I was born into and grew up in a really nice family. Two parents and six siblings. It was, for the most part, a peaceful and good family. By good I am referring to values and behaviors. We went to church all the time; once I gave up playing in a Little League baseball game to attend a revival service – I was that good! There was no alcohol or drug use, much less abuse. No physical or verbal abuse either. Very little smoking – my dad quit when I was like 3, and my mother never smoked (or chewed). In all the years I was growing up I heard my dad say one cuss word, and I’m not sure about that one; I was about 13 years old and was so shocked when he said it that I can’t be sure he said what I thought he said. We kids didn’t get into much trouble at school or anywhere else. We weren’t perfect but we were nice people.
I took that to mean that I was nice enough, good enough. Being church people, I took it to mean that I was okay with God because I was in a family of good behaviors (even though I did some things in secret that would not have counted as good) and went to church. Then I realized that I was not good; that I was personally guilty of wrongness. And that’s when I started to understand God’s real purpose in Jesus Christ.
In his autobiography “Brother to a Dragonfly,” Will Campbell described how his friend P. D. East pressed him for a concise definition of Christianity. East did not want a long or fancy explanation. “I’m not too bright,” he told Campbell. “Keep it simple. In ten words or less, what’s the Christian message?” Campbell’s answer: “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”
By “bastard” he meant “somebody regarded as obnoxious and disagreeable” (Encarta Dictionary). The New Oxford American Dictionary definition is “an unpleasant or despicable person.” We’re all obnoxious, disagreeable, unpleasant, and despicable.
That’s difficult for us to accept. We’d rather say “I’m lovable so God loves me.”
Look at this exchange Jesus had with some religious leaders: Matthew 9:10-13. (Hover your cursor over or click the text.) What Jesus calls people to – a right relationship with our Creator, a place in his Kingdom, peace and joy, guidance, eternal life, etc. – is not for people who consider themselves “healthy” and “righteous.” It is for the ones who will face up to the reality that they are “sick,” that they are “sinners.” They accept as fact that they are spiritually and morally needy, broken, and guilty. Yes, that they are bastards.
This “bastardness” is not offset by somehow eliminating the feeling of guilt and wrongness. You may eradicate the guilty feeling with drugs or straight A’s or career advancement or athletic excellence or self-esteem development or following your heart or getting the government to legalize your behavior. Yet you can’t eliminate the reality of guilt.
A dad told me about talking with his 5-year-old son about the boy’s misbehavior. Dad was trying to help him think through what he was doing so he could maybe improve his conduct. Dad: “Why did you do that?” Son: “Dad, you don’t know the power of the dark side!” (Quoting D. Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back”)
We need to face the “dark side” that is in us, that characterizes us. And that can be unnerving. It is unsettling and frightening to face the reality that I am actually, unequivocally guilty of serious wrongdoing before God. You may feel like you’re going to disintegrate (Isaiah 6:5). There is no way to soften it; just believe that it will be worth it.
It will be worth it because of the way God addresses our guilt. Jesus said it’s with “mercy” (Matthew 9:13). With compassion. As Will Campbell told his friend, “but God loves us anyway.” Please remember that God does not love us because we deserve it, but because he is love and he is merciful. It starts with his being, not with our worth or even our need. He loves us anyway. In mercy, Jesus died on the cross and took our guilt as his own, as if he was a bastard. He takes our guilt away from us so we can come into a right relationship with God.
God addresses our guilt with mercy. God can snatch you up and throw you into the pit of hell, but he picks you up and hugs you to himself. God can demand that you measure up to every command and rule and expectation that holiness requires, but he accepts you just as you are. God can tear you to pieces with one look, but he does everything he can to hold you together. God can ignore you and leave you to your own and others’ foolishness, but he passionately comes to get you and make you his own. We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.
So face up to your guilt. Admit that you are doing wrong. Accept God’s mercy by trusting Jesus to take away your guilt and turning your life over to him.
I have found that I need God’s mercy every day. I am still not nice enough. I am still a bastard. And I have found that God continues to love me anyway.
It’s almost Christmas. I don’t want to be Grinchy and steal anyone’s merriment, but this might be the perfect time to face up to your bastardness and count on God’s mercy. After all, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Nativity by Carol Aust