John could really kick butts. But after hanging around Jesus for a few years he learned to kick buts.
Do I need to explain? Probably so.
We are told that John and his brother had a real reputation when they first hooked up with Jesus. They had been nick-named 'Sons of Thunder' and most people assume (safely I would expect) that it was because they were known for getting angry at others rather easily. Given today's culture of giving honor to people who can get angry and effectively get their way by physically tearing into others (at least in the movies), if John and James had been around today I strongly suspect that they might have become movie stars. In some people's vernacular they would have been known as really being able to 'kick butts' around using excessive force to settle a score or get their own way.
But something unusual happened on the way home after work one day when a most unusual man showed up on their job site where they were laying out things for work the next day. And what made this man so different from everyone else was that He never did anything to earn the kind of respect that these two guys had already established for themselves. Instead of dispensing with His enemies by kicking their butts around or subduing them through the use of intimidation or threats or force, this man became known for not only loving His enemies unconditionally without reservation, but in the end He even willingly allowed His enemies to gang up on Him and kick His butt around as much as they wanted without even a hint of desire for retaliation.
Now, I suspect that you couldn't get a more opposite extreme than might be found between Jesus and these two tough guys known for kicking butt whenever they were crossed. And what's most amazing about this story is that after hanging around this young, charismatic new friend for a few years and watching Him up close and personal how He dealt with all sorts of antagonizing situations, these two boys ended up emulating their new friend by turning into the total opposite of how they had started out.
Instead of becoming more effective at kicking butts, they became very effective at kicking buts.
Still wondering what the difference is in just one 't'? Just hang in here and keep reading.
Most of us are familiar with the story of John, the one who later fancied his title as 'the disciple that Jesus loved.' Now, many people have been tempted to take offense over this title that John assumed years later, thinking that maybe he went from having an anger problem to having an ego problem. But that was not the case at all. Far from becoming proud of his intimate connection with this man who so radically transformed his life from an out-of-control rageaholic to a passionate promoter of love (maybe he was the first hippie?), the reason John called himself 'the disciple that Jesus loved' was quite the opposite of what many first assume.
You see, rather than feeling like he was Jesus' favorite over all the others, John lived the rest of his life in stunned amazement that Jesus was willing to continue working and loving and forgiving one who seemed to screw up so consistently and seemed so clueless for so long about what Jesus was all about. And when it finally began sinking in that Jesus had truly come to reveal to them the real truth about God's heart, one that was full of only love and nothing else, John along with most of the other disciples spent the rest of their lives in total awe that this God had made Himself so incredibly humble and so totally vulnerable as to let His own children shred Him to pieces in their rage against Him while unconditionally loving and forgiving them to the point of a most painful, brutal death on a cross.
This demonstration of love was the ultimate contradiction to everything that John and his brother had valued before. They were used to living in a world where it was normal to rely on force to compel others about what was right, at least if they weren't willing to accept it the easy way. But this man not only turned their rough and tumble attitude of relating to others completely upside down, even more radically He also completely inverted all their religious assumptions about God that had been firmly entrenched in their culture for millennia. Why, everyone knew that God was willing to resort to violence to straighten people out if they got too far out of hand. So what was with this man claiming to be the Son of God yet acting so totally different from what everyone knew God was like?
That is a very important question and entails a much more involved answer than I have time for here. But let me just share some of what John came to realize and what he tried to share with us after he came to know the true God as we need to know Him.
More than any other disciple, I believe John really began to grasp the deeper truth that Jesus came to show all of us about what God is actually like. And sadly, most people today have little difference in their opinions about how God ought to be running His business or dealing with His opponents from what the Jews in Jesus' day believed. Most religion today still endorses beliefs that God absolutely must at some point resort to using force and violence to 'settle the score' with those who reject His overtures of love and spurn His grace. But this is very much the line of logic that humans have had ever since Adam and Eve scrambled into the bushes to hide from God after they became infected with the virus of sin. For you see, the fruit that they ate from the forbidden tree was not just tasty and good-looking, but the choice to listen to the seductive invitation to see God as antagonistic to their best interests caused them to become infected with the most deadly virus that has ever existed.
