Go Away, Lord!

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Here’s the truth. There have been times in my life when I’ve wanted God to just go away. Now, don’t act shocked. I’m no different than Peter … or Isaiah before him … or Adam and Eve before him. Like all of those God-dodgers, I’ve been exposed, naked before my Creator, and I don’t like it.

The reason why is simple: being exposed means seeing my dirt. I look down and suddenly God’s showing me what I really look like. There’s narcissism splattered on my chest, little white lies running down my arms, and impurity gunking up my legs. I’m tangled and tattered, twisted and torn. And all of this because God’s pure awesomeness shines right through the things I’ve put up to cover all that.

He’s not fooled.

So, I do exactly what most of us do … if we’re honest with ourselves. Instead of asking Him to draw closer and peel off the layers of grime, I try to block out the light and withdraw. You see, that whole draw-close-to-me-and-I’ll-draw-close-to-you thing works. Maybe it works too well. Because when it works, God does more than just hang out. He points out. He speaks out. He makes us miserable about the sin we hide or ignore.

It’s no wonder Isaiah cried out in anguish when He saw God and God saw him. His filthy mouth couldn’t be ignored anymore. And it’s no wonder Peter asked Jesus to go away. His lifestyle could no longer be justified with deity in his boat.

I love that the Bible doesn’t try to prettify these flawed people. God’s Word lays it out there with all the grit and grime intact. I love that because it makes Scripture seem immediate, in my face. I can’t pretend that my flaws are nothing to worry about when God makes sure I see theirs. In all their cowardly glory. Just like mine.

So, what’s God’s response to all this … to my hiding, to my wanting Him to go away? Really, it boils down to this: “Get some courage, man; I’ve got work for you to do.” Or, if you want to be technical, here’s what Jesus said to the cowering Peter: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll catch men.”

I’m flawed; I’m fickle. Sometimes, I just want God to leave me alone to wallow in my filth. But He’s not so easily put off. Just like with Peter, He stands me up and sends me on my way. My humanness doesn’t keep Him from using me to share His good news—scars, bruises, and all. Even if sometimes I’d rather He not shine so much light on them.

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The Idol of Self

Idols aren’t just made of stone and wood. They’re more often built of appeals to personal identity. It’s the self that most often gets worshiped. (Little wonder that most idols built of wood and stone look at least somewhat human.)

Identity in America is the highest achievement, our call to be who we are on purpose. We make decisions based on nothing more than “this is just who I am.” What we feel is who we are, and others must accept this personal assessment. It has become our highest law.

But this kingdom of self puts us in direct conflict with the Kingdom of God. In His Kingdom, self is subverted for a new identity in Christ. We have to put aside what we feel about ourselves and take up what He says about us. It’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do because it means giving up our “rights” as independent humans, but also the easiest because Jesus did all the work

Giving up ourselves means putting aside everything we feel about who we are: sexual identities, desires, political causes, and even dreams. We can take none of that with us into God’s Kingdom because the empire of self has no place there.

When we won’t give those things up, we’re clinging to our idols more than clinging to God.

Should a Christian Disobey the Government?

Obedience forms the core of the Christian faith. We, first of all, surrender our very identities to shoulder crosses and follow Christ. Day by day we push away what it is we think we need for what it is God gives. Beyond that, we submit to pastoral oversight and the mutual surrender of being one body with many members in the church. (It’s a messy process, but that comes with the whole swallowing your pride thing.)

It goes further still. We’re told to pray for and submit to earthly, secular, non-God-loving authorities so that we can live quiet lives. In other words, rocking the boat unnecessarily makes it kind of hard to be those peacemakers we’re called to be (that is, those who show others how to make peace with God). The impact from that kind of obedience can be pretty significant. Kings have had their worlds messed up that way.

The reason we can live in surrender is because Christ’s Kingdom—the Kingdom we’ve been brought into—isn’t of this world. We have no ramparts to defend or battles to wage for Him. He does His own smack down.

But that doesn’t mean Christ’s people can always obey. In fact, history is filled with the burned, rock-pummeled, bullet-pierced, and crucified bodies of those who could not. At various times, the allegiance of believers has come under assault by governmental leaders that couldn’t stand divided loyalties. These rulers demanded surrender to the state, but these saints of old could give them no such thing. They’d already surrendered to God.

In times like those, it’s more than a matter of should Christians disobey. They must. Following Jesus is never a part-time walk; it’s a full-on, single-minded pursuit.

When Should Christians Disobey?

There are three main times that disobedience is necessary: 1) when the state demands that Christians turn from Jesus, 2) when obeying the government means disobeying God’s commands, and 3) when inaction would mean passively allowing an authority to commit injustice or moral evil.

The first case is fairly straightforward. God must have everything we are. We can’t push that aside for any civil authority because God’s just a wee bit higher on the authority scale. If we deny Jesus, He promised to deny us. Our fear must begin and end there.

The second case can be more complex because the state doesn’t have the same goal as Christ. Christ finished His work on the cross for eternal reasons; the state focuses on the present. But, as was the case when the Sanhedrin barred Peter and John from speaking about Jesus, the goals of the state can sometimes get in the way of God’s commands. When that happens, Christians are called to be wise as serpents and prayerful, but not spineless.

The third case, taking action to prevent injustice or moral evil, is the trickiest one. After all, only God can be the real judge of motivations and actions. But governments and authorities can and have promoted moral evils contrary to God’s Word and forced everyone living in the state to participate. In such cases, Christians can’t not act. There comes a tipping point when moral evils must be confronted. That’s exactly what Martin Luther, William Wilburforce, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized (it’s no accident that Eric Metaxas has written biographies of two of those men). To not act is to condone evil, even if begrudgingly.

Our Reaction

Obviously, given our command to live at peace with everyone, action against injustice begins with prayer and finding ways to end such evils within the systems available to us. Paul worked his way up the courts of appeal and brought his case to Rome. He had to preach the gospel because God commanded it … no matter what opposition he faced.

If the available systems fail to stop injustice, that’s where easy answers disappear. Peaceful opposition is always best because of the importance of public perception. And this type of opposition may be as simple as refusing to be a part of any moral evils the state requires or undermining the state’s efforts to promote injustice; or it could be as drastic as disobeying Pharaoh and creating schisms as Moses did.

There’s nothing particularly easy about any such path. But doing nothing is the far greater evil.