“My little children,” writes John, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
My honest first thought reading that verse? “Good luck with that, John!” The one constant in the universe is sin. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be better; we really should—and do. I just spent a week with a bunch of high-schoolers and, let me tell you, we do our darndest to provide the boundaries they need to not do anything particularly stupid while we are in charge of them. We do this because we care for them, because we believe that on their own they will sometimes make poor choices, and, also, because we like not being sued. But, at the end of the day, all we are really doing is forcing them within boundaries to keep them safe. They aren’t choosing of their own free will not to sin; we just try to keep it from them. Given true freedom we know what they might do, and we also know that they will eventually spread their wings and, like Icarus, they may very well crash and burn. I think that’s called college.
On the 3rd night of the Gathering we heard from Pr. Will Starkweather, who talked about his experience with cutting himself, starting in high school. This was one of many speakers who spoke on difficult, challenging subjects that directly impact the lives of our young people. Will talked about the first time he was honest with a spiritual leader about his problems, and the pastor told him four words: “You are going to hell.”
That is the law, friends. That is where that first verse in 1 John 2 seems to be leading us. Don’t sin. Or else. I’ve heard this kind of self-righteous blathering from pastors before. I’ve heard pastors who get up at funerals and talk about how the person who died might have been saved if only he had done X, Y, or Z—if only he had been a better person, if only she had been a better follower of Jesus; if only they would have chosen to follow. I’ve heard this stuff before.
Miraculously, Will came back to the church—a different church, obviously, because if you go to a pastor with a spiritual problem and he tells you you’re going to hell, then you find a new pastor—and Will eventually confided in a second pastor. You can imagine the anxiety this would induce in a person who was already suffering for something whose root cause ran parallel to anxiety. He went to his pastor, shared his story, and she responded with four different words, “There’s grace for that.” Four words that changed everything.