First a note of apology: March has been a difficult and busy month. I hoped to write another Crosswords article on March 16th but I couldn’t get it finished. My life is back to some sort of order. I’ll hopefully continue to churn these articles out twice a month. Please feel free to leave some feedback. It would be MUCH appreciated!
Now that I’ve been working for the government for almost a year, I’ve learned quite a lot about the political process. The biggest lesson: things run very slowly. It’s a lot of "hurry up and wait." Another thing I learned is "bureaucracy is here because someone needs a job." But one of the most important things I’ve learned is, "It’s always better to seek forgiveness than it is to ask for permission."
I think is a saying that many people use; but it’s an axiom here in the Pentagon. A few weeks ago, I found out that it is actually illegal to install Firefox on my desktop. Yes, illegal. So I submitted a request to have it installed legally. After about two weeks, it finally got approved.
Because of all the bureaucracy and the red tape, sometimes it’s just a lot easier to just do what you need to do and then ask for forgiveness later. But I had to ask myself if I was doing this because I just wanted something or because it was for the mission. Also, how did this reflect my views on God?
One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is when Bart becomes a faith healer. With the help of Brother Faith, he successfully pulled off a metal bucket that was glued on Homer’s head. He asks Brother Faith how he was able to get the bucket off.
Faith: Well, I didn’t, son. You did. God gave you the power.
Bart: Really? Huh. I would think that He would want to limit my power.
Faith: Oh, yes, Lord. When I was your age, I was a hell-raiser, too. My slingshot was my cross. But I saw the light, and changed my wicked ways.
Bart: I think I’ll go for the life of sin, followed by a presto- change-o deathbed repentance.
Faith: Wow, that’s a good angle. [pause] But that’s not God’s angle. Why not spend your life helping people instead. Then you’re also covered in case of sudden death.
Bart: Full coverage? Hmmm
I think what Bart says hits the core of every heart. Just do whatever you want and then ask for forgiveness on your deathbed. But I wonder if it’s really that simple.
One of the foundations of the Christian faith is that once you ask God for forgiveness, all your sins — past, present, future — all become null and void. They are done and the punishment was paid. And if this is true, then why not ask God for forgiveness and then do whatever you want? You can, in a sense, have a cake and eat it too.
I think one of the things that trips people up about the Christian faith is the idea that they live a very restrictive life. All of the sudden, anything that used to be fun is now "frowned upon." No sex or rock and roll. That’s what it means to be a Christian, right? So a life of doing whatever you want and then asking for forgivness is a way of beating the system.
Believe it or not, this is exactly right. Yes, you can become "saved" and then continue living the life you always had. Knowing that you have "fire insurance", you can go back to enjoying life! You no longer have to fear death because you know you’re going to heaven! So bring on the sex and rock and roll!
What we don’t realize is that there is something so dangerous about this idea. It is this very thought that shows just how much we need God in our lives. What we say, in essence, is that we want everything with none of the responsibility. Yes, we want heaven, but we want everything here too. I want to be a "Christian" but don’t want to become "lame."
There aren’t very many relationships that can be summarized in this way. And yet, this is how many of us, including myself, see God.
Grace and mercy are often confused. The idea of mercy is simple: we don’t get something that we deserve. When you get a ticket, you hope that the judge will give you mercy and not punish you. Grace is also simple: getting something you don’t deserve. Using the same analogy, the judge decides not to fine you (mercy) but then decides to give you $50 for each ticket you’ve had (grace).
With God, he gives mercy to those who ask for it. But, who also gives grace to us when we don’t. So what does this have to do with doing whatever we want?
We can never out-sin God’s mercy and we can never "run out" of forgiveness. But here’s what we miss out on: relationship. The whole point of the Gospel is not about getting into heaven. (There are Christians out there right now wondering how this can be true. Bear with me.) Read that again: the crux of the Gospel, the main goal of the Gospel is NOT heaven or salvation.
The goal is much simpler. The goal is relationship. Without grace and mercy, we could not be in communion with God. Sin separates us. Once sin is out of the picture, we can now be in the presence of God and see him for who he is. It is within this presence that we have the opportunity to experience God in ways that we never would have thought or imagined.
So yes, you can keep doing whatever you want after you become a Christian. And I believe God realizes that you can do whatever you want. But I think he does it on purpose. I think he does it so you have to wonder why he would forgive you in the first place. Why would he go through all the trouble?
Here’s the funny thing: when someone does anything nice for us, we get suspicious. We ask ourselves, "Okay, why is this person being nice?" And I think this is what God hopes for. Do people take advantage of him? Well, I wonder if the better question is, "Are you really taking advantage of someone when they are allowing you?"