Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and the One Verse

Another episode from the weekly webcast A Mirror Darkly: unbridled inquiry (Saturday’s at 4 PM Pacific Time) simulcast on Facebook Live and our YouTube channel. This webcast discussed intersectionality, critical race theory, and the One Verse (Matthew 7:12).

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Becoming Nazi

Martin Niemöller wrote:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Who are the “they” that Niemöller writes of?  People will read this and see it only as a warning against the Nazis, failing to recognize that “they” is also “us.”  We want to imagine that the Nazis are a unique, unprecedented evil.  We want to dehumanize and other them, because if we don’t, then we are denied the comforting conceit that we are of course better than the Nazis, that we cannot possibly turn into them ourselves. 

But the terrifying reality is that we are all a little bit Nazi because what the Nazis were in their hearts is common to all humanity.  We easily demonize those whom we have decided deserve to be demonized.  We join in condemnation of those whom all “right thinking” people see as obvious demons. We aren’t the bad guys.  We can never be the bad guys.  Only “they” are bad guys. Only those we decide are inhuman are bad guys.  Not all lives matter if those lives are people all good folk rightly despise and recognize as evil.  It is a moral imperative to stand against hate!

In reality, we can trade out any class, any gender, any ideology, any political party, any religion, and any ethnicity from that poem. We can replace “communist” with “libertarian” or “democrat” with “republican” or “leftist” with “right” or “Tory” with “Labor.”  We can replace “Jews” with “blacks” or “whites” with “Asians” or “Hispanics” with “illegals” or “Christians” with “Muslims” or “atheists” with “Catholics” or “deniers” with “sheeple.” 

The point is that it is human nature to “other” those with whom we disagree, to justify our hatred, and to imagine that our hatred is not hatred but rather it is justified and righteous indignation.  It isn’t just “Nazi” nature or “right wing” nature or “left wing” nature. 

And so those who demonize their political opponents, or religious opponents, or whatever opponents are always certain that they are righteous altogether, and those on the other side are evil altogether.  They are always as righteous and full of love and hope and justice as any human ever is when they attack their enemies, when they disparage those who disparage them, when they hate those who hate them.

Niemöller’s words are not just warning us about Nazis.  He’s warning us about ourselves.

We are not allowed this very human way of living.

We must instead, abide by the one verse “do to others as you’d have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).  Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5:14, and Romans 13:9).  And our neighbor includes the people we can’t stand the most, it includes those who are our enemies, those who disagree with everything we hold dear, those who would harm us, those who would destroy us, those who would kill us, those who would ask stupid questions and vote for idiots.

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What is the Gospel?

Every Saturday at 4 PM Pacific Time I do a webcast called A Mirror Darkly: unbridled inquiry.

Before the turn of the century, before Y2K, in 1998, Quartz Hill School of Theology produced something ahead of its time: a freewheeling discussion of topics, a cutting-edge, no holds barred broadcast over the internet. We called it Beyond the Box. It was a long-form webcast before such things became common.

The name of this webcast comes from 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” (ASV)

We have discussions about Christianity, theologians, theological systems, philosophy, religion and science, religion and politics, religion and sex, psychology and mental illness, ethics, music, television, movies, popular culture, and more. This particular episode was entitled “What is the Gospel?”

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Hate

The great philosopher and Jedi, Master Yoda, declared:

“Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.”

We fear what we do not know, what we do not understand, what we cannot understand.  Those who are not like us, those who don’t think like us, those who don’t agree with us, those whose priorities and beliefs are at odds with us frighten and confuse us.  We fear those on the outside, those beyond our group, those whose beliefs are weird, those whose dogmas are not our own.

We begin to believe that those who don’t agree with us are evil. How could they not be evil when they disagree with us, we who are so obviously righteous?  We imagine we can discern their motives, read their minds, intuit their backwardness, and we conclude their motives are selfish and malicious. 

Soon, our anger turns to what we decide is justifiable hate. We are convinced that our hatred is reasonable. Our now dehumanized, othered, and vile opponents must of necessity be prevented from continuing to exist.  Preventing their success must be achieved at any cost.

We see such hatred every day, perpetrated by people convinced that their cause is just. 

