To Be Loved by You
Most Bible versions place headings above pericopes. These headings are not the text of the Scripture itself but were initially added in the 16th century. The headings are human inserts to the text, and they give what the translator or editor thought to be an accurate summary of the passage that follows. The heading of Isaiah 56 in my Bible is "Salvation for Foreigners" or "Salvation for the Gentiles." If I could, I would change the title to "Inclusion for the Outcasts." Salvation and inclusion are two different things. Salvation is a unilateral act from God toward people that brings people into a state of salvation. For God that means that people are included in his family. Yet, for people, this is not naturally so. Salvation may mean that someone is saved, but inclusion seems more intimate, like an embrace that brings someone into the community and makes him or her feel accepted. Inclusion is a two-way street. To be included, one has to allow this embrace to happen.
Let's say I had a party at my house and I invited some friends. Most of whom I had invited are now inside. Someone knocks on the door and as I open it, I see one friend standing in the hallway with insecurity in his eyes. I smile and invite him in but he refuses. He says, "I know we are friends, but I don't belong at this party." I smile and say, "You do belong. Please come in." I grab his hand and try to lead him over the threshold. He pulls back. "Please come inside" I am half begging now. "I want you here." He hangs his head, shakes it, and walks away. I am left befuddled, sad, and confused. All I had wanted to do is include him to show him that I love him and that he belongs.
Many broken Christians who cognitively know that they are saved find God's inclusive embrace hard to believe and to internalize. Some Christians are broken by their habitual sins, and they feel too sinful or too unworthy to embrace the joy that comes after salvation. Some Christians are broken in their personality. They feel too small and insignificant to be seen by a great God, and they shrink into invisibility in their spiritual and relational lives. Some Christians feel that God has saved them by mistake. Or they feel that God in his grace included them out of pity but that they belong in a different category of saved ones. As if God placed an asterisk behind his promises. When you look in the margin of the text, the fine print says, "this promise is excluded from [their name]."
God, the knower of hearts, is very well aware of human brokenness that refuses to be loved and to be included. In fact, God deals with this in Scripture:
To the My-Past-Is-Too-Sinful-For-You-ers.
In Isaiah 56, God commands,"let not the stranger who has joined himself to the Lord say, 'The Lord will certainly separate me from his people'" (v. 3).
God must have known the insecurity of those who had been added to the people of Israel. Perhaps these strangers felt inferior because their past lives had not been according to the laws of the God of Israel. Perhaps they felt insecure because of their Gentile ethnicity and that they looked, talked, and thought differently than the mainstream Jew. Perhaps, they were treated with suspicion by those who wondered whether they were truly saved. God gives a clear, direct, yet compassionate command: nobody who has been added to the household of God may doubt his or her place therein. Even if people exclude, for God, salvation means inclusion. What God has brought together, no man shall break (Matt 19:6).
If you feel you are saved but too bad to be included, God commands you to relinquish that thought for there is no question with him that you belong.
To the I-Am-Too-Insignificant-For-You-ers.
In the same chapter, God addresses not the foreigner but the outcast who is saved but resides in the margins of the social group. The "insignificant one." The "hard to love one." God says that he is collecting these "deplorables." He is, in fact, in the business of gathering a lot of them. He says: "The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel declares, I will gather also others to him besides the ones already gathered" (v. 8).
God seems very occupied with the insignificant ones. God says one chapter later:
"For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed" (Isa 57:15).
God shows himself as one gathering lots of socially insignificant ones. He is searching for them, finding them, and bringing them in bunches into his fold in order to start living among them and caring for them, and so making the insignificant ones his community.
If you feel that you saved but are living on the margins of God's people, stay there. The High and Exalted One is right there. Don't strive to move to the center of Christian communities. You may lose sight of him.
To the I-dont-want-to-be-loved-by-you-ers.
There is another category of love-rejecters. It is the category of the persistent unbelievers and the persistent proud ones. It is those who find Jesus too marginal, too difficult, too unbelievable, too demanding, too unattractive. God reaches out all day long to the love-rejecters. He says, "All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations" (Isa 65:2).
Many, many decades later, in the New Testament, Jesus comes back to these wide open arms and he cries when he says, "how often did I want to gather your children together like a hen gathers her own offspring under her wings, but you did not want to!" (Luke 13:34).
Jesus cried for two reasons. One was love and a desire to love. One was fear because he knew what would happen to the people who would push his embrace away, refusing to be loved by him. They were not only grieving him, but they were grieving the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the living God.
If you are a rejecter of God's love because God is not attractive, important, or relevant to you, know that there are wide stretched arms until the day that you die. After that you will never be invited again.
Woe to the Excluder who is Against Me
There are many people in the church who have broken lives. Many of these broken ones are people who did not grow up with the securities of the majority of church people. People who, in the eyes of many, are unlikely converts. People who find it hard to be loved by God and by other human beings due to the brokenness of their past. People who may find it hard to trust other Christians with their stories out of insecurity or shame.
It is important that the community of Christ sees these broken hearts and includes them just like God includes the broken hearted. The community of Christ must be a safe place where broken hearts can learn to be loved and can learn to trust. In fact, including the unlovable ones is so important to God, that God says that anyone who does not include them but rather shames, hurts, or offends one of his seemingly insignificant people, that this person contradicts the mission of God himself. Consequently, Jesus warns, the one who offends a "little one" is better off dead than facing the wrath of God (Matt 18:6).
"Who is not for me [in my mission of salvation and inclusion], is against me," (Matt 12:30) God says. Know that God's main mission is the gathering of the rejected, broken, despicable sinner (Matt 18:11) and to love them like nobody has ever loved before. If you call yourself a servant of God, you will do the same.