In the intermediate space of cross and grace
My dear friends, dear women of God,
When I was thinking about the articles on grace and the cross, this was my plan. One week grace- the other week the cross, kneeling and repentance. As if it were so simple, so black and white.
What do you do when you live in a clean-cut facade, but the sand in the gears grates audibly? What happens when you are in a role model position, but you know full well about your own fallenness or your partner's fallenness? What does a Christian wife do whose husband exhibits all the behaviors of a covert narcissist, but who is herself a family therapist and is responsible for others?
It is what outrages us most when it comes to light, is it not?
When someone obviously has sin and hatred in his life, who actually has taken on a role model function for us, who nevertheless confesses something completely different with his lips than what he himself lives?
The palette is long on which these backpacks of sins pile up: Extramarital affairs, alcohol addiction, abusive marriages, tax evasion and financial fraud, deliberate deception of fans and followers, support of arms deals and mafia structures, Ku Klux Klan. The more famous the role model, the more influence in the world.
We are quick to measure international leaders and their families by the idealized standards Paul gave us. Idealized because even Timothy could not live up to these standards - and because even Paul is known to have been unable to be of one mind with Peter. Because we also see in him how pride takes over, how he gets angry, how he reacts sarcastically.
I believe that the difference, the significant difference, is that Paul and Peter knew how flawed and at the same time accepted they were - they lived in the space between grace and the cross.
It is significant that there are paragraphs where Paul makes this clear- and how his attitude and mindset differs when he does: "This is what God says, and this is what I say, Paul, this is my opinion" And of course we know that on the one hand he proclaims the joint-heirship and glory to which we are called- and on the other hand he complains about sinning, although he does not want to.
Somehow and somewhere, this life between the cross and grace has become blurred, and in large part, lost. Be it through Lausanne and the agreement never to question the Bible critically, be it through superficial reading, be it through own stubbornness - the space in between has given way to extreme positions, and that this is indisputably so, we see when we take a closer look at the general church landscape between stubborn, hard legalism and hypergrace.
And then add to that all the borderline areas, all those areas where we are challenged to examine.
Yes, Jesus tells us to forgive 7x77x when someone hurts us. Yes, Jesus tells us to preserve marriage. But what if your spouse is so toxic in his behavior that he destroys your soul? What if there is no repentance on his part? How much can one endure, what is sick? Where is the marriage really broken?
What if one becomes sick at the side of the man whom one is supposed to love, and if the curse that one longs for him but he mercilessly rules over one is seen by him as willed by God? What if one's life remains empty and one is afraid of the next mental blow - and no one is allowed to know?
What if just a moment ago you were smugly celebrating your own holiness, contentedly looking at the family photos you took on your last vacation with your 13-year-old son while fishing, and now your beloved brat says he's fallen in love with a boy? When just a week ago you were railing against homosexuals from the pulpit in disgust? One's own son? The one you love so much? And who now, with eyes widened in fear, awaits the same condemnation from his parents - filled with pain and so lonely shying away from the final blow?
What if you suddenly realize that you are actually just consuming people and extracting from them what is "good for you"- but that this behavior has nothing to do with the commandment of love? What if you have to admit that you yourself, boasting loudly of love, are the most needy?
What if you are confronted with the fact that for years you have been preaching something that cannot be kept - becoming rich and famous with it and living in it like a maggot in bacon?
Sin has the characteristic that sooner or later it falls on our feet - without the admonishing and condemning voices of our dear brothers and sisters, who pounce on the found food like vultures. This is what Jesus meant when he said that what has been hidden will come to light, that what has been whispered will be shouted aloud in public places.
It is easier for us to condemn the other person in such situations- than to look honestly in the mirror. We then, when in doubt, avoid looking in the mirror and hang it up to shoot darts at those who are even worse than we are. Because it hurts like hell to look.
I was once at such a bitter point.
I had taken responsibility over a group of people who saw me as a role model. I had made money-and at times good money-by spending weekends fervently and convincingly teaching them something that was subsequently proven wrong and untenable. I know the feeling of utter failure.
I am very grateful to Jesus for allowing me to experience it before I acted on His behalf. It made me cautious, but it also gave me grace for those who get into such a situation. It is terrible, because when one chooses the truth, for straightening out the crooked ways, the eyes of those around you usually turn on you with unrestrained ghouls- and not with the recognition of the courage, the honest devotion to a God of truth that it costs to repent.
And so not a few end up in what we call "behind closed doors" - trying to ignore the rotten beams until they break of their own accord.
Isn't it enough, Jesus, if I tell you that I know I'm doing wrong? Can't we please keep this between us? Loudly, in such situations, the "Go, and sin no more!" echoes in our ears. Yes, we know - somehow, no idea how - that he will be there, our Lord, friend and the one who covers all our sins. But what lies ahead is a shambles of reputation, it is an admission of failure that is devastating. And even when he says he will turn ashes into beauty, what we see is a mountain of rubble.
The Christian leader whom everyone loves- and whom the wife leaves- hurt, beaten because she doesn't want to die inside.
The worship leader who admits that he has been on the bottle for a long time and has lost his faith - because he is broken by the narrowness and constant judgment of his holiness. Whose reputation is gone.
No, the way between grace and the cross cannot be described in a jiffy. Genuine knowledge of sin has consequences. It demands decision and turning away, and the longer the way to the cross was avoided, the more violent the consequence often is.
What happened to me when I reached my darkest point of conversion?
First, and here the mouse does not bite off a thread, I lost everything. Apartment, friends, relationship, that from which I had drawn my recognition. I lost all supposed and false securities.
I was insecure, fearful, lonely. Regret - it shakes us. To make public that I had recognized the way as wrong, to confront myself with those who had trusted me, was the worst, and Jesus did not spare me.
But in all that was hard and violent, there was something that was irreplaceable:
A holy, inner, pure joy. I breathed fresh air instead of the same old stale air.
A new vitality came, and I no longer had to hide. The paths were straight, and Jesus straightened me up. No, staying in the muff is no way.
And the first step out- it is the way to the cross. It is the way to the one who is waiting to answer our failure with love and kindness. If we dare to go to him to say that this must have gone wrong again.
Bless you, holy sinners. You beloved wrecks. You disasters destined for glory. You are loved. I am loved. In all our inner brokenness. And let he who is without sin cast the first stone at us.
Sibylle/Daughter of Zion