6 years ago I sat at Wahoos Fish Taco with a co-worker who wanted nothing to do with God. He respected my belief, but wasn’t shy about challenging it either. I liked this about him. He was refreshing. The snippit of our conversation that day that I can’t set aside is when he stated that Christians think we’re better than non-Christians and we’re supposed to make better life choices. But they so often don’t. I digested his comment and realized how misguided he was in his thought process, but how strongly I believed that to be true growing up. I DID think I was supposed to be better. That by believing in God I could rise above those who didn’t. I could make the better choice and lead those who didn’t have faith. I could be so good because of God. I had it all wrong and so did my co-worker.
My response to him went something like this: “I’m not better than you. In any way, shape or form. My belief in God allows me the peace of knowing that I’m covered in grace. Because I can’t be better than you and it’s not about what we do. It’s about receiving the grace we so desperately need to be forgiven and offered a fresh start each day. The grace is yours as much as it is mine – I just choose to receive it. I’m not able to be better because I’m a Christian. I’m as human as you are and as broken as the next guy. Nothing about me ranks higher than an atheist. Don’t expect Christians to look differently or you’ll be disappointed and bitter. We don’t look different most of the time. We accept grace and forgiveness differently. And on a good day or in a good hour of the day you might be able to glimpse that peace in the way we live.”
He stared at me. This was new information. He needed a Christian to tell him that he’s not less than us. We’re in the same broken boat trying to make it to the same shore. We just utilize the calm offered through the storm. We didn’t talk again after that lunch. I quit to be home with my people and he moved across the country. But I hope he remembers that conversation when he sees news reports of Christians doing evil acts. i hope he remembers it when a Christian passes judgement on his homosexuality. I hope he remembers it when people abuse God’s name and power. This conversation has come back to me a number of times lately and I need to digest why that is. Here’s where I keep landing. When a Christian leader does something evil or ridiculous and it makes national news, our response as Christians tends to be:
“How embarrassing for Christians. Of course he claims to be a Christian. It gives us such a bad name.”
Perhaps we need to move away from this response. Perhaps our response needs to shift to:
“How devastating for humans. He’s as broken as the rest of us, but what about him/her enabled that kind of behavior? How can we as Christians draw closer to God in our every day so that we can feel the grace and love this person so desperately needs and ask for it on their behalf? How can we look at our own lives and ask for God’s guidance in releasing the demons that haunt us and tempt us? How can we pray for the world to see Christians as humans and not saints? How can we shift the paradox of expecting better from believers to seeing grace and peace in the midst of our broken human nature?”
Christians are NOT a lot of things and I’m trying so hard to remind myself of these truths as I watch the world unfold around me. What do I believe we are NOT? Better. Holier. Invincible. Without blemish. Fearless. Blameless. Shameless. Self reliant. Without doubt. Mighty. Role models. Wiser. More patient. Pure. God. We are NOT God. We believe in God. We are NOT God.
What ARE Christians? We’re human. Broken humans. No possibility of perfection from us folks. Nowhere even close. We’re going to screw up and walk the wrong path. We will say stupid things and make painful decisions. We will disappoint you and let you down. We will lie and view ourselves as blameless. We will go to prison. We will find redemption. We will try and fail. We will battle addictions and depression. We will put on a happy face and hide our brokenness. We will feel shame and regret and doubt the existence of the God we serve. And in the same lifetime, we will exude joy and make the right choices. We will be reliable and say healing words and lift you up. We will tell the truth and visit prisoners with messages of grace and joy. We will try and succeed. We will apologize and feel remorse. We will conquer addiction and find peace. We will lay our brokenness on the table as an offering for others to participate in. We will serve God in the best ways we know how. And on good days we will extend grace. In the midst of ALL of these truths we will be human beings. Capable of all the good and all the broken.
Being a Christian doesn’t dictate our capabilities. It doesn’t create a “superhuman” out of us. Being a Christian offers us the ability to accept grace and unconditional love and acceptance through our human experience. It offers redemption and a fresh start each day. It offers us the gift of acknowledgingthat in the middle of our mess He’s writing our message. It’s not about US friends. We’re ALL capable of beautiful truths. Don’t let a Christian tell you otherwise. We don’t need God to be a good human. We need God to be covered in forgiveness and grace and to spend eternity living the way He intended for us all to live. In peace and harmony and perfection. We need God to see beauty in the turmoil and to rise above it with dignity and a kingdom perspective. We need God to understand that our purpose on earth has nothing to do with ourselves and all to do with serving Him and being Jesus to others the best ways we know how.
Maybe you disagree with me. That’s fine. We don’t have to agree to be children of God. He accepts our disagreements and loves us the same. He accepts our unbelief and offers us grace. What he doesn’t do is accept our judgement and better than mentality. He doesn’t accept our hate and exclusive nature. He doesn’t condone our elitist lifestyles or our assumptions that we’re doing this life better because of our Christian title. Next time we offer the phrase, “How embarrassing for Christians,” try shifting away from our assumptions that Christians know better and do better. Perhaps flattening the playing field is the first obstacle we need to address. Perhaps the flattening is what will bring us together in the end.