book “God in Creation” says it well when he says, “What is evil only emerges in the light of what is good, in the same way sin can merely pervert something which God has created, but cannot destroy it. Sin is the perversion of the human being’s relationship to God, not its loss” (p. 233).
So the next time you talk to someone about the accessibility of God and their possibility of going to Hell (which may or may not exist – but that’s a conversion for another day :)) think about the implications you are having. I realize that most who have this conversation or make this accusation are doing this out of a deep deep love for God and desire to see someone living their life in a way that is evident of no sin. But there is a bigger picture at play: addictions, systemic abuse, oppression, manipulation, violence, etc. And we would do well to show grace in the face of all of these things, to show love above anything else and to leave eternal damnation to God. For we would not want to prohibit any attempt these men and women make to reach God by intimidating them that he’d never hear them in the first place. The church should be the place that radically loves.
And for anyone reading who may think that they’ve fallen too far and no longer have a right to the ear of God: no matter what you do, ever, you remain in the image of God. Nothing can take that away. Into God’s image you were created, and sin can only pervert that not take it away as long as God continues to adhere to it. And I believe in a mighty faithful and loving God that won’t let go of you, no matter how unloved and unredeemable you may feel you are. Just reach out – he’s there.
The 10 commandments are something we as Christians generally think are really important. But somehow we think we can ignore Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”
Somehow we as a society have equated being overworked and having no boundaries as being successful and dedicated. We are slowing killing ourselves with our work ethic.
And to make matters even worse, we think those that have healthy boundaries are doing something wrong. The ministry I work with, After Hours, makes it mandatory that all our volunteers and employees take one weekend a month off and one month a year – so we are sure that we are getting the rest and rejuvenation that we need. When the director of our program took her first month of sabbatical off it was amazing the number of people that privately asked us if she was being disciplined or was having trouble and that was why she was stepping away from ministry for a month.
How did we get to this place where rest is seen as weakness? How is it that we feel if we take time away we are signifying LESS of a commitment to something than if we were to come back at it rested and with new perspective?
Jesus often lead by example in this area – when ministry was really heating up, just when the disciples were seeing results, Christ would say, stop – rest. Mark 6:30-31: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not eve have a chance to eat, he said to them, come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
How counter-intuitive! NOW is the time to keep pressing on. The people were hungry for the message. Whatever they were doing was working! They were in a rhythm! But Jesus called for rest knowing that our worth is not in what we do, but in who we are – and who we are cannot be strengthened when we never stop to feed, reflect and nourish our souls.
And I love the picture of Luke 23 of the women who had come to the tomb to wrap Christ’s body and prepare it for burial. Christ, their leader, their beloved had just DIED. Don’t you think they would drop everything to see that he was properly taken care of and buried? Verses 55-56 say: “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
Not even the burial of our Lord and Savior was enough of a reason to get these women to break the Sabbath commandment. Surely that impatient client isn’t one either.
Kurt Fredrickson says: “[A Sabbath] lifestyle is confession and declaration that we are not necessary. It is hard to admit, but we are dispensable. We are worthwhile and we do good work. We are loved and cherished, but we are not necessary. The work will go on without me. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. We need a more sobered attitude about our work and ourselves. Too much of what we do is wrapped up in us proving to ourselves, and others and God how valuable and necessary we are. Sabbath living declares my worth is not in what I do.”
So what about you? What are the things that keep you from investing in Sabbath? What do you fear you’ll miss out on or lose if you take the time to break away?