Growing up in an independent fundamental Baptist church, I learned at a tender age about the judgement of the Lord. Images of fire and descriptions of sulphur formed nightmares in my youthful imagination. The preacher, with Bible in hand, would strut around occasionally rising onto his toes to make a more powerful point.
With each thud of his hand and turn of his tongue I became more and more convinced that the Lord would soon bring fiery damnation to the earth. Fiery damnation may even come to me. To my loved ones. Because the Lord is angry. And his judgement reflects the purest form of his anger.
Sadly, this true story can likely be applied to many people, across many backgrounds. To many of you. And the reality is, this can have many devastating effects on how we see ourselves and how we see society.
Recently I listened to a song by the artist Gungor from their album One Wild Life: Soul. The song was entitled "Us for Them" I would encourage you to stop here and listen to that song. Then continue reading.
Our Wretched Souls
Flaws are fundamental to our existence. Any pursuit of perfection is soon hindered by our humanness; becoming indicative of the true problem. We, as moral beings, find that even societal standards of morality are unattainable. We lie, we steal, we wound with our words; all to our eventual dismay.
The Christian faith describes this as total depravity. Our souls are mortally wounded by sin and every day the effects of death manifest themselves in our moral frailty.
It's when this truth is centralised and emphasised disproportionally that we encounter a mutation of belief that can damage the truth we believe about ourselves. We are wretched beings, bound up in death but this must be balanced with the acknowledgement that we all hold an overwhelming weight of glory. Human beings are the only creatures made to hold the image of God.
You and I are made for unimaginable spectrum's of glory. Not glory of our own making, but glory that is given to us by the Father (Ephesians chapter 1; 1 Peter Chapter 1; Romans chapter 8 verse 17)
This is good news: we were not made to remain the way we are now. We were made to be such glorious creatures that the judgement of God is no longer anger and wrath, but love. In Christ, the judgement of God on us is only love.
Us and Them
The second distortion that can occur from this theology manifests itself socially. Just a few brief glances and you will find examples everywhere. You will find examples in the church and in society. A mentality is created that draws distinct lines of Us vs Them. All too frequently we in the Christian faith can begin to see ourselves as the "in crowd".
As the ones who have learned and recited the secret code and now find themselves entrenched in deep cultural warfare with the goal of being in the world and not of it.
Shutting down any chance of conversation across ideological and religious lines, this thinking is what prompts statements such as a prominent Christian university president's about Muslims.
It prompts the need for current political discourse on the right to be bathed in undertones of Christian exclusivity. Sadly, it often keeps us from attempting to understand those who we feel are different from us. Instead we draw lines. Instead we demonise.
Instead we create a level of exclusivity that the Church was never meant to have. We see the world as Us and Them; and the world moves further away from the healing power of Christ. It moves further away because somewhere along the way we forgot that in Christ the enemy of Christ is loved and not condemned. We forgot that when we were still his enemy; when we were the them, we only faced the love of God.
Maybe its time we learn from the Divine Godhead. Who, disregarding the biggest line of separation and enmity, became the God who lived for us. Maybe its time to flip the script and be Us FOR Them. Until all we see any more is US.
Dan Peterson lives near Chicago, Illinois, USA. He enjoys discovering old books, new places, and good coffees. His dream is to summit a mountain on every continent and have a pet pygmy marmoset.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html