Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Choosing Sides

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
The apostle Paul here takes poetic license with Psalm 118:6, which similarly reads, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear:  what can man do to me?"

God is for me.
God is on my side.

How often have we heard this sentiment preached, from political campaigns to military campaigns? From those in power to those seeking to overthrow the powers that be?
How often do we hear and believe wholeheartedly that our nation has God's allegiance?
How often have we, dutiful citizens such as we are, been the ones to hold this unwavering conviction? Maybe not in such nationalistic terms, but more privatized--as direct descendants of the divine promise that we have God squarely in our corner?

Given the number of wars waging in our world, dividing lines are being drawn hard and fast.
Loyalties to nation, creed, faith, and political party may predetermine the side on which we stand.

We choose our side and are confident that God has chosen likewise.

But maybe Paul got it backward.
Maybe the Psalmist transposed the phrase.

Is God truly in my camp?
Or must I choose to be in God's?
Do I have God in my corner?
Or must I move to the corner in which God is found?

The side, the corner, the camp, I believe, belongs to God.

We live lives of division. We build walls to exclude. We create categories in which some people fit, and others do not. We align ourselves with those who look, think, believe, act like us.

We draw hard and fast lines in our hearts and minds and communities, around our bodies and houses and borders. We suit up for war, prepared to defend ourselves and our land in the name of God. But the kingdom of God knows no such divisions or confines.

The kingdom of God was not gained by military conquest; it was not taken from the natives in the name of progress or destiny; it was not established by bloodshed or swindling.

This is our side, not God's. These are our ways, marked out in our history, not God's. We may seek to distance ourselves from such ruthless tactics but are guilty in our own age and time.

Though we may claim God's hand led us to such victories throughout the ages and today, we are mistaken.

Perhaps the voice of God says, "I am on your side when you are on my side. I am not on your side when you are not on my side."

God has told us where God can be found.
It is not in my corner.
And it's not in yours.

We find God on the side of truth.
We find God among the poor, for God is always on the side of the poor.

God is on the side of love, demanding justice, proclaiming peace, offering mercy and joy to those who live in fear and violence and heartache.

No, God is not to be found on our side.
But we can be on God's side. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that "our side" (whatever it is, wherever we find ourselves, however righteous we preach it to be) is not completely in line with God and God's kingdom. 

If it were, it wouldn't be a side at all. It wouldn't be staked off and carved out, excluding so many from its ranks, delineating "us versus them." 

For the side of God includes all, and is recognizable by its virtues:  justice, peace, joy, truth, love.

We have God on our side only when we are ourselves are on the side of God. When we are taking seriously our charge to love, to pursue justice, to speak truth, to show mercy, to exclude none, we can claim boldly that God is for us. Because we are for God and for God's beloved creation.

We are on the side of the kingdom when we break down barriers, when we mourn with the grieving, when we stand with the oppressed, when we move beyond labels and politics and categories of peoples and beliefs.

So, apologies to Paul and to the Psalmist, but I'm going to use a little poetic license myself:

"If we are for God, who can be against us?"
"I am on the Lord's side; I will not fear."

May I always choose love and truth. May I always closely align myself with the virtues of God's kingdom. Amen.

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