We have all heard, “everyone is entitled to their opinion,” and that many believe there is no singular “right” answer. It is hard to disagree that perspective matters and the place in which a person “lives” has no impact what and how they see. Still, God is God and I have always asserted that God has a consistent will which is, by definition, right. This will is not subject to or undermined by our human perspective. How should believers hold both the affirmation that people live and see the world differently and that God sees perfectly? As I see it too many concluded that the answer is in one of two directions. Some conclude that “by the grace and guidance of God” they “know” what is right and can therefore judge, even condemn, those who are not right, in matters that range from simple to complex. Others move in the opposite direction and conclude that while God is the judge, humans are not, and so the idea of promoting righteousness in theory is fine, in practice we need to be tolerant and avoid judgements. They note that judgements lead to our isolation and alienation. Erroneously, we can feel squeezed into one of these two judgement stances. The believer should either stand firm in the certainty of their convictions and the condemnation of those who do not share them, or the believer should never assert her/his convictions and simply and quietly affirm something like “diversity” as the highest virtue.
Obviously, I think there are other options between these wide extremes. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus says to the disciples, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” This certainly has to do with life after death, but I think it is more than that. I think the scriptures are clear in proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven begins when and wherever God’s sovereignty is lived; the joy, peace, love, hope, of God are revelations of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, when Jesus says these words to his followers about the devout champions of law abiding piety, what is he saying that devout believers can lack which would lead them away from God’s will? Firstly, later passages speak of hypocrisy (and I am certain that this is an issue for the pharisees and everyone who seeks to make God the standard and not themselves), and this is an issue, but I don’t think this is the limit of Jesus’ direction. Earlier in Matthew 5 Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the Kingdom of God. “Seems pretty obvious that the Scribes and Pharisees cannot be poor in spirit if they are not going to enter the Kingdom. Jesus also say in these Beatitudes, “blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Again, if mercy is an avenue which leads to Kingdom welcome and experience, the Scribes and Pharisees must lack this. There are of course other elements which can be looked at and pointed to as opportunities or obstacles in righteousness, but these two are enough for me for this month.
What seems to be at issue here is humility. No matter the strength of our convictions or our certitude of the correctness of our perspective, poor in spirt and merciful people leave room for God and have compassion for other, “wrong though they may be.” I believe that it is important for Christians to tell their stories individually. How is it that you came to know Jesus’ love in your life? What difference has that made for you, for others? I also believe that it is necessary for us to recognize that the way God has worked in us may not be the only way God works. We are servants of a living God who loves and leads each of God’s daughters and sons. In truth, my parenting is not one size fits all for my children. I have consistent principles and goals but situations matter, and my children are also motivated differently. There are no short cuts in love. Perhaps that is the more excellent way that abides over all judgement. Before we offer our solutions have we asked for and desired God’s love for those we are about to “help.” Dear sisters and brothers speak the truth, but speak it in love. If you cannot speak in love, then hold your tongue.