A Hot Mess
This week I got into a conversation about these two big ideas called expiation and propitiation. Sounds fun, right? Don’t worry, I’m not going to open up the discussion here. It’s really boring unless you’re a theology nerd. For sure, it’s an important doctrine, but how important? Important enough to argue over? I guess that depends. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had to call a committee together to take it to a vote whether to include a song in their hymnal because of this doctrine. It was important to them, apparently.
There’s a lot to debate these days. Admittedly, I find myself getting sucked into the vortex. Currently, my guilty pleasure is politics. Specifically the election catastrophe that’s unfolding at our feet. It’s a heaping pile of hot mess with little hope of being cleaned up any time soon. People are getting really worked up. I mean, it’s crazytown, right?
The thing is, while the issues are important, they are only important in the context of the whole condition of humanity. My friend said to me this week while we were discussing the afore-mentioned biblical doctrine, “This stuff just isn’t worth the energy we’re wasting on it. Do all the babies have homes? Are all the hungry bellies full? Then let’s engage the culture with what really matters. If all the mouths are fed and all the babies have homes and everybody’s heard about the life-changing power of the grace of God, then sure, let’s argue these doctrines. Until then, let’s just shut up about it and get to work.”
But It’s Easier Just Sitting Around
There are a few things Jesus was specific about. All the other stuff feels like filler; not inherently bad but when your spiritual diet is lacking the basic, critical stuff, filler just makes you fat. While we sit at a table filled with religious goodness and talk about the things that will make us more spiritually nourished, our metabolism slows and we slump into a sluggish stupor. We have all this information while the world around us is cotton-mouthed with thirst for even a taste of something that looks like hope. But if we step back and examine the expectations Jesus has of us I think we’ll realize: there’s not a lot of sitting around.
The times when we see Jesus sitting around, he’s sitting with little children. Or he’s sitting with drunks and schemers over dinner. Or he’s sitting at a well, talking to a lady with a colored past. At times he’s sitting around a fire with his closest friends, pouring his life into their hearts, painting a picture of a beautiful Kingdom, and sending them into the world to do the same. And yet, I would rather sit around and discuss expiation and propitiation? Sure, it’s fascinating to me, but it’s all just fluff.
When Doctrine Doesn’t Matter
Every day more than 5,000 children become orphans. Every day over 38,000 children age out the care provided to them because no family has come forward for them. Every 2.2 seconds another orphan ages out with no family to belong to and no place to call home. In some European countries, studies have shown that 10% – 15% of these children commit suicide before they reach age eighteen. These studies also show that 60% of the girls become prostitutes and 70% of the boys become criminals. There are children aging out of welfare systems, foster systems, orphanage care, all of whom are barely teenagers.
Every week the adoption community is praying, hoping, fighting, to help children find families. Too often, it feels like the odds are not in their favor. And all too often we hear of would-be adoptive parents traveling to the home country of their child to finalize the adoption only to disrupt the adoption and return her to the care of the orphanage days later. Can you imagine what this must do to a child? In a matter of days she goes from being an orphan to having a family only to have the dream of a family taken from her. Many of these children, especially the older ones, know this is likely their last shot before they’re turned out onto the streets. For those just weeks or months from aging out, all hope seems lost.
Is your heart breaking?
Does doctrine matter in this moment?
Probably not. I’m almost certain it does not. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I don’t think Jesus cares an ounce about your theology unless it compels you to move. Caring for the orphaned and the widowed is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. It’s commitment-through-the-valleys. It’s the no-matter-whats.
Help Me, Jesus
So my question is this: What is God asking you to do? It probably scares you. At the very least it probably makes you uncomfortable. I bet on some level it excites you and then immediately terrifies the bejeebers out of you. I’m there with you. There’s all these “what ifs” and reasons not to, right? And if you’re like most of us, these arguments all seem like sound, wise responses.
One time a lady of questionable reputation poured some really expensive oil on Jesus’ feet. Someone in the crowd began to shame her by essentially saying she’d wasted the oil and it should’ve been sold and the money given to the poor. And what did Jesus say? “You’re right? Shame on you lady?” Nope.
He said, “The poor you will always have.” I read that every time and I’m like, “Dang Jesus. Seems cold and un-feeling. Tone it down a little, man.” But I think what Jesus is saying to us is, “There are moments that can’t be missed, and right now you’re missing it. Sitting around arguing about the best use of this vial of oil is wasteful. It’s like you’re casting aside a masterpiece and arguing over who gets a $5 frame.” Jesus has a way of boiling it down to simple, easy-to-understand statements. We’re simple but we make things so complicated.
Bullet-points. Not essays. That’s what we need:
• seek justice
• correct oppression
• bring justice to the orphan
• plead the widow’s cause
But it’s so much easier to go on and on about our doctrine than to actually be stirred up by something real, isn’t it?