BY CLINT LOVEALL - FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
This spring, I have been teaching a Heresy Class, which is to say teaching about heresy and hopefully not actually teaching heresy. The word "heresy" is from Greek, and basically means "to choose." Essentially it came to mean that a person or group had "chosen" their own way of thinking over the accepted doctrine or the basic teaching of the church. And though the term was occasionally abused and thrown about at anyone who disagreed with authority, it was typically reserved for those who taught what seemed like dangerous and misguided ideas about God, people, Jesus and faithfulness.
In an age that celebrates everyone's opinion as equally valid and holds up the individual as the highest authority, "heresy" isn’t a word that means much anymore. However, there are still plenty of powerful bad ideas out there and they are still doing damage. I don’t know if all of them are heresy, but choosing to believe them can still be dangerous.
For instance, I often talk to people who believe that when something terrible happens, God did it. I’m amazed how many people choose to believe that God gives out cancer, knocks cars off of icy roads, makes children sick, etc. Sure, there are a few parts of the Bible you can read that way, but there are lots of parts you shouldn't, and I have always worried that we give God credit for things God doesn’t want credit for. The idea that God "takes" our loved ones away from us and tests us with diseases and disasters certainly doesn’t lend itself to the church's understanding of love and grace.
Another bad idea I encounter often is that being "right" means I don’t have to love my enemies. I'm often saddened by the way we who call ourselves Christians talk about those with whom we disagree. Yes, I know Jesus said some hard things about his enemies, but we are not Jesus and he told us to love those who don't love us. Being right is not a free pass to judge others and demean or insult those we think are wrong, even if they actually are. We live at a time where division is the order of the day and disrespect runs rampant, but that doesn’t make it a Christian option.
Finally, the last bad idea I bump into frequently is the horrible belief that somehow God can love everyone but me. Do you have any idea how many people feel fundamentally unlovable at their core? It's a lot. Maybe someone told them they had no worth, or mistreated them, or maybe they got the idea some other way, but there are so many people walking around who feel like they have no real value. They think their sins can’t be forgiven, that they have no right to be happy and that their pain can’t ever go away. They are often gracious and loving toward others, but don’t really believe those gifts can apply to them. They don’t doubt God’s love and Christ’s grace for others, but they struggle to accept it for themselves, which unfortunately, is one of the worst bad ideas of all.
As we move toward Easter, it's worth spending some time reflecting on the gracious love God shows us in the cross of Christ. It's worth remembering that it is for all people, including our enemies and ourselves. It’s worth remembering that "God so loved the world …" and continues to love those in it. God sent his own Son to teach and to give love, life, peace and joy, and Christ’s truth leaves no room for bad ideas that keep us in the dark. Choose faith instead and follow the light.