Lucy, who recently became a follower of Jesus, was happily relating to me a conversation she’d had earlier that afternoon. Her lively conversation had transpired with a friend who followed both Buddhism and Christianity. Her friend thus believed in forgiveness, that the Universe is love, and that all people are part of God.
My warning bells went off.
Lucy came from a Buddhist background. I worried that, as a new Christian, she would find her friend’s syncretistic combination appealing. I became anxious that she would believe all people are part of God, thus cheapening the death and resurrection that Jesus experienced to bring us into right relationship with Father.
So, I stood at the kitchen sink, staring at her as she sat at the kitchen table. How can I cut off any theological confusion without becoming a dictator of right and wrong? I don’t want to play the part of the Holy Spirit…he’s the one who convicts.
As I attempted to wrangle my buzzing thoughts into order, a fellow housemate entered the kitchen and sat herself across from Lucy at the table. I bit my tongue and excused myself to the shower.
Under the water, I prayed with confusion.
“Lord, I don’t want her to believe that all people are in you. Yes, all people are in you in the sense that you made us in your image. But, Jesus bought for us a special relationship with you through his death and resurrection. That gift was costly. Doesn’t her friend’s thinking try to cheapen that gift?”
As I turned the shower knob off, I prayed for an opportunity to speak to Lucy without our housemate intervening. I felt nervous, but I assumed I should speak.
Post-shower, I wandered into the kitchen with my hair soaking-wet and retainer in. Lucy was still at the table. Alone. Sitting down beside her, I began to weasel my way toward the subject we had abruptly abandoned. When I finally got the conversation back on topic (not very gracefully), Lucy was peaceful and happy about her friend’s forgiveness and empathy. Her friend had been glad that Lucy finds joy and new life in Jesus.
Wow, that’s good, I thought. But how to get to the theological question…?
Tact left me and I mumbled random thoughts. My friend perceived my preoccupation. Kindly, she asked, “Is there something you’d like to ask me? Something you want to say?”
Seeing a raw opening, I blurted out incoherently. “I was wondering what you thought about the thought that all people are in God.” “And,” I added for good measure, “what you thought about her idea of forgiveness. Does it mirror what we were discussing the other day?”
“Oh,” she replied. “Well, I agree with her about forgiveness.”
Yes, I thought, me too. But what about the universal abiding of all people in God?
We finally got there. And I said my piece, with which she agreed. I breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of. I still felt kind of uneasy.
Then, Lucy smiled and ventured, “Do you mind if I go get my Bible?”
“Sure, go for it!” I said.
When she came back into the kitchen, she opened to Mark 9:38-41. “I was reading here today,” she said. “And I was wondering what you think this means.”
We read the text, which told a story.
“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Lucy turned and looked at me, waiting for me to give my opinion on the story.
Jesus was gently chastising me, so I told her that. I had worried about her friend’s theology; I was eager to correct heresy and prune doxology. I overlooked the good in her friend’s statement: that she values forgiveness, empathizes with others, and finds joy in Lucy’s joy in Jesus. Mark’s story could have been re-written last night as follows.
Meredith said to Jesus, “Lord, someone was speaking of forgiveness and the truth that you are Love, and I tried to stop her because she didn’t adhere to doxology.” But Jesus said to Meredith, “Do not stop her; for no one who loves and forgives as I do will be able to speak ill of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever is glad with you because you bear the touch of Christ will by no means lose her reward.”
I asked forgiveness of my sister and of Jesus. His love is greater than mine. By leaps and bounds, by valleys and mountains. My love could fill the hat of an acorn. His love drowns the earth. His forgiveness is far reaching. And he is more concerned with the important things of love than he is with the correctness of theology.
Who should we rather be – the Pharisees, pristine in belief and broken in love, or the exorcist who imitated Jesus, but didn’t follow him? I think Jesus gave us his answer. It doesn’t fit with my understanding of theology, but it’s what Jesus said. I think Jesus is more radical than the mainstream church. Let’s be radical with him, more focused on Him than on rules.