Adam and Eve and all of their children since then, have had their psyche unavoidably infected by subtle, crafty, compelling lies about God's trustworthiness and love. These are not just surface issues that can be taken or ignored by choice, rather they have become a basic component of the human psyche that is impossible to change. All throughout the period of time that we refer to as the Old Testament, human beings mostly assumed that God was two-faced, that He had a good side and a dark side. This all began when we became infected with the assumption that God is both good and evil, that He runs His universe on the basis of rewards and punishments and that ultimately all who resist cooperating with His plans will face a day of 'wrath,' generally assumed to be the time when He comes out of His nice mode to 'kick butt' like so many of today's heroes are venerated for doing.
You don't have to look far at all to find this sentiment deeply embedded in most religions of the world. And the ones that don't promote it were generally reactions to the sadistic views of God that were prevalent when they were conceived. Which is exactly why Jesus came to this earth two thousand years ago – to set the record straight about how God actually feels toward sinners and how trustworthy He really is contrary to all our dark opinions about Him.
So, why didn't that revelation of God transform the whole world like it did the lives of most of His disciples? Because there is still a very cunning master liar at work that has since then convinced most of those claiming to be His followers that God is just waiting to 'drop the other shoe.' They say that its all nice and good that Jesus showed so much love and forgiveness the first time He came to earth; but just wait until He comes again the second time and we will see the other side of God more clearly. That's when He is coming to really 'kick butt.' I have even seen bumper stickers that say that very thing. And sadly every denomination I know of in Christianity subscribes in one way or another to this widely accepted assumption about God, that He must at some point resort to violence in order to resolve the problem of sin and to punish those who have hurt Him and others so terribly. Without this belief as central most people assume that justice can never be achieved.
Now, that is an interesting argument that many have not taken much time to examine carefully. For you see, like so many of the words we toss around related to religion, justice has a great deal of cultural baggage connected to it that does not line up with heaven's view of the word. Gratefully more and more people are beginning to wake up today to the real truth about what God is like and are beginning to challenge the false assumptions about Him that have accumulated since Jesus exposed them the first time He came. And this massive network of lies about God is what must be again exposed and dismantled so that the true glory of God's character of pure love can once again blast away the darkness caused by the deceptions of the accuser.
Like so many others, I was brought up learning about God with talk about words as love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness – but also justice. Did you catch that? Whenever justice is added it is almost always preceded by a 'but.' Now isn't that a bit strange, for in essence we have been preconditioned to assume that somehow real justice is in tension or in opposition to mercy. I was taught that in some strange way that mercy and patience would have to be ignored to execute true justice in the end when God will arraign all who refused to give up their rebellion against His sovereign authority and will burn them alive as His righteous punishment. And all this will be carried out under the name of 'justice.' To make things even worse, I was told that this had to be folded into our definition of love as well. No wonder I found it impossible to feel attracted to God's love very much growing up.
But in recent years I have been coming to learn that along with most people around me, I have been lied to on an exponential scale regarding the real truth about God and how He feels toward me. But as the real truth about Him has been leaking out from His Word over recent years, it has started to awaken my heart with new fascination for this thing called love; for now I am coming to realize that love is something radically more powerful and effective and attractive than the perversion of that word I was taught in religion. No longer do I have to try to force conflicting ideas into the same definition that are totally incompatible, for the God I am now coming to discover is not a contradiction or a mix of light and darkness but is pure love just as John says He is.
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)
Now, the standard response I was given by spiritual authorities most of my life when speaking about God's love went something like this: “God is love, yes, but He is also just.”
Do you see it? There is that 'but' again. And what I am now coming to see so clearly is how John, probably more than any other disciple, went from a macho man who was known for being able to really kick butt, to a devoted, passionate lover very much like the one he had come to know so intimately. As a result John spent the rest of his life kicking 'buts.' Because what deters people more than anything else from grasping the true gospel (good news about God) more than anything else are the multiplied 'buts' that are offered up to dilute the pure truth that God is love and love alone.
