I’m sweating like a sinner in church.
It’s an old wisecrack meant to alleviate tension, but it points to an underlying belief about God and especially His followers, the belief that God only really wants to deal with really good people, that He has no tolerance for those who stray from the straight and narrow path. God, and especially His people, don’t like to get their hands dirty.
But these widely-held beliefs could not be further from the truth of our living, loving God. The One who loved us enough to die a humiliating death on the cross for us embraces the wounded, the broken, and those who stumble. He knows more than anyone the imperfections of His creations and loves us anyway.
When we deny that salvation is a gift from God, we fall into the trap of thinking salvation has to be earned by our actions. When we work on the earned-salvation model, we are doomed to make mistakes, doomed to judge ourselves and others, and doomed to lose sight of God in the midst of our efforts to ultimately save ourselves.
We must accept that salvation cannot be earned, that the love of God alone saves us, in order to see the world from a more Godly perspective, to support each other rather than judge, to embrace the imperfections in all of us as an indication of our equality before a perfect God.
God’s love is so great, His willingness to get into the depth and breadth of our indignities so limitless, that our finite brains cannot begin to comprehend it. When Jesus had the power to rule the world and dine with kings, He chose to live as an itinerant and dine with tax collectors and prostitutes, some of the most despised social classes of His time. When Paul held Stephen’s cloak while his compatriots stoned the first Christian martyr to death, God didn’t turn His head, but instead saw the potential in Paul to be one of His greatest crusaders. God is not averse to getting His hands dirty if that is what loving us requires.
We know that God is in the weeds as well as on the mountaintops because God is everywhere:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)
If we live knowing God gets in the weeds, then perhaps we would do better at tolerating the imperfections in ourselves and others. We would do well to remember that Jesus managed to hold people accountable for their actions without making them feel unloved or de-valued. We would know the difference between truth and petty judgments. Church would be a place where love lifts up sinners instead of making them sweat.
Living by putting God’s love first may seem impossible, but all things are possible with a God who is willing to get down in the dirt with us:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
The God who loves the humble fosters an open heart in all of us, as well as a desire to do what is good and right. But when we stumble, He is always ready to take our hands and pull us back to our feet again. Finding yourself in the weeds? He’s right there, waiting patiently, for you to find Him.