For several years of my military service I was involved in what is termed ‘fires’. Basically, ‘fires’ is anything that has an explosive effect on a battlefield (literally); this includes aircraft, artillery, mortars, drones etc. My part in this was varied, but at one time it was my job to sit in an armoured vehicle and drive around the battlefield directing artillery and air support. During training, we used to use simulators. We used to plan the most incredible and complex strategies. At the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst there was a huge lecture hall that we used to call ‘the sleeping bag’. I learned all sorts of things in there that held no value over the next ten years of service. Mostly because the world moved on so quickly.
And then I had to do it for real. Instead of sitting in a comfortable simulator, I was bouncing up and down in the metal box on tracks, looking at a tiny screen, talking on three radio sets at once, as well as directing the driver of the vehicle, not to mention the nagging fear. Suddenly, all of the strategies seemed so pointless, so naive. Nothing was as we thought it was, the situation changed all of the time. Visibility was reduced; however much you wanted to, you couldn’t see the whole picture. Suddenly, all that mattered was the effect on the ground. Lives were at stake here.
In the Kingdom of God, the effect on the ground is love. Whilst we sit, dis-engaged from the battle, sat in the simulators of theological discussion and argument, we can come up with all sorts of ideas, thoughts and opinions. We can build whole ministries on them; theoretical ways of building ‘community’ for example, so complicated that nobody really understands them. We can decide ‘where we stand’ on a whole range of issues that cause lines to be drawn between brothers and sisters, and yet, if the effect on the ground is not love, they are worthless. Jesus wasn’t theoretical. Jesus isn’t theoretical. Jesus never will be theoretical. Jesus didn’t teach his disciples to sit on a hill, in a simulator, and get all the ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed. He sent them in to fight, using the weapon of the Kingdom of God, which is the revelation of God’s love through the power of the cross.
What if we agreed to never talk about theology outside the context of personal testimony? What if we agreed that we would not even hold firm opinions on issues that we hadn’t personally witnessed God’s love flowing into? What if we stripped away posturing, denominational bigotry and theoretical theological opinion that seeks only to divide, rather than unite. What if we focused the whole of our lives on simply loving God and seeing the subsequent effect of our relationship with him lived out through loving our neighbour? What if we looked at the Bible in terms of the person of Jesus Christ, rather than a means of shoring up the totem pole that we have built, in order to take the high ground and claim our position to be the ‘right’ one.
It’s time to step out of the sleeping bag, get into the trenches and see the effect of God’s unconditional love in action before we make any stand on any issue. If the effect of our theology is to bring anything but the unconditional, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ to bear on either our own lives, or the lives of those around us, making us ministers of reconciliation between the world and their Father in heaven, it simply ain’t God mate.
You see, when we say to the world ‘God is Love’, they say to us, ‘prove it’.