But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.
-1 Corinthians 8:1b-3
"You know what thinking is? Thinking is just a fancy word for changing your mind."
"I will not change my mind."
"Then you will die stupid."
-One of my favorite lines from Doctor Who (I have several hundred others as well).
Multiple times throughout his teachings in the gospels, Jesus asked his disciples, "what do you think?". He wanted to invite them to thoughtfully considering what they were hearing. He wasn't particularly asking for their opinion as much as asking them to sit with why a story made them uncomfortable or elated.
Jesus was teaching them to always keep the door open to a new understanding of God and others. This was certainly so that they could understand God's heart. But it was also so that they would learn the value of humility. This has become a real problem in much of the American church.
Over the decades I've heard a lot of messaging about how important it is for Christians to have "strong convictions." I certainly have strong convictions about a number of things regarding my faith and life. But is it possible that this emphasis on holding and defending our convictions can actually make us rigid and unteachable? As if the more confident we are in our knowledge, the less able we are to learn?
As a church, we lean deeply into discipleship. Discipleship means, at its simplest core, apprenticeship. A disciple is someone who is constantly learning from Jesus in new ways. If we can't think in new ways and consider new things, we have a discipleship problem.
Thinking well takes work. Many of us believe that we're thinking when we hear new ideas or stories that challenge how we see reality. But much of that time, rather than actually thinking critically, what we're doing is figuring out the most effective way to reject other ideas, and defend our own. Inside our heads, we subconsciously argue, dismiss, rationalize, or judge. But thinking well somehow gets lost.
What if, instead of linking thinking to winning arguments or defending our correctness, it was linked closely with the concept of love?
Paul warned the Corinthians that if they thought they got it all figured out, they almost certainly had huge blind spots in their lives. The same is true of us. But if our goal is to learn how to love God (and others, as an extension) really well... then that's what is significant in God's eyes. LOVE > KNOWLEDGE. Why? Because our knowledge is always limited, but love will always lead us toward God.
The Christ followers in my life with the greatest wisdom, maturity, and spiritual depth share several things in common. They hold their faith with great humility. They are always open to learning new things and calling their assumptions into question. And they are not afraid of changing their minds as they keep their eyes on Jesus.
When we first love God and approach knowledge through that lens, we will learn to reject those tendencies to argue, dismiss, rationalize, or judge.
Instead, we will:
Wonder what we might be missing.
Evaluate our own resistance.
Ask what God's love and care would look like.
When love leads us, we long to understand. We long to be changed. We long to learn from another's experience.
Personally, my mind has continued to grow and change over the years as I've tried to allow love to become more significant than my supposed knowledge.
I've learned that God is bigger than I previously allowed for. I've learned racial injustice is more widespread and horrific than my personal bias had taught me. I've learned that people who have done terrible things at the worst moment of their lives are capable of more good than I would ever have given them credit for. I've learned that God's faithfulness is not dependent on me figuring out every mysterious detail in the Bible.
When love and humility lead us toward Jesus, Jesus teaches us new things about his kingdom. But even that new knowledge won't ever be the most important part of our formation. The heart that is formed in us during the process will be. We will not have all the answers, and we don't need to. But Jesus is faithful to help us learn the way of love as we seek to be open to all that is real and true, even if it's difficult.
What is Jesus asking you to really think about this week?
Jesus, your presence is a safe place to be. Therefore, let me be unafraid to listen, learn, and think in new compassionate ways today.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
I'm 4 years older than Jesus ever was.
I've been thinking about that this week. Thinking that he died so very young. Have you ever thought about the tragedy of that truth?
Some may be uncomfortable with that statement because well, Jesus had to die at exactly that place and time, so thinking about Jesus getting old is ridiculous. Maybe that's right. Or maybe, if people had been more receptive of the good news of God's kingdom of forgiveness and wholeness, things could have gone differently... at least for a little while longer.
There is value in looking at things from a new angle.
For many, the cross is primarily about God being angry and us being forgiven, with Jesus hanging in the middle. But that's far too small a picture. When the story is too individualized, it gets disconnected from the circumstances that led to Jesus's death. Jesus becomes stripped of his own humanity and turned into a divine metro card to transport us to heaven free of charge. Of course, if this was the case, then he could have just been killed by King Herod when he was an innocent baby (Mt. 1:13) and that would have taken care of the perfect sacrifice needed. But that's a TFG for another time.
Jesus' death is more multifaceted than that. People got angry. They wanted him dead, though he harmed no one. Each year we have to be willing to be horrified by it all before we can be grateful for it all. We dare not run away from the discomfort of Friday night in our attempt to spring ahead to Sunday morning. Because if there's anything that helps makes sense of the world as we see it, it's the cross.
In a year like we've experienced, leaning into the cross this Holy Week might seem like salt poured onto a wound. We've seen enough death this year. We've watched unjust and unnecessary violence against the BIPOC community and other minorities. We've felt the sting of injustice, cried tears of heartache at the lack of love and care in our world. We've felt despair and exhaustion and isolation, and cried out for God to fix all the broken things out there (and in us!). We've questioned what's true or not, as lines seem to be blurred everywhere. The last thing we need is to call to mind another story about someone's death. If we wanted more of that, we could watch it on the news any day.
So know this, friends: it's allowed to be horrible. You're supposed to be disgusted by people nailing a human being to a cross for any reason, let alone an innocent man who was proclaiming God's love to the world. It's allowed to feel like it doesn't make sense, like it's just more hopelessness. Yet, if we see it through the correct lens, it's also something completely new and wonderful.
Because the story isn't just that the son of God died. It's how he died.
Jesus looks head on at those doing evil, and says a prayer for them. Not only that, he takes all their wrath, all their hatred, all their sin sickness, and receives it willingly, exposing the emptiness of it all. Jesus fighting back or destroying his enemies in like fashion would accomplish nothing. But Jesus loving, forgiving, and refusing to use the same tactics to set things right..... well, that just makes a mockery of evil altogether. It pulls back the charade and shows just how ugly and meaningless sin is.
It's like God is sending a message to the world about what violence, fear, power, and dominance will always lead to, and it cannot be ignored. Jesus exposes the ugliness that humans are capable of, and does the most remarkable thing.
He forgives them while they're at their ugliest.
In Colossians, Paul writes that the cross itself was a triumph. Not the resurrection, mind you! That's a triumph too, but why would the cross be triumphant? Because in one single moment the cross reveals the horrific ugliness of humanity's capabilities, and the breathtaking beauty of God's. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, is another way to put it. Jesus reveals the sickness of evil in the world, and ends the cycle. And now we know how to as well. Forgiveness changes everything. It's a masterclass in God's character.
What a young, horrible, profoundly beautiful death. All at once.
Jesus' death was so much more than personal forgiveness, though that's included in this selfless sin-absorbing act. God suffering innocently is a political statement of love and justice to the corrupt systems of the world. It's solidarity with every human who suffers unjustly. It's a revelation of God's true character. And it reveals a way of living and dying that sparked a global movement of people who have tried to imitate him (very imperfectly) for thousands of years.
So tomorrow, as you reflect on this important weekend, it's appropriate to feel like this should not have happened. And it's appropriate to feel immense gratitude that it did, because nothing could more clearly communicate God's heart, expose the emptiness of sin, and teach us to be people of redemption.
Jesus, help me pause in wonder today at your character displayed on the cross.