Just finished Love Wins by Rob Bell. The last two chapters were the most powerful to me. This hit me from page 187 where he’s reflecting on the story of the Prodigal son,
Our badness can separate us from God’s love,
But our goodness can separate us from God’s love as
Neither son understands that the father’s love was never
about any of that. the father’s love cannot be earned,
and it cannot be taken away.
It just is.
Overall I’m not sure what to make of this book. I felt like a good portion of it floated over my head was a little too vague and hand-wavy. Bell’s writing style is interesting and no one can accuse him of trying to jam too many words onto a page.
The last two chapters were the tightest and packed the most punch. This book is a refreshing contrast to the “reward and punishment” view of Christianity espoused in books like like Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. I’m pretty sure Idleman got it wrong though I’m not convinced Bell gets it completely right either. Could be some good podcast material.
There’s a good chance this book is at your public library. I’m not sure that I’d recommend buying it, though I would recommend giving it a read through and if nothing else, simply reading the last two chapters.
I was in a strange period of reflection–feeling that I should be writing and yet not sure what to write about and another sensation of the need to be.
One Friday night I sat in front of the fire in the living room enjoying the warmth and beauty of the flames, poised to write in my journal and feeling the need to write somewhere and yet I also had a very strong sense of needing to just sit and be and let that be okay.
So I saw for almost an hour or more did nothing. There was something peaceful and refreshing about it. I did it again the next night too.
There is a tension between producing and progress and rest. Finding the balance between all three is difficult.
I was struck by this simple section on page 62 and an examination of the meaning of the words: sympathy, empathy, and compassion. The first two require some level of emotional involvement–the last one, a lot.
God is compassionate, loving kindness. All we’re asked to do is to be in the world who God is. Certainly compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus’ soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was. I heard someone say once, “Just assume the answer to every question is compassion.”
Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.
Kinship–not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.
It’s easy to think serving is the end, but just like compassion, it goes so much deeper than that. I suppose it is easier to “serve” someone and then move on–way harder and yet more meaningful to be with them, especially if the other holds different values that conflict with our own.
At Homeboy Industries, we seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them–and then we watch, from this priviledged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again. No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it–it is just that huge.
I personalized this as, “God made me exactly the way he had in mind.”
Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. “Being compassionate as God is compassionate,” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.
This is the real challenge. Compassion is a full commitment to another person–you have to be all-in, it costs something of you, and it might rub off on you.
I see this in regular relationships too. Sometimes it is scary and difficult to have compassion for someone you don’t understand. Or someone you’ve judged someone as having the wrong or strange reaction to a situation. I don’t want to bring them in towards me because it would be uncomfortable to hold their pain because I’d have to hold and look at their pain through a lens I think is weird or strange which means I might have to be weird or strange to be there with them.
Compassion really does require more of a commitment than empathetic listening.
I needed a break from my brain the other night during a business trip and started watching what I thought would be a heart-warming and somewhat cheesy movie called Unconditional. It was both, but the last line of the movie hit me over the head like a hammer.
What if God’s love is like the sun, constant and unchanging? What if you woke up one day and realized nothing can take that away?
It’s on Netflix streaming and I think it’s worth watching. What I liked most about it is that there were no bible verses or contrived dialog about God. The message came through the stories of the characters, much like some of the best things we learn from other people.
Things continue to evolve at a much slower pace than I would like, though I feel some significant things shifting.
I am pursuing the question of “How can I find and feel God’s love?” I’m less concerned with the questions of “Does God exist?” or “How can I trust God more?” or “Why isn’t God present in my life?” I think these questions get answered by the love question.
The other irony that strikes me is that (at least in my own experience), reading a book about trust rarely gives you more of it. The same as reading a book about lovedoesn’t rarely makes you feel more loved. They must both be experienced to really become a part of us instead of intellectually assented to from a book.
Another thing that occurs to me is that there are some really deep theological assumptions many Christians hold without realizing they hold them or any idea where they come from. Comparing the “5 star” reviews to the “1 star” reviews there’s a clear distinction between those who believe God permits or conducts evil to achieve good and those that do not.
That struck me as profound and caused me to wonder how many discussions about God never get off the ground because people are deeply rooted in one camp or the other and take their underlying assumptions for granted.
Many people are quick to point one verse in the Bible about “not forsaking the gathering with other believers.” This post at victorious.org about why church attendance is mandatory is a classic summation of all the “important” reasons. It’s the epitome of a classic prooftext including classic stuff like,
The writer of the Hebrew epistle tells us not to forsake assembling together, implying that continued absence can lead to willful sin
Last I checked the writer of the Hebrews had an original audience he was writing to. Might the same principles apply to us today? Perhaps. But don’t tell me that certain parts of the Bible are direct commands to me when in reality they were written in a letter by one person to a group of people in certain circumstances more than 2,000 years ago.
Many of these same people believe categorically that not doing everything that the Bible says to do is sin. I just don’t buy that. Of course they are the sole judges of which commands should be taken literally or not which in my book is trying to have it both ways.
At the church I stopped going to, the pastor was preaching through the book Isaiah and going on and on about “what Isaiah is telling US in this passage.” Again, last I checked, Isaiah was writing to the Jewish people thousands of years ago not people of the 21st century. Are there ideas and principles and parallels from then today? Sure, I’m cool with that. I’m not cool with claiming that Isaiah has a command or message to me today when I wasn’t his intended audience.
This is the classic backdrop for people who think the Bible is an owners manual and magic cookbook that tells you how to live the “correct” way. I like how Wayne refers to it here as not the manual for operating your VCR (Disc 6–How God Changes Us). I was also taken by how Wayne suggest to just start with experiencing God’s love and praying to understand it before any of the other stuff. That’s where I’m starting.