We just returned to class from a 4 day mid-term break here at RVA and entered straight into our annual Spiritual Emphasis Week. I wrote about the last two here (Under The Tree) and here (Under The Broom Tree). This year our speaker is Dick Brogden, a missionary in Northern Africa.
Last night's two points: God hates sinners and God loves sinners. One thing he said that really challenged me was that hate is a neutral word. In our contemporary culture, he argues, we've assigned hate a purely negative connotation, i.e. we've said hate is categorically bad, but Biblically we see a much different picture. We're to hate injustice, malice, greed and a whole host of unrighteous behavior. At this point I was right with him. His next step made me a little uncomfortable. God hates sinners. Then he brought up a favorite Evangelical Christian line: "Hate the sin, not the sinner." A line I've used many times myself. I'm always thinking of a God who hates sin, but loves sinners, but that's only half the picture. He also hates sinners. Dick read off reference after reference from scripture where God says over and over that he hates not just sin, but sinners - which was totally sobering.
His point was that unless we understand our sin and God's hate for it, we cannot grasp His love. Unless we fear God's holiness, perfection and justice we cannot understand (much less accept) His grace, mercy and forgiveness. It was a very convicting, moving a powerful message.
Some later events of the evening (concerning which I'll be totally vague) brought up lots of uncomfortable questions about spiritual warfare, demons, etc... Some students were obviously fearful. Others thought overt spiritual warfare was a perfectly normal part of a worship service. One of our staff members made the observation that for kids growing up in the bush surrounded by very animistic cultures, this was nothing new but for kids in more urban settings (more western and developed) this was something totally new. This made me think: What is the difference?
I think it has a lot to do with fear. In the purely natural context, we as humans are powerfully and uncontrollably affected by fear. Why not also in the supernatural context? If we fear the supernatural, it has control over our spiritual life. Like Mr. Brogden said about hate, fear is another neutral word. In our Western culture, we've constrained fear to a purely negative emotion (I'm remembering the early 90s motto of 'No Fear'). In Christianity, we're quick to pick out the 'fear nots' in the Bible and focus on them when a healthy spirituality probably has a lot more fear of God.*
This also made me think a lot more about how few supernatural things I've seen. Maybe it's because I fear very little - especially God. If I fear nothing, nothing has power over me... but I'm not so special. Perhaps God's willingness to work in and through me is directly proportional to the fear I have for His power, perfection, and holiness. So too, my fear of rejection, my fear of living in poverty, my fear of the demonic give pride, greed and envy, and doubt a foothold to work in and through me. Maybe there are so many miracles on the front lines of Christian evangelism because there is also so much fear. What if we as a church feared God so much we feared even to speak his name as the Isrealites feared to speak the name Yahweh?
Please pray for our spiritual emphasis week - that students and staff will be open and receptive to God's leading in their lives. There are sessions from 7:30 to 9:00 the next three nights (from 10:30am to 12:00noon for most of our readers in the Mountain Time Zone)
*We had a student over for dinner tonight who grew up in a non-western culture and family and when I mentioned my thought that Biblically fear is a neutral word, she said, "Of course it's neutral! Fear is good, too." as if that was a well-established social norm. When we explained that in the American context fear is largely seen as negative, she was surprised.