People Who Do Bad Things

Will God love people who do bad things?

Is God’s grace available even for people who commit terrible crimes? 

We believe in a God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  We believe that God loves us with an unconditional love, even sending Jesus to live and die for us. But, is there a limit to that love?

Did God love Jerry Sandusky after he abused children in his care?  Would God love a serial killer despite their crimes? How will God deal with a white supremacist?  While God judges our sins, does God condemn the sinner? Is there a sin, or a group of sins, that a person can commit that would be more than God could forgive?

For millennia, people have tried to “rate” sins based on how bad they seemed, and therefore how terrible God’s punishment of those sins would be.  Over the years, the emphasis began to expand beyond condemning the sins, to also include condemning the one who committed the sins. For example, for many years the church condemned not only divorce, but also those who were divorced, attaching a stigma to the sin.  There were many other types of sins that also gained this stigmatization of the individual.

As time went along, the stigmas grew beyond the sin or the sinner to now include whole groups and classes of people who some people associated with sin and unfaithfulness to God.  In Biblical times, the Samaritans were viewed as outcasts and aliens though they lived right alongside of Jews. In modern times, the same type of stigmatization developed with the Gypsies, the Jews, and other groups.  In general, religious authorities excluded people who lived lifestyles that were different than their own, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and even different races. As a rule, people are very good at making distinctions.  To make life easier, we clearly identify who is in and who is out, who is forgiven and who cannot be forgiven, who God loves and who God does not.

All the way back to Bible times, people have debated the extent of God’s love.  The Apostle Paul wrestled with this question frequently, and he ended up coming down on the side of God’s Grace and mercy being available to all people – no matter what they have done.  Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations, God judges us all as sinful and worthy of judgement. HOWEVER, The Gospel of John reminds us of the importance of Jesus’ saving work on our behalf.  “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Jesus and what Jesus has done for us would be saved. For the Son came not to condemn the world but to save it.”

So, does that mean that all of God’s laws – things like the Ten Commandments – are no longer important? Does God let everything go, or does God still judge our sins?

Not at all, we have been freed from our sin, and we can now live as children of God.  But, we are freed for a purpose and now – to use the words of St. Paul – we are bound by the law of love.  Having been saved by God’s love, we are to love with others as we have been loved.

“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all…” -Martin Luther

These two seemingly contradictory statements provide the framework for how Martin Luther would explain the place of the Christian in the world.  To simplify his logic here, he is saying that the Christian is not externally defined. We do not receive our identity from other, outside people in our lives.  Instead, our identity comes about because of Jesus and the love that he lavishly showers upon us. In your Baptism, you became a child of God. You matter to God.  Jesus came, because of his great love for you.

He came also because of his great love for those with whom you disagree.  As Jesus disciples, we are called to live out his mantra of love, forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, as we approach our neighbors, we are to extend them love, in the same way that we have been loved. God not only loves all people, regardless of their sins, but God expects us to do likewise.

 


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