Whose Side Are You On?
The God of Moses and Jesus is a big God, whose larger concern is not that we all believe what is right, but that we do what is right no matter what we profess to believe….
My dear friends, have you ever considered that we are now witness in this new 21st century to the bleakness and barbarism of the Middle Ages. We have seen, without a hint of remorse, waves of homicide bombers vaporize innocent human beings; we read of terrorists and insurgents who will murder and maim not only outsiders, but their own defenseless countrymen as well. For Islamic extremists in the Middle East, hatred of the non-believer permits no exceptions. Finding truth outside of Islam is for them impossible. Challenging religious authority is a transgression against God. Absolute certainty leaves little room for disagreement, broadmindedness, or tolerance.
The atrocities we are witnessing in the Islamic world and the Middle East really are the worst we can imagine. But forget radical extremists abroad for a moment. What about us? Not all of us in the Western world are wholly exempt from regimented thinking and religious arrogance. A mindset has surfaced here in our own country, where we should know better, and, more importantly, where we can certainly do better.
It wasn’t too long ago when religious officials insisted that America will prevail, no matter what we do in the world, because “God is on our side.” That kind of thinking presumes that only one kind of people in this country possess the truth, and the rest of us do not. I don’t know about you, but people who are convinced they always know the will of God scare the daylights out of me. As the priest says, when Rudy, the dejected Notre Dame football player, asks him why he didn’t make the team again, after giving it all he had, “There are two things of which I’m certain, there is a God, and I’m not Him.”
Humility is the religious virtue seriously lacking in too many faith circles. By that I don’t mean thinking little of one’s self, but being aware of a reality greater than one’s self. The reality of a Big God means that we are all minorities in God’s eyes, even 2 billion Christians when considering a global village of over 6 billion. In order for dialogue among different faiths to ever happen, we must all be willing to concede that none of us alone can ever know as much as all of us together. We must move the emphasis from claiming that God is on our side to worrying more about being on God’s side of compassion, grace, justice, acceptance, and love.
Yes, my friends, we need to worry less about whether God is on our side and worry more about whether we are on God’s side. When I speak at evangelical churches where this message is often lost, I usually mention three things. First, I say that while they may be surprised to see Jewish people in heaven, I just hope they won’t be disappointed. Second, I tell them that missionizing among Jews is a bad idea because there aren’t that many of us and, trust me, the ones they will get will drive them crazy! Finally, when the laughter dies down, I urge them to consider that there is something more important than saving others’ souls. That is, being worthy yourself of being saved—by the life you lead and the deeds you do.
Once, while looking at the WWJD bracelets, I posed the question, What would Jesus do about the most vulnerable members of our society, the widow, the poor, those hurting in our inner city? What would Jesus do? Just pray for them and then abandon them? And if Jesus were to come back tomorrow, what makes you so certain that he would want you to be way out here in the suburbs near the gun show sign I just passed? Don’t you think he’d want you to be with the defenseless in the heart of the city? Isn’t that where he would be? Instead of a preoccupation with absolute certainty, what about being absolutely dedicated to transforming the city, county, and world that is into the city, county, and world that may someday be?
Absolute certainty, the over-enthusiastic fanatical conviction that “God is on my side,” is the fundamental flaw of religious extremism of any kind. Literalism is also impossible, since 400 words in the Old Testament alone are indecipherable when you study the original Hebrew. This means that pastors who claim to be reading a literal translation of the text are really offering their own interpretation or someone else’s uncertain interpretation of it. The search in Judaism and Christianity, I would contend, has never been for the literal. The search has been for the eternal as applied to our own time and place. Our task as people of faith is to do the most that we can with the time that we have in the place that we are and leave the rest to God. We are to pray as if everything depended on God, but we are called to act as if everything depended on us.
Being on God’s side means asserting that God has put us here at this time and in this place to heal broken hearts and lift up the fallen because God has no other hands than ours to do just that. The challenges of yesterday do not exhaust the challenges of today, which is why being on God’s side means realizing that God’s language isn’t just about the holy book. Human beings are God’s language too. We commit bibliolatry by making a God out of the bible rigidly and wrongly interpreted.
each generation to apply timeless truths to the here and now. God, as Rabbi
Mordecai Kaplan taught, is that aspect of reality that elicits from us the best
that is in us and enables us to bear the worst that can befall us. Human beings
are God’s language, that is why whatever befalls our city and world, the
religious response is what matters most. Otherwise, if the world is sinking, if
the Titanic is sinking, why rearrange the deck chairs.
Being on God’s side means being God’s healing voice on earth. The voice of Isaiah’s love and God’s love.
We are ministers of the sacred when we demonstrate the moral potential God has given to human beings. May we be worthy instruments of God’s will in this world, by remembering that human beings really are God’s language, and therefore, what we do with our faith… will determine whether we move the world closer to the Messianic Age, or backward to the Middle Ages. God wants us to move forward, not backward. May we all be on God’s side, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might.
Copyright ©2006 Micah Greenstein. Delivered April 30, 2006 at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Memphis Tennessee.