What have we as a church been teaching theologically that makes women in prostitution believe they can’t talk to God? That makes them believe they can’t ask for help in the midst of a rough situation? What is the theology we’re communicating that makes these women believe they have to have their lives cleaned up in order to earn God’s ear and grace and forgiveness before he’d intervene in their lives and situations?
Just last month I was sitting across the table from a woman in her early 20’s. She sat nervously pushing her food around her plate, avoiding eye contact and bouncing her leg up and down. She asked me repeatedly “do you think I am going to Hell?”
I met a young woman out on the track the other night, she couldn’t have been older than 17. She was terrified of her situation, hopeless and wanting help but felt too far gone. When we offered prayer she responded with nervous laughter and told us that she didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
I was talking to a lovely woman who has become a very dear friend to me over the last few years the other day and she began recounting a very dangerous situation she had managed to break free from – with many scrapes, bruises and a couple broken ribs to tell the tale. A john had grown increasingly violent and started to strangle and beat her. And in that moment, she told me, “I wanted to cry out to God to help me, to save my life. I wanted to pray, God just don’t let me die like this! But I knew he would never hear me. After the life I’ve lived…there is no way God would still hear my prayers or let me into Heaven.”
What have we as a church been teaching that makes each of them so convinced they are going to hell – that they are beyond redemption? That they don’t even deserve the ear of God anymore, that he is so far removed from them, he no longer desires to hear their voice?
Last time I checked, I was told each time I cheated, or lied or had lust in my heart or was gluttonous – I was free to turn back to God again and again and again. So why do we make certain sins unredeemable and DIRTY. I think that’s the difference. A life of prostitution, and those who are trapped in it whether it is their choice or not, is so taboo, something we can’t even really address or talk about from a pulpit so they are alienated. If their sin is so dirty we can’t even TALK about it in church, no wonder they think it’s too severe for God’s ears.
But Christ, by his death and resurrection – and even before that by his life on earth as a human – has redeemed these women – they are made in his very image, the imagio Dei. The baptism of Jesus paints a picture of our identity in God. Christ’s worth was not based on his merits, work, miracles or anything he did during his ministry on earth. God declared him “my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) before he had a chance to do anything, good or bad, to base the formation of his identity on. The fact that Jesus got baptized at all shows incredible solidarity with us as sinners. Baptism signifies repentance, and Jesus, the only human being who did not need to repent, identifies with humanity in its brokenness. He is not ashamed of us and is proud our identity is in him
Jürgen Moltmann in his book “God in Creation” says it well when he says, “What is evil only emerges in the light of what is good, in the same way sin can merely pervert something which God has created, but cannot destroy it. Sin is the perversion of the human being’s relationship to God, not its loss” (p. 233).
So the next time you talk to someone about the accessibility of God and their possibility of going to Hell (which may or may not exist – but that’s a conversion for another day :)) think about the implications you are having. I realize that most who have this conversation or make this accusation are doing this out of a deep deep love for God and desire to see someone living their life in a way that is evident of no sin. But there is a bigger picture at play: addictions, systemic abuse, oppression, manipulation, violence, etc. And we would do well to show grace in the face of all of these things, to show love above anything else and to leave eternal damnation to God. For we would not want to prohibit any attempt these men and women make to reach God by intimidating them that he’d never hear them in the first place. The church should be the place that radically loves.
And for anyone reading who may think that they’ve fallen too far and no longer have a right to the ear of God: no matter what you do, ever, you remain in the image of God. Nothing can take that away. Into God’s image you were created, and sin can only pervert that not take it away as long as God continues to adhere to it. And I believe in a mighty faithful and loving God that won’t let go of you, no matter how unloved and unredeemable you may feel you are. Just reach out – he’s there.