At church this morning, a lady from a shelter spoke to us. This shelter is for battered people, both men and women. The lady talked about the importance of community meals at the shelter, and how children express appreciation that they can sit down and eat a meal in peace and quiet, without a lot of shouting and hatred.
The thought that I had while listening to this is that we have here a group that shows people the love of God. So often, I see Christianity in terms of rules and beliefs. If I believe such-and-such, then God will like me. If I behave in such-and-such way, then God will accept me. But this group reaches out to people in love, regardless of what the people believe, and even if they (like all people) have their share of imperfections. This group gives people acceptance, peace, and quiet—-shelter—-because, as people made in God’s image, they deserve that.
My pastor preached a sermon that coincided with the thoughts that I was having. He noted that Jesus, after being resurrected, did not proceed to kill off those who crucified him. My pastor contrasted that with superhero stories in which the superhero rises from the ashes after a major setback and defeats the bad guys. My pastor also observed that Jesus did not chastise his disciples for forsaking him in his time of need.
I can see my pastor’s point. I would say, though, that he was partly right. Jesus did not take out revenge on those who crucified him, but the Gospels do seem to depict the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as divine punishment for the Jewish establishment’s rejection of Jesus (Matthew 23:37-38). And yet, that did not occur immediately after Jesus’ resurrection. The picture within the Book of Acts is that the Christians continued to reach out to Jerusalem, encouraging people there to repent in response to the love of God, and even bringing some priests and Pharisees to Christ.
A platitude that I have often heard within evangelicalism is “God is loving, but God is also just!” Sometimes, that is used to explain why Jesus had to die for our sins, and why God could not simply say “that’s okay” in response to our transgressions. Other times, it is used to put the fear of God into the hearts of those in the pew. “I better shape up, for God is just.” There is a part of me that appreciates the concept of justice. Going back to those superhero stories, I like when a superhero puts a stop to oppression and injustice, getting rid of bad apples so that more peace and harmony might exist. I may think that God in the Bible goes too far with his “justice,” at times, especially when innocent people die as a result of God’s wrath, but I can still appreciate the concept of justice. Still, I also appreciate mercy, because I need plenty of that.
Even when it comes to that shelter, not everything is lovey-dovey. There is justice, for the shelter provides legal advocacy for those who have been battered. Moreover, some of the battered people there may have been in situations where mercy has been abused—-where the abuser keeps asking for forgiveness, the abused feels obligated to provide it, and the abuser abuses again.
I may be criticized for this, but I do believe that something should be done to reach out to the abusers, to help them to cope with their anger in better ways, to encourage them to repent. The effectiveness of this depends, of course, on if they want help.