I've been reading the book Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. My phone says I'm on 144 of 206, so I plan to finish it tonight, but I had to stop a few pages back and write out some thoughts. On page 139 Nadia is talking about Matthew 3:17 - 4:1, where God names Jesus "Son" and "Beloved" and then immediately Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and she says,
"Maybe demons are defined as anything other than God that tries to tell us who we are. And maybe, just moments after Jesus' baptism, when the devil says to him, 'If you are the Son of God...' he does so because he knows that Jesus is vulnerable to temptation precisely to the degree that he is insecure about his identity and mistrusts his relationship with God.
"So if God's first move is to give us our identity, then the devil's first move is to throw that identity into question. Identity is like the tip of a spool of thread, which when pulled, can unwind the whole thing."The way Nadia puts Scripture together through this book and applies them to life reminds me very much of someone I used to work for named Billie. (Billie happens to be a pastor now, too.) I absolutely love when I get to meet Billie for lunch, which is rare these days since I moved to another town, but used to happen every day. She is very much a "normal," very relatable person and talks about a lot of normal things, but she also usually shares with me what she is thinking about preaching, or what she recently preached. And she loves the Bible. We often joke about how God "changes the words" and "puts Scriptures in there" just for her at just the right moment, because she notices things that go together that I've never heard anyone notice before. And when I was reading Pastrix earlier today, I felt the same way about what Nadia was saying.
Not too long ago Billie was telling me some of her sermon ideas, and she had commented about how Christians often make "salvation" this mysterious thing that is scary and difficult to attain. But the way she reads it in the Bible, all it takes is belief.
In Genesis 3, when the snake tempted Eve, his method was to throw into question the truth of what God had told her. "Did God really say...?" He proceded to tell Eve that God had lied, and threw into question God's motives. Human brokenness (sin) came about because of a failure to believe God.
John 3:16, everyone's favorite verse, says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Hebrews 11:6 says, "For without faith it is impossible to please to God. Everyone that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
In short, salvation comes through believing God. Sin comes through not believing God.
What Nadia says in the pages following the quote at the top of this post basically echoes what I am about to say, but I did not read it until after I had written these words. This is the truth as revealed in my own heart as I read. God says God loves me. I am God's. No matter how convincing any demon (read that in Nadia's definition) is at trying to persuade me otherwise, my salvation (from self-destruction and from being crushed by a cruel world...or contributing to its cruelty) will come from believing, no matter what, that I am God's and God loves me. I dare say, a person is bound to behave like what they believe themselves to be.
Around 2006 or 2007 I had been dealing for years with waking up in the night and feeling like there were spiritual demons in my room. I was raised Pentecostal, so though this sounds absurd to many people, I believed it anyway. Every. Single. Night. I would wake up and spend the night frozen, terrified to move, knowing that the next breath was probably going to be my last and the darkness was going to "get me." I got very little sleep. What sleep I did get happened with the light on, because it was easier for me to calm down and get back to sleep if the room wasn't pitch black when I awoke.
I shared my struggle with a friend...an older, Pentecostal friend, whom I still regard as one of the wisest people I've ever known, even though we believe things a little differently now. Her name is Becky. She told me, "When you wake up, you say out loud, 'I am a child of God, and you have to go in the name of Jesus!" She would always tell me to say things out loud because, "If you're going to believe anyone, you're going to believe yourself." So, I put what she told me into practice. At first, I could not find the strength to speak out of my terror. But slowly, I began to stutter out the words. "I am a child of God," I would whisper, tears drenching my face, body shaking. Before long I could say it with a little more confidence. "I am a child of God, and nothing can hurt me!" After a while, as soon as I would wake up, I would immediately proclaim my identity to whomever or whatever might be plaguing me, and turn over and go back to sleep. Then at last, I wouldn't even wake up afraid anymore.
Eventually I believed I was a child of God and nothing could hurt me. Knowing who I was in God gave me the confidence to overcome the very real fear I had struggled with since I was a little girl. And I think the principle applies to all the self-defeating demons people deal with. To know that I belong to God and God loves me...this is truly Good News. It means I am not subject to anything that can hurt or hate me. It is a Good News I think is worth sharing with others!
Every chapter of this book so far has hit me almost as powerfully. If you cannot abide bad language, don't read it. If you don't think everyone is welcome in the kingdom of God, you might be offended if you read it. But if you think it's possible God is a little bigger and untameable than you or other Christians you've known have ever imagined, you might give this book a shot. It is the best thing I've read in years.