I've been contemplating this post for a couple of weeks now. It's a tough one, but one I feel it necessary to write about. I'm not going to candy coat anything. And even though I'm pretty certain, I'm supposed to share this lesson, I'm not entirely sure how well it's going to be received. I'm not hoping to start a debate, I'm simply logging what God has taught my heart through this experience. Please be respectful in your comments, even if you don't agree.
So here it goes....
I don't often watch Oprah, but a few weeks ago when it came on I was busy in the kitchen so I left it on for background noise. That particular day Oprah briefly discussed the recent tragedy of Shaniya Davis, the five-year-old little girl who was sold into sex slavery by her mother and was then later found murdered on the side of a North Carolina highway.
Immediately I was brought to tears. As I sat there crying I clung to my own daughter. Feelings of sadness dissipated and before long I was just plain angry. I was angry at Antoinette Davis (the mother). I can't even begin to understand a mother doing that to her daughter. I was angry at Mario Andrettie McNeill (Shaniya's accused kidnapper, rapist and murderer). I was infuriated that men like him even exist. How any grown man with half a heart could commit the crimes he committed is beyond me. I was angry that this type of evil exists in the world. I was angry that this is the world I have to protect my daughter from. I was angry that at the end of the segment I was left almost thankful that though this little girl was put through pure hell for the amount of time she was with McNeill, that he didn't kill her in a more brutal way. I was actually thankful that she was "just" strangled and not beaten to a pulp and left for dead or worse, tortured and mutilated. I was enraged...what kind of sick world do we live in that I'm thankful for a strangling death as opposed to something more horrific?
I was angry that the only fragment of understanding I could come up with for why this happened was that Satan is running rampant in this world and his army and evil are invading hearts day in and day out.
When I talked with my mother later that night, I was still mad. It resonated in my tone. And my mother told me I needed to let this go; that I shouldn't let this type of anger get to me. But I couldn't let it go. My mind just kept swirling and twirling. And then I was faced with a question. One that literally brought me to my knees.
How was I as a Christ follower supposed to love these people? How was I as a Christian supposed to love these enemies?
I'll be perfectly honest...it's just not in my human heart to do it. I've lived by the "love the person, hate the sin" for as long as I can remember, but loving "these" people and people like them was too much. I mean, I can handle the easy sins. A liar?...sure I can love them. Even an adulterer?...I can love them too. How about a thief?...my heart is wide open! But a person/people who rape and/or murder innocent children? No way! Not in my power.
That's why Jesus had to work on me a little bit.
That Oprah episode aired on a Friday. The next day, Saturday, we ended up watching CBN (Christian Broadcast Network) because no good cartoons were on yet and they had these cheesy circa-1983 puppets singing songs on. It was that or Japanese anime, so we went with the puppets. Anyway, Emma was intrigued and that's all that matters. After about twenty minutes the show cut to a verse of the day~ remember this is a children's show. Here was the verse:
Jesus says in Luke 6:27~ But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you"
Though compelling enough (I mean the God of the universe commands us to love our enemies) I wasn't entirely convinced (or convicted) until I read farther down. The next several verses go into what good is it to just love and pray for those who are like us (Christians) because even sinners do that. And then to not only love your enemies, but to not expect anything in return either.
Here's what really got me though...again straight from the mouth of Jesus....
Luke 6:35-36~ But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(I have to note here that God convicted me through some really old scraggly puppets.)
It's one thing to think you know and understand something, but it's something more powerful to read the actual words of Jesus...He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Now, I by no means set out to understand God. That is a task I think should be saved for the likes of heaven, if then, but certainly not on this earth, in my lifetime. Therefore, I still can't really wrap my brain around being kind to the ungrateful and wicked~ that's the nature my flesh and the limit of my human logic. Then to throw in there that Jesus, the Creator of all things good, hater of sin, Almighty, Perfect, still loves the ungrateful and the wicked...
That Sunday we had a guest pastor preaching at church and at the very beginning of his message he urged the congregation to think of one person (while he's preaching) that we feel is unworthy of God's love.
Hmmm....I didn't have a hard time doing that, but I knew God was really going to bring this lesson home for me. I braced myself.
Then the pastor began to teach about Ruth. In the book of Ruth we are told (long story short) about a Moabite widow (Ruth) who accompanies her mother-in-law (Naomi who hailed from Judah) back to her home in Bethlehem. Now the historical and cultural setting tells us that two women, with no man to lead (provide) them, they were going to be presented with some pretty dior circumstances. Couple that with the fact that Moabites were not a liked people among the Israelites and they were going to have even more major issues because of Ruth's heritage. To us, this may seem silly. But Ruth for all intensive purposes, was unworthy.
Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem just in time for harvest and (again long story short) they were shown favor by Boaz, according to his own goodness and kindness. He made sure they were provided for and taken care of when society would have totally discarded them. He didn't HAVE to be nice to them. He didn't even have to give them a second glance. But Boaz even married Ruth, not only redeeming her, but elevating her status to one of pretty lofty importance alongside himself.
This is a condensed version...please read Ruth in it's entirety...it's a short book and you'll be glad you did.
Anyway, the significance of all of this is it totally foreshadows the love and grace of Jesus. And the answer to the initial question of "who is unworthy of God's love" is....
Me. I am unworthy.
Yet Jesus, because he is a good and gracious God, redeemed me and elevated my status to lofty importance as one of His children even though I didn't and still don't deserve it. I am a sinner and because a sin is a sin is a sin in the eyes of God, that means I rank right up there with the ungrateful and wicked as well. But God loves me. And He loves those I find it hard to love as well. So too am I supposed to do the same.
What a tough pill to swallow. And a conviction that I am still prayerfully seeking God's wisdom on. But He made it abundantly clear to me not once, but twice that if I am to follow Him, this is one of the things I must do. Is it easy? Absolutely not, but I'm sure it wasn't easy for Jesus to hang by nails on a cross for the world's sins, feeling forsaken by His Father either.
We were never promised living Christ-centered lives would be easy.
So I encourage you, if there is someone in your life (family member, friend, acquaintance, or even someone in the news) that you need too forgive or open your heart to despite them maybe not deserving it, ask God for guidance in doing so. Harboring any anger or hate is just allowing Satan to have his way and that'll eat away at you eventually. But the joy that is Jesus shown through your love and kindness may change hearts. Your's included.
Dear Lord, thank you for speaking to my heart both when it is open to hearing your wisdom and even at times when it isn't, Jesus. Thank you for convicting me and lovingly rebuking me through Your Word as well as through ways that are totally unexpected. Dear God, thank you for loving me despite me being unlovable and Lord I ask for strength in having a heart like Yours. I pray for the family of Shaniya Davis and I thank you that she is resting in Your arms now. Please be with her loved ones as well as with her mother and the man involved in her death. May, through these terrible events, they be lead to your loving embrace as well. Your forgiveness is incomprehensible, but Dear Lord, I praise you that I serve a God capable of such mercy should a heart truly repent.
I love you.