I’ve been surmising the psychologically damaged souls I come across in work and friendship. I am talking about people brought up in the Church whose sense of self worth is worse than nothing. I am talking about people who are told that God loves them and believe the concept but who struggle with guilt and shame and feeling they have nothing good to contribute to family, Church or society. They can’t begin to feel loved by God and struggle to find any love for themselves. As I surmise I see the error in the outworking of Reformed Protestant theology that might cause such pain and ineffectiveness for the Kingdom.
There is a saying in evangelicalism, “Ah, you got to tell them the bad news first!” And right there is the error that causes the damage. It is an emphasis on the sin and lostness of the human condition that in itself is not wrong but where the emphasis comes between the lostness and salvation has been crucially imbalanced. The bad news has become the most important part of the story which of course is not what the GOOD NEWS was meant to be. The caricatures are all well known, “Sinner friend, I am here to preach the good news... you are a worthless worm... you are damned to hell... the wages of sin is death!” It is not exactly good news and before someone attacks me for criticising Scripture the verse is not “the wages of sin is death...” it is “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The salvation part is the good news and needs to be the emphasis.
If, as I tucked my daughter up in bed at night, I started to shout at her about how worthless she was, how pathetic and mistaken and dark and ignorant but then whispered, “Daddy loves you anyway,” I would be put in jail for Child abuse. Yet, there are many preachers and teachers in good respectable evangelical Churches abusing the souls of their flock just as horrendously. What my daughters need most in the world is to know that they are loved and that that love is secure, no matter what. From that place of deep inner security I can start to discipline, point out flaws and develop their lives in ways that are positively filled with potential. With such an approach to the good and the bad in their lives they will grow up secure and confident in spite of a healthy awareness of the flaws within.
Now, I am not advocating in any way a denial of the doctrine of sin; not at all. Our society needs such a mirror to hold us back from an arrogance that would lead to dictatorial oppression never mind the constant reminder that we need to be dependent on the grace of God and work of Jesus to transform us into the human beings that redemption buys. What I am saying is that when sin is the central obsession in our theological thought, and preaching, that Christ’s salvation takes a lesser place than it should and we are more than likely, as evidence proves, to nurture followers of Jesus who are so psychologically paralysed that they are inhibited from fulfilling their “world formative Christian” vocation. To follow Jesus is to be set free from the hopelessness of our fallen humanity to a new life of hopeful transformation by loving grace not stick waving damnation!
I always go back to that brilliant Disney illustration in the Beauty and The Beast. The Beast does not become beautiful by a tirade of people lambasting his ugliness. The transformation in his life happens when he is loved as a wonderful human being in his ugliness. By seeing through the ugliness by grace he is changed into the Beautiful person he had always the potential of being. When Paul told the Romans that “God demonstrated his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” he was saying that we are loved first, as we are. That love will be what forms us into who we can be, not worthless but heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. God loves you! Now that is good news. Preach it brothers and sisters!