(Part 1 of 6)
It was a brief conversation. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her profession. She was a doctor, and at the time we were working in the same office complex. One day in the parking lot, upon realizing our shared workspace, we began to chat and she quickly learned that I was a pastor and that the space we were renting was our “church office.”
Since telling people I’m a pastor is often a conversation killer, I was surprised when she expressed genuine interest. What peeked her curiosity, however, wasn’t me so much as my church –more specifically the stuff we do. I told her we don’t have a church building, but we gather for worship in an elementary school gymnasium where we also pack bags of food every week for the students, wash teachers’ cars, volunteer for school activities, and seek out many other ways to serve and bless the school. She listened with a look of intrigue, a look that eventually expressed itself through one simple question: “Why?” She wanted to know why we do the stuff that we do, why do we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves. What a great question.
A Great Question
Why is my favorite and arguably the most underrated of the famous “Five W’s” (i.e. Who, What, When, Where, Why). Not being satisfied with shallow explanations, why cuts straight to the heart of a matter. It reveals purpose, exposes motive, and lays bare intention. The constant asking of why from children tells us it’s the question of learners, for those wanting to grow up, mature, become. What a great question.
So again, as followers of Jesus, why do we do the stuff we do? Or, put another way: Why ought we to love our neighbors as ourselves? Surely there are several possible answers. The least helpful answer – though perhaps the most common – is simply because we’re supposed to. True enough. Jesus did say it, so we should do it. But again, why are we supposed to? I’m interested in the reason behind the reason, something substantive, weighty. Military-style obedience may work with small children and very unpleasant work environments, but it will never work for a way of life. The answer I’m interested in must go beyond because the Bible tells us so. It also must go beyond because it feels right. Hopefully we feel good when we feed the poor. But if our feeling good is the reason why we’re doing it, it’s ultimately self-serving, turning the vulnerable and precious recipients of our charity into mere instruments designed to assuage our conscience. If my feelings are ultimately the thing driving me, what happens when the inconvenience of loving my neighbor as myself becomes stronger than my good feelings? No. The answer to why must be grounded in something more compelling than rote obedience to commands, less flimsy than our feelings, which come and go like the Arizona Monsoons. It must be grounded in the ground of all being. It must be grounded in the beautiful, unchanging, triune God.
Because This is What God is Like
So there she was, this doctor whom I had just met, staring at me, waiting for an answer. I paused, silently reflecting on the profundity of her question. Then I replied, “We do the stuff we do because this is what God is like.” At the time, this response came out without much thought (I remember kicking myself internally for not having thought of something “better”). But as I’ve pondered this little phrase, it has come to make more and more sense, and I’ll explain why in the next post. For now, imagine what it would look like to live your life in such a way that radically reflects the very heart of God to those around you to the degree that people start asking the why question? Why are you so patient with her when she’s SO annoying? Why are you so generous with your finances? Or your time? Why are you so quick to help people around you in need? Why do you love the unlovable? Why did you forgive him after what he did to you?
The question is why? What’s your answer?
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