And so hatred leads to suffering. Crimes are committed in the name of righteousness.  Lives are ruined, associations are terminated, because we’re right and they’re wrong and they must pay.  Justice must prevail, by any means necessary.

Everything from the breaking of friendships to murder to vandalism and theft, can be justified as good and righteous and necessary. No pain, no gain.  Tit for tat. Payment in kind.  Eye for eye.

This, despite the example of Jesus, who forgave those who murdered him.  Despite the example of countless martyrs, who forgave their persecutors and murderers. Despite Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek. Despite the words of Jesus that we should return good for evil.  Despite the overarching principle to love our neighbors as ourselves. Despite God’s words that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Despite the condemnation of rejoicing over the downfall of our enemies (Proverbs 24:17).

Do to others as you’d have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

But hatred is easier because we are filled with anger and fear.

And fear is overwhelming, all consuming, and entirely natural.

But.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Love casts out fear.  Perhaps we should listen to God when he repeatedly tells us, “do not fear.”

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

And

 For I am the Lord your God

who takes hold of your right hand

and says to you, Do not fear;

I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)

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The One Verse

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

The Bible is complicated. Sometimes it is boring. For most people, Netflix is a lot more fun. The Bible can be hard to understand. There are 31,071 verses to try to make sense of in the Bible. It tends to overwhelm the average reader.

But I can give you the Bible in just One Verse.

Let me tell you the story of Rabbi Hillel.

According to tradition, Rabbi Hillel was born about 110 BC and died around 10 AD. He is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) is about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. He announced that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First, he went to Rabbi Shammai, who was insulted by this ridiculous request and threw the gentile out of his house.

The man did not give up. He wandered on until he found Rabbi Hillel, who accepted the challenge. As the man stood on one foot, the rabbi told him:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!”

This gets to the heart of things. Jesus, about a hundred years later, will make a similar comment about the Bible, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

The phrase Jesus used, “the Law and the Prophets,” is the way Jewish people of Jesus’ time referenced the Bible.

And so there it is. The One Verse that sums it all up. The entire Bible in just One Verse.

And, in fact, that single verse is a verse repeated over and over throughout the Bible. And all the rest of the Bible merely explains that One Verse.

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Becoming Inhuman

The urge to make people do and say and act the way you want them—because it is good for them, because it is right—is the beginning of destruction. Like a gentle snowfall on the mountain slopes, it brings an avalanche. The thought may arise that if someone even disagrees with me on what I hold dear, on what is obviously the only reasonable way to think, then that makes them not just wrong but evil.  Obviously evil.  Because I am right and what I do and what I say and how I act is good.  Therefore, any opposition to me by definition is evil.  And it is okay to hate evil. Therefore I can hate you because you are evil.  And therefore you are no longer my neighbor.  And therefore the commandment to love my neighbor does not apply to you. I do not have to do to you what you would do to me.  I can kill you. 

If you wind up at hate, you’ve taken a wrong turn.  This should be obvious.

If you un-neighbor those you disagree with, you are, in the name of doing what is right, in the name of opposing evil, becoming the very evil you abhor.

We belong to God; he bought us when we were broken and he loves us because of what he’s going to do with us, because of what we will become because he is now in our lives.

Therefore, God defines neighbor in the broadest way possible. It includes absolutely everyone: even those human beings who are the most horrible, the most deserving of our contempt.

Loving those who love us is simple. Anyone can do that. And that’s how most people think about it. We love our friends, we love our family, we love nice people, we love people who have dogs, we love grandmas who give their children candy from their purses. We love those who help the disabled and elderly. Of course we love the kind-hearted.

Unless they betray us or in some way hurt us, we love the people we come in contact with.

War and conflict are a regular part of our world and unfortunately too often part of our individual lives. People have hurt us; people have hurt those we love. People have weird beliefs, weird thoughts, say harsh things that make us angry. They vote for jerks. They have outrageous and stupid points of view. They believe crazy things. They put ketchup on their scrambled eggs.

The hard thing is that God asks us to love those awful people the same way God loves us: unconditionally. Despite how we feel about them. Despite what they have done to us and those whom we care about. Despite what they think. Worse, he expects us to love those who hate us, to love those who persecute us, to love those who actively seek to harm us, to love those who have and do hurt us and continue to hurt us without remorse. Because that’s how God “so loves the world.”  (John 3:16-17)

Remember: while Jesus’ life ebbed from him, as he writhed in agony on the cross, with his last breath, he asked God to forgive those who were torturing and killing him.

