I’m going to get in trouble for this one. I know it. And I’m OK with it. You don’t question someone like Francis Chan and not get some fallout from it.
Yesterday, I saw someone…everyone on facebook post a CNN article about Chan. In the article he explains why he quit his job as a seemingly “successful’ and famous pastor in California to move his family to Asia. This is not what I want to take issue with. But he made a statement in this article that bothered me as a pastor and as a believer.
Now, let me say that it is possible he was taken out of context. It was CNN, who is not known for being the height of integrity in reporting. But since there are a number of people who will be tweeting this quote and using it as their spiritual facebook status du jour, I think it is worth engaging.
The article says:
If we were to meet God in person, Chan said, “I think the first thing He would say is you don’t take me seriously. You have no idea how to fear me.”
Immediately, I recoiled when I heard this. And the more I’ve thought it over, the more wrong I think it is. In fact I would call it damaging.
Now, here is not what I am saying. I am not saying we should not be concerned about taking God seriously or that we should not fear God in a biblically appropriate way. What I am questioning is this – Do we really believe this is what he would and will first say to the redeemed? Will his first words be scolding ones?
Think about the implications of this. We, who have placed all our hope in the work of Jesus because we have not and indeed cannot fear God and take him as serious as we ought so that we will be loved by God, will not – according to Chan – hear words of loving acceptance but words detailing our faults in these areas. Our hope is not in Christ’s work on the cross but in our abilities to take him serious enough. And what is serious enough? Is perfection of seriousness what is desired so as to not hear these words.
The fact is we could substitute our lack of seriousness with any number of sins: lack of generosity, lack of chastity, lack of kindness, lack of love, lack of honesty, lack of parental love and care, etc. All of these are true of all of us everywhere. We could expect any of these evaluations because we are guilty of them all.
Now, I did start to think. And I thought, “Maybe we would not hear such condemning – though truthful – words when we enter heaven. But What about now? You know, now – while we are still dealing with sin and all the lack of seriousness with which we take God? Would God’s words for us be scolding words?
But then I thought some more. Does this mean that he stands over us scolding and condemning now? Would this mean we cannot with Paul tell other Christians, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Can we preach this to ourselves?
Can we be assured of his love at all times – even in the midst of our sins? Even in the midst of not taking him seriously? Even in the midst of not fearing him as we should? Even in the midst of all the sin that courses through us day after day? Or when we lay our head on our pillow at night is our only hope for this life and the next our ability to say, “I took God seriously today!”?
Or can we agree with Chan and say, “You are right. I have not taken God as serious as I ought. In fact, I am worse off than even I know. Thankfully, I cannot even see the depth of my sin. But also thankfully, I am not accepted by God based on my ability to be serious about him perfectly or at all. I accepted based on nothing I have done but by what God has done on my behalf. I am defined now by my trust in what Christ has done for me. Not by what I have or have not done.”
This is why it is called “good news.” And that is why the gospel is scandalous. The scandal is not that Christians don’t take God seriously. The scandal is that God loves us despite it, going so far as to die for those who do not take him seriously and loving them forevermore even though they still often show a lack of seriousness about him. That is the scandal.
Chan and I both have the same desire – that God be taken seriously. But I am convinced that the only way we take him seriously is by relentlessly laying before our people (and CNN reporters) the wonder of the cross and the grace we find there. For that is where we find our hope. Our hope is not in our seriousness or our fear of God. We will always fall short in that area. Actually, you know what the picture of seriousness is? It is childlike faith in the unthinkable gracious and merciful love of a Father who runs out to meet his child and showers him with acceptance. Not scolding but joyful, celebrating acceptance.