I get asked a lot what it is like to return to the US after living overseas for so many years. They are wondering if I have any culture shock in coming back. The truth is: I do. One thing that shocks me is the acerbic nature of how some followers of Jesus interact with those who hold differing views.
As I see it, we humans are always going to disagree on something. Some of these “things” are important, and some are not so important. Disagreeing about “things” is natural. One of the ways we as followers of Christ are to stand out and reflect the glory of God is the manner in which we express our differing ideas.
Think about it. Although Jesus did not come to inaugurate a new religion, he did come and challenge the ways people lived out their faith. So, Jesus challenged and continues to challenge everyone- the religious and the non-religious.
If anyone had a right to be acerbic, it was Jesus. And he was at times. Yet, even though he was acerbic at times, John, one of the sons of thunder, describes Jesus – not as the acerbic Messiah – but in a totally contrary way: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only one from the Father, full of grace and truth…And of his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:14, 16).
Why does John emphasize grace as one of the prevailing characteristics of Jesus? What did John see that so many of us have missed? Paul’s advice in Colossians resonates with John’s description of Jesus: “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt.”
Why is this even important?
We live in a fallen world where people – who are made in God’s image and whom God loves intensely – are put down in innumerable ways. Who else can express the intense love that God has for them except his own people, those in whom he has poured out his Spirit? How can we express God’s intense love when we demean each other in our “acerbic” discussions. I know that some feel that they are upholding “truth”, yet, it appears to be done in ways that are quite shocking to me.
Why have I been shocked?
The primary reason Moses could not go into the Promised Land was because he verbally abused God’s people (Num 20:10-13; Deut 3:23-29). Now, Moses did strike the rock twice which was wrong. Yet, this is not the reason Moses gave for why he couldn’t enter the land. In Numbers 20:12 God objected because Moses hadn’t treated God as holy. In Deuteronomy 3:36 Moses elaborates on this. He said to the Israelites: “The Lord was angry with me because of you.” When we put these two accounts together, it appears that the point was this: Moses did not treat God as holy because he expressed his own anger towards God’s people, an anger that misrepresented God’s character, and it was an anger that demeaned God’s people. God defended his people from Moses’ abuse by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land.
So, here in the NT we have John, a son of thunder, who has developed a deep understanding of the grace of Jesus, an understanding that he had not previously demonstrated. Remember, John was one of the men who asked Jesus to rain down fire upon the Samaritans for their rejection of Jesus (Luke 9:51-56), and yet, in total contrast to that, he is the one who when writing his gospel includes the stories of Jesus’ grace to the outcast Samaritan woman (John 4) and to the the invalid man of dubious character who had no one to help him (John 5). The Spirit had evidently used these interactions of Jesus to transform John’s perspective of how he was and we are to live. These were stories that exemplified the graciousness of our Creator-Redeemer so much that John recorded them so the Spirit could use them for our benefit as well.
I am still a work in process, learning to integrate the beauty of these stories into my life and my relationships. I pray that I will improve and reflect the Lord more clearly. There truly is no one more lovely, more wonderful, than our Lord.