Oct 13, 2008

deconstructing christian cliches - pt 4

There are some things that sound like they're "Christian" to say, and in some ways they make sense to the mind of the average churchgoer. It may not be a bad thing to begin with, because our finite brains are trying hard to process an infinite God. Nonetheless, these clichés remain and often develop under the radar.

So this is my last in this series of posts, which means I'm going to rapid fire a last bunch of them.


"Love the sinner, hate their sin."

A nice swing... but ultimately a foul ball. Jesus said love our neighbor and hate our own sin - or to be specific, deal the plank that is in our eye before we pick out their speck of sawdust. That doesn't mean we don't help people deal with the inner rebellion that separates them from God... it means that we don't use a cliché as a way to become hypocritical in how we treat them.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)


"God can't steer a parked car."

Why not? (Think about it for a moment)

This is a statement that is often made to get people busy for Jesus. I'm all for responding out of genuine gratefulness to God and finding the unique mission He has for me on earth... but to be busy for the sake of being busy doesn't make sense at all.

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)

"When God closes a door, He opens a window."


and sometimes He just closes a door.

On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:6-12)
And other times He opens a tomb.

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said.

"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." (John 11:38-43)


"The gun was fired, and we were dead in our sins... until Jesus stepped in front of the bullet."

This is true in one sense - Jesus did bear the punishment for our sins. What's odd about this one, though, is that as a just God He also was the one firing the gun. Think about it.

A better metaphor I've heard is the one of the judge and the defendant. A girl appears before a judge and is found guilty for speeding. She pleads her case, but he's a just judge and holds her accountable for her choices. Slamming the gavel down, he pronounces, "Guilty as charged. $100 fine"

And then this judge stands up, takes off his robe, and walks around to pay for the girl's fine himself. Yes, this man was a righteous judge. However, he was also the girl's father and out of love for her he paid her penalty, even though he did nothing wrong himself.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

I'm sure there are more, but you get the idea.

According to the dictionary, a cliché is "a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse." It may have some grains of truth, but when it replaces truth in the form of clever sayings we really miss out on so much.

So may we become people who take part in the Story of God... and not settle for bumper sticker theology. They are nice and sticky and can help us feel good about what we believe... but may such concepts lead us to deeper places of productivity and never become an end to themselves.


Aili said...

I enjoy the debunking of Christian myths/clichés. I think, sometimes, we can grow too comfortable with them, like old shoes that never fit right, but we got used to them, and now they need to be thrown away.

I'm not sure that the first one "Love the sinner, hate their sin" is such a one, though. I think that, firstly, most people say 'the' rather than 'their', which seems tiny, but, I think, is actually huge. It removes the focus on who owns the sin, and places it back on sin, in general.

I think that most people tend not to use this as an 'others bashing' phrase, but more as a recognition and reminder that the person involved in overt sinfulness is precious, despite behaviour; a reminder not to write someone off because of their struggle.

I think, also, that it is used to remind ourselves, and others around us, that, despite loving people deeply, it is not ok to feel comfortable with their sin. It is not healthy, or helpful, to condone (or appear to condone) evil.

That doesn't mean, however, holding someone's sin over their head, focussing on it, discussing it with others, comparing ourselves to it, treating them harshly because of it, thinking that theirs is worse than ours, or, being hypocritical in any way.

I don't think this has to be an unhelpful cliché. One may need to be careful to use it appropriately, and attempt to steer clear of hypocrisy, but I think there is value in the sentiment.

Tony Myles said...

Valuable insights, Aili! I don't disagree with you, but here's why I listed it as a cliché - I see this phrase used more often than it should to look down at "other people's sins" than it is to process our own.

For instance, many Christians enjoy talking about homosexuality and all of the "evils of that sin has on our culture." Seldom, though, do they realize the evils of their own heterosexual sin... lust, divorce, porn, emotional affairs, addiction to romance novels, intense fascination with Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives sexual relationship plotlines, a desire to see Brad/Angelina on screen because they're "such interesting actors," and so on. And then there's the apathy issues... "I know _______ is having a tough time in their marriage. Man, must suck to be them. I wonder what's on TV tonight?"

So I wouldn't have issue with the statement if it purely was what you propose. Only I find that people don't end up hating sin... they end up hating someone else's sin and not their own.

I'd love to know if you have had a different experience with this, though. Have you? Because I'd really enjoy seeing a change like that in all of our hearts, including my own.

Aili said...

I totally agree that it is very easy to fall into blindness to our own sin while seeing others' (and 'the world's') magnified. I am truly guilty of this on an embarassingly regular basis. But, I haven't seen this phrase used in that way.

Maybe it's just my experience, but I have only ever heard this used appropriately. If I had heard people use this in the way you describe I would probably feel the need to put this one to rest, as well. :)