And while it is true that many have tried to force a lot of other incompatible notions into the definition of love to vindicate their insistence that God has another side that is darker, John takes on that lie as well when he explicitly wrote:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
I really like how John kicks buts. And along with everyone else, I have a great deal of 'buts' left to kick out of my mind and heart. The real truth is what John discovered with Jesus, that we have been duped by the enemy of our souls into believing all sorts of faulty assumptions about God that are simply not true. Even worse, the problem is that the source of most of these lies about God is religion itself, for when a system purporting to have expert knowledge about God continues to subtly promote pious-sounding notions that appeal to our fallen, selfish desires for revenge, these beliefs have compelling power to create fearful views of God in our hearts when the real truth will never have such effects.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
Do you see how clear John tries to make it for us? Yet we find ourselves squirming in religious discomfort trying to rationalize back in all of our faulty assumptions about how God must punish those who refuse to repent. Why is this massive 'but' so deeply embedded in our psyche, and why are we unwilling to accept the plain revelations about God that Jesus came to show us?
The answer becomes very clear when we trace back these lies all the way back to where we first became infected with them. Remember what started this whole mess in our human psyche? It was when we indulged in disobeying God's instructions by eating from a tree with a rather strange name. But that name has within it the clues that exposes the lies that infected us when our first parents made that fateful choice. That tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Now, that may sound so familiar to most of us brought up in religion that it simply doesn't click at first. But notice the words of the deceiver when he seduced Eve into changing her mind about God and what He had told them. "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5) Do you see it yet? The real infection was not in the fruit but in the assumption about God's core character that entered into the psyche of every human being since that day. It is the assumption that God knows both good and evil; that God is Himself both good and evil by experience, not just objectively. This was the very first lie that had given Lucifer so much mileage previously in heaven when he deceived one third of the angels to side with his rebellion, and it was the same tactic he used so effectively with our parents. And we have been singing that sick song ever since that day.
Now when someone says, “God is good!” our reaction is often, “but,He is also...”
When someone declares, “God is love!” our reaction often is, “That's nice, but He also has to be just.”
The problem with this logic is inherent within it, for as soon as one uses the word 'but' the implication is automatic that what is coming next introduces an opposite element that has to somehow be forced into the definition of the original claim that will neutralize it. But the reaction itself belies the fact that originally the first word used such as good or love or kind or merciful does not convey the full truth about God. So we feel compelled to set the record straight and to tack on what we insist is the 'rest of the story,' the other side of God, the dark side that is not inherently implicit in the word 'love.'
Jesus came to blow that false assumption right out of our thinking. So when are we going to start actually believing the testimony of Jesus over the claims of religion? It matters not how many centuries or millennia these false notions of God have been around; time does nothing to make right what is inherently false. It only makes it more stuck in our traditions and resistant to being challenged.
I am coming to the place now where I want to join John in his campaign to really kick 'buts.' I believe what I am starting to see is a massive campaign launched by heaven to do just that, as described in the beginning of Revelation 18.
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. (Revelation 18:1 NRSV)
The splendor and glory of God is the purity of His passionate love that has no qualifiers as His accuser has so long asserted. I believe it is high time we quit perpetuating the lies of God's accuser and start to join in the new song that explains the real truth about God who is not a mixture of light and darkness as we have so long been taught. If you notice the name of the other tree in the garden that was supposed to be our source of nurture and connection with God for eternity, its name had only one element: it was called the Tree of Life.
Anything that makes God out to be other than life-giving, loving and all the other attributes of life that we find in the Bible, comes from the subtle deceptions insinuated in the other tree. Now it is time to renounce all of these lies about any supposed dualism in God's character. God is not a mixture of good and evil, light and darkness or any other contrast. God is only life, only love, only light. Anything deviating from this core truth about Him is a lie and must be rejected as such.
So, what about that question about 'justice?' Without room to unpack that more completely here, let me just say that God's kind of justice is both radically different as well as immensely superior than most of what we define as justice here on earth. Since God never indulges in retaliation (1 Peter 2:21-23) and does not live under our invented idea of 'scales of justice' (a direct outgrowth of the Tree of Good and Evil), God's justice is all about restoring everyone as much as possible back to their pristine design of living life to the fullest in harmony with creation around them. In short, God's kind of justice is to bring us all back into living in love like He does, not getting even through punishment or revenge.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV)
Well, now its time to go out and kick some 'buts,' wouldn't you agree?