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Wishy–Washy, Fluffy, Hippy Love, August 11, 2017

Wishy–Washy, Fluffy, Hippy Love

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Last week, I wrote that I have come to believe that the gospel can be summed up very simply: “God is love. Full stop.” And, as I speculated in last week’s column, some Christians think that I have watered the gospel down. A few took me to task this week.

Some people suggested that what I wrote was nothing more than wishful thinking. I just wanted to soften the truth—which in their eyes is that God calls us to sacrifice ourselves in the service of the truth, that we have to measure up to God’s demands for righteousness, that we have to confess Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour if we want to avoid going to hell. When I say that “God is love—full stop”, they tell me I just want to make the gospel easier and more palatable, that I am pandering to our contemporary wish to make life as easy as possible.

Someone else told me several years ago that this way of talking about the gospel is wishy–washy, fluffy, hippy nonsense! It all fits with the tie–dyed t–shirts which I like to wear.

Well, ok. If they want to believe that, they can go ahead and do so. I will bless their desire to live a righteous and faithful life. I wish them God’s deepest blessings as they seek to measure up to what they perceive as God’s demands.

All I ask for is that they bless my desire to live equally faithfully, even if it is with a different understanding.

The sad news is that they won’t do so. They tell me I have “betrayed the gospel”. Worse, I have “betrayed God.”

But let me talk a little bit about what I mean by love. How you define “love” makes all the difference.

For me, love is not a concept or a set of emotions. Love doesn’t mean having warm, cozy feelings. For me, love is exemplified in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

In Jesus, I discover a sacrificial love. This kind of love reaches out to the unlovely and the unlovable. It is radically inclusive. It is a love which gives itself for the sake of the other. It is a painful love. It is a love which is willing to get down in the muck and mess of life in order to be with another.

That kind of love is not wishy–washy … or fluffy … or hippy nonsense. In fact, it is far from easy!

Do you know what is easy?

To sign a doctrinal confession, reducing Christian faith to a set of doctrines or beliefs.

To assert that there’s only one way to think about the crucifixion.

To tell people that they must “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.”

None of those things are particularly difficult.

But to live as a child of the God who is love—that’s much tougher. To reorient your entire life towards radical, sacrificial, inclusive love—that’s more difficult. To commit yourself to being transformed in the way we live together and how we take care of the earth together—that requires a steadfastness which shows itself in countless daily acts.

As I was working on this column, a friend called me. We talked about this column, and she told me about a conversion experience she had many years ago.

She was involved in a 12–step program to deal with some of her issues. It’s the program used by people addicted to booze, or drugs, or any other form of addiction. They know that these 12 steps can be life–giving … and they are hard.

The first step is to acknowledge that “we are powerless over alcohol”, or any other addiction. My friend told me about completing Step 5, which is to “admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” She found it a helpful and painful thing to do.

Then she got to Step 7, “humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.” Her sponsor gave her a prayer to use which reads, “I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding.”

My friend said to me, “I couldn’t get past the first sentence of that prayer. It suddenly occurred to me that God loves me, that God loves all of me, both the good and the bad. All my life, I was taught that God loves the good in me and wants to amend the bad in me.”

After a lifetime of living in the church, of being a faithful church member, and serving the church as a minister, she suddenly knew deep in her gut the truth of the gospel: God is love. Full stop.

It was a conversion experience for her. Now, she’s busy living it out in the ways she deals with other people. She has experienced the deep truth of God’s love. Now she’s sharing it with other people.

Not wishy–washy, fluffy, hippy nonsense at all.