One day, walking through a parking lot, I saw on a car a few rows ahead a bumper sticker that said, in bold letters, “Jesus paid the price for my sins.” I smiled: kinship through bumper sticker, shared faith, unashamed proclamation. Walking nearer, I read the smaller letters underneath: “and I’m getting my money’s worth.”
My stomach churned instantly, not with anger, but with what I can only articulate as fear, fear for this driver’s fate, the consequences of his joking disregard for the most sacred event in history. God, who sees all, saw this banged up, dusty Dodge Intrepid and stayed his hand. The same God who denied Moses entrance into the land of his life’s quest, judgement for hitting a rock twice, apparently with the wrong attitude. The same God who sent a king out to pasture for surveying his kingdom pridefully. A withered hand. A dead baby. Sons dead in battle. Swallowed by a gap in the earth. Body eaten by dogs. Struck dead for lying. Sword-slain in the temple court. A God you don’t mess with, don’t joke with, don’t slap with a sticker.
But then, a second churning, feeling the corners of another bumper sticker peeling, curling, irritating the edges of my heart. Not so slickly, smugly obvious, but there. Disregard for the sacrifice. Assumption of forgiveness. Favorite fall back: my humanity, God’s grace. Cheap grace, not a big ticket item. Keep spending.
In heaven, the hosts do not sing, “Love, love, love is the Lord God Almighty.” That’s our favorite praise and worship chorus. There, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come” is the eternal song. Oh, he is love and forgiveness and grace, and we humans can understand a bit of that, for we too love and forgive and give grace. But holiness is beyond our scope, what separates the sheep from the God, and is the attribute of God we would most like to ignore, brush away with his love. We’re comfortable standing in line for a cup of love, Starbucks BOGO, thinking we’re getting a pretty good deal, love and more love for $4.95. But holiness? That’s a face plant, the posture of heaven, and we’re fallen and we can’t get up. Our cup of love, with its shot of forgiveness, spills at God’s feet.
God’s holiness, if we could conceive of it at all, would cost us more than our personal line of credit could cover. Thus Jesus. But a proper response of gratitude should be, at least, obedience, an antidote to our assumption that God owes us anything, an acknowledgement that we owe him everything. We don’t have money to spend; we’re in debt over our heads.