This is inhuman behavior. God asks us to be like Jesus. He’s demanding the impossible of us. The unfortunate thing, from our perspective, is that “my neighbor” includes the person I most despise, my worst enemy, my nightmare. I have to love the guy across the street who plays his music too loud. The guy on the next block with all the signs in his yard for political candidates I think are evil. That woman at my crappy job who keeps trying to get me to buy essential oils from her.

We are told to submit to those who have wrong thoughts, wrong attitudes, wrong actions.  To be servant to all.  Just like Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

What God asks is not easy.  It goes against a lot of our preconceptions, of what seems obvious. It stands against the way of the world.

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The Question

The question of why bad things happen to good people is a question that is directed at a particular someone: God.  And inherent in the question is blame.  “Why did you let that happen?  Couldn’t you have stopped it?  You’re the almighty creator of heaven and earth.  Couldn’t you have done something?  Couldn’t you stop the pain, the agony, the loss?  Why did my baby have to die?”  Our query is not unreasonable.

It’s also at the heart of what is sometimes called “the new atheism” in the bestselling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, and others.  Of course, calling it the “new” atheism, is a bit of a misnomer, since it’s what has driven atheism for a long time.  Voltaire submitted the same question back in the eighteenth century in his book Candide.

From the horrors that fill both our histories and our memories, the atheist recoils and concludes that either God is a sadistic son of a bitch, or that he doesn’t exist at all. The atheist has decided that the best explanation for the world as it is, is to believe that there is no one to believe in, no one to put one’s trust in, no hope, and no future: God does not exist. There is no one out there that cares. And that’s why bad things can happen to good people.

Are atheists right? How can we answer their—and our—agonizing howl of why? What does suffering demonstrate about God? What does pain tell us about who God is, how he relates to his universe, and what our expectations are? 

The better we understand God, the easier it will be for us.

* * *

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me   (Psalm 23:4)

This is what life is like.  We are all walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Bad things are going to happen to me.  If they are not bad now, just wait.  If they are bad now, just wait.  Back and forth we go, like a ping-pong ball.

The problem of the ultimate question, the question of suffering, is that our emotions are in play.  We are not just thinking about an intellectual, academic issue. We mostly don’t approach it with cool, clear logic.  It is personal.  Our guts are fully engaged.  We too often have tears in our eyes. 

We get mad when our expectations are not met.  That’s part of the difficulty in our relationships in general.  We go to McDonalds.  We order a strawberry milkshake.  Then they tell us they are out of strawberry, but they can give us a chocolate shake.  We get angry.  Because our expectations were not met.  Our reasonable expectations.

When something bad happens to you, and you get mad at God, the reason you are mad at God is because he didn’t meet your expectations of what he would do for you. 

But consider a possibility: that our expectations of God are out of whack.  Who we think God is, what he has to do for us, how he has to behave—we might have misunderstood everything.  It would be ludicrous, for instance, to go to McDonalds and then get mad because they refused to sell us golf clubs.

We need to worship the God who actually is, not the one we wish for, not the one we made up in our heads.  If we are mad at God, perhaps the problem is that we don’t know God as he actually is.  We might be mad at the god we made up in our mind.  In which case, we need to stop believing in our made-up god and find the real one.  Then we won’t get mad at the real God.  The real God won’t disappoint us. The real God won’t tell us that we can have a strawberry shake when he knows there aren’t any there.  There won’t be any bait and switch with the real God.

The characters portrayed on the pages of scripture sometimes get mad at God.  They accuse God.  But that’s because they had expectations that weren’t accurate.  They’d made something up in their head about God that wasn’t so.  We all do it, and we all do it all the time.  We need to work at minimizing that.  We’ll probably be happier if we ever can.

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Belief and Unbelief

Belief is hard. Disbelief is easy.

