I watched a video presentation the other day by a pastor whose name you would recognize if I shared it. I won’t.
I will share, though, that his gracious term for referring to the unchurched or non-Christian is “far from God.” To be sure I am clear, there are two categories of people; Christians and those who are “far from God.”
This strikes me as the height of arrogance. Perhaps this is better, or friendlier, or kinder and gentler than referring to them as “lost,” “sinners” or “those on the highway to hell.”
I am concerned with this characterization from both directions. It is unbiblical to say that all those whoa re not God’s people are far from God. It is certainly not far to scripture to characterize all of God’s people as near to God.
Most of the Old Testament is, in fact, about God’s people wandering from (in the direction of far) God and God’s regular, faithful drawing of them back near to God.
Then there’s the Centurion in Matthew and Luke of whom Jesus said, “I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” (8:10) In that passage Jesus goes on to say this:
I say to you that there are many who will come from east and west and sit down to eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness.
Just who is it that is “far from God”?
But my favorite story is Paul’s sermon in the Areopagus (Acts 17). Upon finding that the locals have an altar to “the unknown god,” Paul explains to them who God is. In doing so, he draws them towards himself AND God by sharing the ways they are near – or seeking – God, though they have not yet heard the story that makes this God real and evident.
How about, as we approach and prepare for celebrating the birth of God Incarnate, we all agree to take stock in our own proximity to God rather than making presumptions and the proximity to God of others?