This morning I had a particularly powerful encounter with the Lord as I listened to the sermon. The sermon that was preached came out of 1 John and pretty much covered the entire book. The underlying theme that the pastor spoke on was obedience. A topic that 1 John 2:5 very readily speaks to “But if anyone obeys his word, love for Godis truly made complete in them”. The idea that if I love God I should obey him and his commands. Of course I do not obey begrudgingly because “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). Rather I obey because I love God. However, that is not the root question. I have been going back to root questions a lot lately, and have been asking myself a very important question, WHY?
This one little question is filled with a preconceived notion of small children tagging it after every thought that you say, however it is one of the more powerful questions a person can ask about anything. Things like, why did I marry my wife, or why did I take the job I currently have, or why am I lazy? You see without asking the question “Why” it is completely impossible to discern purpose, and I do want to live a life of purpose. And so as I sat in church listening to a sermon on obedience to God because of love for him I asked myself, Why do I love God?
In short I determined that there are most likely two answers to that question. Not just two answers for me but rather, two answers for anyone who would ask that question of themselves. The first answer, and the one that is “positive”, would be for eternal life. I love God because I want eternal life. I want eternal riches. I want to be eternally joyful. I want to live for all of eternity. This answer I believe is wonderful, the Lord has promised the greatest gift of all, if we love him and obey him. This is the one dream that should spur any Christian on to love and good deeds, an eternity of paradise. That is a pretty wonderful reason to love God.
However my first answer was a fairly short thought. The powerful experience that I had this morning came with my second answer to Why I Love God. And it could be seen as the more “negative” answer (however I do not want you to think that it is the opposite of my first answer). My second answer to why I love God is that Jesus died because of me, for me, for us.
This morning I was brought back to a very specific scene in my memory banks. It was a warm evening in Trinidad and the group of us (about 20 or so) were debriefing about our ministry opportunities from the day. The BGEA had organized a mission trip to Trinidad and had coordinated with several pastors from my homecity to be leaders on the trip. I was excited for that night, it was my pastor’s turn to lead our debriefing time. He said that he wanted to give us an example lesson. He wanted us to meditate on the death of Jesus and the suffering he went through. He explained that one of our fellow students (I’ll call him Luke, even though that’s not his name) had agreed to play the part of Jesus. Luke had taken off his shirt (and all the girls giggled) and sat on his knees in the middle of the circle. I knew exactly which illustration my pastor was going to use, I had seen this one before. It is a powerful illustration, I was excited for our group to learn from this. My pastor turned to the first person in the circle and asked if that person wanted a piece of gum. The first person said “no”. My pastor then turned to Luke and said that the first person did not want the gum. Luke proceeded to do 5 push ups. My pastor then turned to the first person and said that the price of no gum is 5 push ups and one lash from a belt. He gave the first person his thick leather belt and motioned towards Luke. The first person looked horrified, she didn’t want to whip her friend with a leather belt. There was complete silence as she stood up. Everyone was thinking, how could we avoid this, this isn’t right. However for the sake of the illustration, she walked over to where Luke knelt and very gently touched Luke with the belt. Everyone let out a sigh of relief. There was an escape clause, they didn’t have to whip Luke with the belt, they only had to touch him with it. I, however, was not relieved.
The second person was then asked if they would like a piece of gum, they gladly obliged and was told that the price of a piece of gum was the same as that of no gum: 5 pushups and one lashing of the leather belt. Luke proceeded to do the pushups and the second person got up and dangled the belt over Luke as it gently glided across the his bare skin. The second person gave the belt back to my pastor and sat down. You see, the reason I was not relieved while everyone else was, is because the entire illustration was ruined. As each person took their turn accepting gum and gently touching Luke with the belt the laughter amongst the group rose, not a mocking laughter, a joyous laughter, a happy laughter, the kind of laughter you hear when people are having a good time. An illustration that was meant to bring thoughts of meditation about the DEATH of the Savior of Mankind turned into a big joke. That is why I was not relieved when an escape clause was found in my pastor’s illustration. Jesus’ death was being mocked by the very one’s he has redeemed.
It was amidst the laughter and joking that I was lost in my own world. Lost in thought about how I have mocked Jesus, just as they did then. It made me sick to my stomach. There was no respect for the death of the man who bore all of my wrongdoing, who bore the wrongdoing of everyone in that circle. It made me sick to my stomach. How could the most pivotal event of all history turn into a party, this was a sad event in history. Laughing is not the appropriate response when the hope of the world dies. It made me sick to my stomach.
All I wanted was for them to show some respect towards Jesus and actually meditate on his death. I think I was 14th or 15th out of our group and I was asked the same question as everyone else. I was sick to my stomach. I didn’t take any gum. When I stood up everything around my faded away. I couldn’t take the mocking anymore. It was silent for me only as I closed my eyes and clenched my fist. I brought down the first real lash on Luke, on Jesus, and it hurt. I didn’t want to hurt Luke. I didn’t want to hurt Jesus. But the reality of it all is that my wrongdoing caused every single one of the lashes, not of a leather belt, but a cat-of-nine-tails. When I opened my eyes, I realized that the entire group had stopped laughing. There was a very eerie silence that filled the room.
I’m not sure if the illustration hit as hard for anyone else as it did for me. It reminded me that there is a price on salvation: Jesus’ death. Every lash He received was because of my sin, your sin, our sin. And to be really honest, it really hurts to whip a friend. Especially when you know that you deserve that blow.
So, Why Do I Love God? Because a good friend of mine suffered some very brutal torture and then died when it should have been me.
-Pilgrim, One Who Journeys
Calvin and Hobbes. For The Win!