By the time you read this, it will be July and chances are it will be hot, really hot. That means you will start seeing church signs throughout the area with phrases like this on them: “If you think this is hot...” What is meant of course is the heat of hell and the idea, I suppose, is to motivate people to live as that particular church believes they ought to live.
But such signs don’t work for me. All they do is to make me even more hot — hot under the collar, angry. Because once again Christianity is being presented as a religion of threat rather than what it is, which is a religion of promise and hope. And that makes me angry because the threat takes the life from us rather than put life into us.
If the resurrection is the defining event of Christianity, then the purpose of Christianity should be to put life into us — fill us with the hope and promise of new life, new possibility. It should bring us alive with courage and help us fully live and love and be the people God made us to be. But when Christianity is presented in terms of threat, the result is that we become afraid to live, be ourselves, and often feel rather dead.
In particular is this true when it comes to expressing our creativity, using our imaginations, thinking new thoughts. In a novel an old artist says to a young artist whose work is timid and mediocre, “If Christianity hadn’t scared the wits out of you when you were a child, you might have become something, accomplished something.” And that is often the sad truth of it: we become scared of expressing ourselves, scared of new or different ideas, scared to explore life and the selves we have it in us to become.
Even more, what Christianity as threat does is to make us into people who play it so safe that God can hardly use us at all. That’s what’s so strange about it. Again and again in the Bible, the people God used were not the ones who played it safe but the ones who lived fully, took risks, were filled with passion. They made terrible mistakes at times, did foolish things, but they were alive and daring. And that’s why God used them — God needed alive and daring and passionate people through whom God could work his purpose.
And the same with Jesus. Jesus went with the all-or-nothing ones, the go -for-broke ones, because those were the ones who would go for broke for the sake of the Gospel, for his sake. They were the ones he could live through when he was gone, the ones he could bring alive and through whose passionand courage he could live. When we are scared to live and think and risk and love, we give Jesus little or nothing to work with.
As someone else has put it, we are not to take the life we have been given and tuck it under our tail and sit on it like an old grad on a hot water bottle on the fifty-yard line on a chilly October Saturday. Christ came to give us life, set us free, put hope and courage within us, that we would be people through whom God can bring life and hope to this world. We are to use our minds and imaginations, live with passion, explore new ideas, be open to new discoveries and all that is possible in God. We are to come fully alive in the power of Christ and not be afraid to live, not be afraid to love, not be afraid of joy.
Threat does not motivate me. Promise does. The promise of life like we’ve never dared to imagine, the promise of becoming the selves we so want to be, the promise of life now and forever. And anyway, I doubt if there’s any place hotter than Atlanta in July!
God be with you,