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You are not better than a Muslim

Some weeks back, James Boyce penned an opinion piece for The Monthly titled, “the Devil and Scott Morrison.”

Boyce “outed” the Prime Minister’s beliefs in a personal Devil, the return of Christ, the fall of man, and the depravity of the unregenerate soul, to name a few.

To which I say this: if that’s what it takes to be “outed” as a fruitcake, then put me on the fruitcake menu.

These are nothing more than timeless, mainstream Christian beliefs.

The issue comes with what Boyce claims to be the implication of these beliefs.

Principal among them is Boyce’s accusation that Christianity creates an “us and them” dynamic, which is the lens through which Christians like Scott Morrison view the world. Boyce writes:

The question of salvation is the most sensitive of all these matters. In the Pentecostal world view, there is a clear delineation between those who are saved and those who are not, those who are accepted by God and those who have spurned his offer of salvation. This is an outlook that encourages a “them” and “us” understanding of human community. It is because this world view is easily reconciled with that of right-wing populists that our PM’s religion is such a potentially dangerous one.

In response to this point, I thought, “that is both true and false.”

It is true in one sense. Yes, there are two categories of people, and the categories matter.

But Boyce seems oblivious to the fact that his own worldview has an “us and them” component. His very article is setting out to make such a delineation. “Them” at least includes Pentecostals. “Us” at least includes Boyce.

Even the great bastions of virtue – believers in tolerance, acceptance, and diversity – will turn around and cut off certain people. If you’re not a minority and you happen to make a truth claim, then you’ll likely end up in the “them” category.

There is no option. Everyone’s worldview carries an element like this.

The ugliest expression of it is really seen in the rise and rise of identity politics.

But here’s where Boyce is wrong: he thinks that the “us” and “them” dynamic of Christianity has consequences akin to identity politics.

He thinks it creates anything from disdain to hostility towards “them.”

The implication is that “us” are the favoured few, necessarily creating a dangerous undertone of superiority.

At this point I want to exclaim with the Apostle Paul, “God forbid!”

The true Christian who understands his or her faith should never, never, never, ever have such a thought.

Listen to the cadence of scripture:

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Why are we “us”? Is it because we were better? No. It is because of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:4-5, 8-9)

Why are we saved? Because of rich mercy, undeserved.

As one theologian said, as soon as you think you somehow deserved mercy, then you’re not thinking of mercy anymore.

This was the great, and painful revelation that Isaiah endured when he was commissioned by God. When confronted with the heights and the greatness of God – His holiness – Isaiah made a stunning discovery.

He realised that he had not one atom of self-worth to hold up as credit before the Almighty.

“Woe is me! For I am undone!” He said, before confessing his sin.

What does this all mean?

Isaiah’s experience gives us the answer. Having been deconstructed in the presence of God; brought low; humbled; taken to a condition of poverty of spirit, he is ready for the grace of God.

And so, the blessings flow. God reaches out to forgive: “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for,” says the angel.

Then the cry rings out from God’s throne, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”

Isaiah’s answer is very significant.

“Here I am! Send me.”

I think it would have illustrated a very different posture had he said, “I will go.”

The latter carries a sense of going in one’s own steam, under one’s own strength. The former – what he truly said – calls on God’s grace to do the sending. For he now knows that every gift he needs, every truth he must speak, every atom of value in God’s eyes must come from outside of himself. Anything less will leave him qualified only to be damned…which is the meaning of “woe is me.”

His was the posture of the Psalmist who said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my strength come? My strength comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth.”

I want to ask this very serious question: what do you think is the source of the good in your life?

Do you believe, genuinely, that every single morsel of goodness, blessing, ability – even the giftings that you have – are wholly and absolutely from the riches of God’s grace? That they all rightly belong to God, and dwell in God, and are not found in your natural-born self?

Do you believe that?

I am afraid that many Christians today do not.

The responses I saw on social media to the mosque attacks in New Zealand rattled me.

One person took exception to ACL’s call to pray for all involved, declaring that they would never pray for a group with members who rejoice at the beheading of Christian martyrs.

I suspect that these were moderate Muslims, but even if they were not, Jesus asked us to even pray for our enemies. In fact, He said that is one thing which sets us apart from the world (Matt 5:43-48).

That same person went on to say the dead have chosen hell, and that they therefore will not waste a single tear on them.

This person’s views are utterly opposed to my own, and most of you, I know.

But I realised something from their statements.

I realised that if we fail to believe that we are no better than anyone else – including Muslims – then Boyce is right.

We offer little more than right-wing identity politics. It’s “us” and “them” and we are better.

But the definition of mercy means that we deserved nothing.

The grace of God means we were plucked from darkness to light, not because of our own works, but because of His great love.

The doctrine of gifts means that even our abilities and talents are given to us by God, on trust to be used for His glory.

In all things, to God be the glory.

Hear the Apostle Paul: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” (Rom 3:27)

Or, as Christians throughout the centuries have said with conviction, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

So yes, there is an “us” and “them,” but we are “us” only because God demonstrated His love to us. And we crave this blessing for “them,” so we pray for them.

And meanwhile we know with all our heart, that in our own flesh, we are no better than anyone else. That includes the most radical Muslim.

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