I’ve been following SpaceX for a very long time. Many people didn’t think they’d ever launch anything. Then many thought landing rockets was impossible. Others doubted they’d ever make any money. At each step, each new thing they tried, there was a division between those who believed and those who didn’t.SpaceX has now successfully landed their first stage boosters 57 times; they have reused those boosters (that is launched and landed and then relaunched) 39 times, with a couple of the boosters having been reflown up to 5 times.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, is today the 10th richest man in the world. SpaceX just took people to and from the space station. It’s the first time Americans have flown on an American spaceship from American soil since 2011.And yet there remain those who think it is a scam. You can find YouTube videos of people claiming it is all just cgi. Sort of like those who try to say the moon landing never happened. As if there was only one moon landing. Forgetting, or perhaps not knowing, that 12 Americans have walked on the moon. The US landed people on the moon not once, not twice, but six times between 1969 and 1972.

There are those who insist that the Earth is flat and prefer to imagine that all the images and videos of a round Earth are fake.

Some people reject vaccinations as hazardous. They don’t believe in modern medicine.

There are those who believe that 911 didn’t really happen, that it wasn’t planes flown by terrorists who took down the twin towers, but instead a nefarious government plot involving explosives.

Pretty much everything, no matter how obvious, will have those who reject reality and substitute their own, no matter how crazy, no matter how much harder it often is to reject the truth.

And so it should not surprise us that there are those who refuse to believe the Good News that Jesus died for our sins. Or who will refuse to believe that salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone and that it is free and requires no contribution or help from them. Instead, they prefer to think that they have to work to maintain their salvation.

That atheists exist should not surprise us at all.

It is not startling that some people refuse to accept the resurrection of Jesus. It is to be expected that there are human beings who do not believe in the afterlife.

Why do people reject the truth, even when it is obvious? What makes someone decide the moon landings didn’t happen? What makes someone an atheist?

Why do people buy into odd conspiracy theories?

Because they find comfort in the “alternative” explanations of reality. The truth is usually hard. The truth is often painful. The truth is not always comfortable. Let’s not pretend otherwise. And there is comfort in postulating the alternatives. Lies can be very sweet and tasty.

When Jesus was alive on earth, some people believed him and it changed their lives. Some people believed, and they didn’t want to change their lives. And most people just didn’t believe.

Because that’s what they wanted. And what people want often trumps everything. Even reality.

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Even Bad People Matter

There are those who seem to get bent out of shape by the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” This is odd, because the phrase has arisen due to Black people facing a crisis of racism. The response by some, “All lives matter” misunderstands the point. There is a story in the New Testament that might be helpful:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:10-14).

To respond to Jesus’ parable with “All Sheep Matter” would mean you missed the whole point.

And so there is justifiable push back against the phrase “all lives matter.” It’s not that it isn’t true in other contexts, of course.

But not all attempts at pushing back against the misunderstanding of “Black Lives Matter” are any better. Some are worse. I recently found a remarkably stupid meme posted on Facebook which states:

All lives don’t matter.

KKK lives don’t matter.

Nazi lives don’t matter.

Rapist lives don’t matter.

Pedophile lives don’t matter.

Stop saying all lives matter.

On the surface it seems a clever response, perhaps and certainly emotionally satisfying.  But justifying hatred leads to very dark places.  Once you can start saying certain people don’t matter because they are bad people, you soon find the people you can decide are bad easily grows exponentially.  We will all agree that these sinners that have been listed are guilty of despicable actions.  But they remain human beings nevertheless, and saying that a human being doesn’t matter means you are open to gas chambers sooner or later. You are willing to decide some people are to be excluded from the human race.  Dehumanization is a dangerous road to get on. What have you become when you walk that path?

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying that the best way to destroy your enemies is to turn them into your friends.  That’s what God is in the business of doing: the opposite of what humans by their nature do.  We pervert good for evil.  God likes to pervert evil for good.

Paul stood by approvingly while a lynch mob murdered Stephen, and sought to arrest any Christians he could find.  But rather than kill him, God redeemed him and transformed him into a friend, making him a preacher of the very thing he had most hated.

Jesus of course had something to say about the attitude reflected in the meme.  He was talking to people who had experienced much mistreatment and oppression.  They did have enemies that it was only natural to hate.  But love, mercy, forgiveness and grace do not ask us to say that bad behavior is okay. It simply means that even bad human beings can be transformed and that should always be our goal.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor z and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)

 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-10)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

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Our Opinions are Not God’s Opinions

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!”

Uh, yeah.

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.”

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