Jesus spends a surprising amount of his time being annoyed. He regularly seems to be rolling his eyes and biting his tongue, along the line of my reactions to one of my adult daughters. Admittedly, she has struggles, legitimate struggles. I know she is seriously ill; but when she asks me to make her popcorn–something normal people do for themselves–it is hard not to let my eyes roll and to sigh with resignation and almost despair. Like, how hard is it to make popcorn? Take the bag out of the box, remove the plastic wrapper, stick it in the microwave on the right side, and then hit the button that says “Popcorn”. Terribly hard. Admittedly, she wants me to add some melted butter and some salt and to put it in a bowl. But really, that’s so hard that only I can do it? She tells me I do it better than her. How, because I “make it with love?” Or am I making it with “hate?”
Jesus isn’t like me at all. That’s an important point, really, that we get wrong all the time. Our perspective rarely lines up with God’s. Our opinions are not God’s opinions. Most of what we think is important, most of our views, God probably doesn’t agree with us. If he were like our so-called friends on Facebook, he would have unfriended us long ago, justifying it like the meme I’ve seen: “I’m not unfriending you because your opinion is different than mine, I’m unfriending you because what you believe is evil. It’s an issue of morality. That’s different!”
No, we do not hold God’s opinions. The best illustration of this is from an event in the Old Testament during the time of Joshua. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, God has finally brought his people to the promised land, let Moses see it and appointed Joshua to lead God’s people into the land that he had promised to give them, that he had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had blocked the Jordan River so they could cross over, fed them mana, protected them, helped them. And now they are on the verge of beginning the conquest.
And then you get this incident (Joshua 5:13-14):
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
Even in the middle of doing precisely what God wanted them to do, the answer to the question, “are you on our side or the side of our enemies” is “neither.” That tells us an enormous amount about the gap between us and God, getting at attitude, opinion, motivation, our hearts and minds verses his. God told Isaiah:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
We look at the world through the lens of morality, of what is right and what is wrong, which seems like a good thing. God looks at the world through the lens of Matthew 7:12, which comes at the end of these words beginning at verse 7:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
We live by Matthew 7:12, “do to others what you would have them do to you” very rarely, in very narrow circumstances. God sends rain on the just and the unjust: those who deserve it and those who don’t. He loved us so much that he died for us when we were his enemy. Not just when we were stupid, not just when we were making bad choices, but when we were actively fighting against him. Because he did for us what he would wish us to do for him.
Even when we are doing what God wants us to do, even when we say what God wants us to say, we’re still not holding God’s opinions. Even when our intentions are good, we are not in agreement with God and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
That’s why Paul could write in Philippians 1:15-18:
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Our motivations are impure, our attitudes are off, we are selfish. This is why Proverbs 3:5 is so critical to keep in mind at all times:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…”
Because our own understanding is mostly wrong.
During the American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln met with a group of clergy. Toward the end of the meeting one of them asked, “Mr. President, would you like to join us in prayer that God would be on our side?”
And Abraham Lincoln’s response was, “I won’t join you in that prayer, but I’ll join you in a prayer that we would be on God’s side.”