“A stunning book with power to reshape our world . . . if we let it.”—Glenn Packiam, pastor and author of Blessed Broken Given
We long for a good life, a beautiful life, a kind life. But clearly that’s not the world we live in. We carry the stress of our fractured world in our bodies and relationships. Families that once gathered around tables have converted those tables into walls. Hostility, rage, and offense is the language of our culture.
How did we lose goodness, kindness, and beauty? And more important, how do we get them back into our lives? These are the two questions crying out in our streets, homes, churches, and from deep within our souls.
Pastor and author Rich Villodas is convinced that only Jesus offers a way of being human that is both strong and tender enough to tear down the walls of hostility we experience daily.
In Good and Beautiful and Kind, he reveals how…
• These three essentials are stolen by sin, powers and principalities, and trauma.
• We can get goodness, beauty, and kindness back through contemplative prayer, humility, and the cultivation of calm presence.
• The traits of healthy conflict, forgiveness, and justice lead to wholeness, healing, and a new collective future—when rooted in the ancient way of Jesus.
Filled with fresh energy, classic truth, and practical solutions, this is your road map for stepping beyond distraction and division to love like Jesus. Doing so will change the atmosphere within you…and around you!
|The Crown Publishing Group
|5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Failure to Love
Sin, the Fracturing of Reality
At its core, sin is failure to love. It’s a power that “curves us inward.” In the words of North African bishop Saint Augustine, humanity is incurvatus in se, curved in on itself. Humanity suffers from a severe condition. No matter if our physical eyes may be able to gaze upward, our spiritual vision tends to curve horribly in upon itself. And with this stunting self-focus of our attention, we cut out love.
Not many of us associate sin with love. Sin usually conjures images of lawbreaking, trespassing, and debt (all helpful metaphors for understanding our relationship to God). What I would like to propose, however, is that we broaden our scope—or rather, focus our lens. We must understand sin in the light of love as we seek to live in the way of Jesus, especially those of us who long for wholeness.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he responded with absolute clarity: Love. Love is the greatest command. He said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).
Jesus’s summary of Holy Scripture leads me to a conclusion that might surprise you: If the greatest commandment given by Jesus is rooted in love, the greatest sin—and perhaps all sin—must in some way be the rejection of this command. This is what makes sin so pernicious. It orients us inward. It curves us in on ourselves, and in so doing, it uproots love, goodness, beauty, and kindness.
To classify sin as failure to love is not to sentimentalize or soften it. It’s to frame the very essence of our lives with God and one another in the way Jesus did. The chief end of humanity is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” to paraphrase the old Westminster Catechism. And the means to this end is simple: love. Love is the fulfillment of faith; sin is the negation of it.
Paul the apostle captured this better than anyone besides Jesus himself. In the early years of the church, new communities were being formed, often in ways that somehow sidelined love. Because of a variety of temptations, failures, and distractions, love was not regarded as the most important expression of faith. As one example, among some Christ followers in the city of Corinth (in ancient Greece), love was superseded by charisma. This emphasis resulted in many interpersonal fractures, which led Paul to write a letter to them. As he neared the end of his correspondence, he wrote what has become famously known as the “love chapter.” First Corinthians 13 shows up in almost every wedding ceremony. It’s a beautiful description of what love is: “patient,” “kind,” and all the rest. But it’s important to note that Paul didn’t have wedding bells, bridesmaids, and bouquets in mind when he wrote the passage. It was not intended to give the reader warm, fuzzy feelings. The chapter was Paul’s word of rebuke to Christ followers who had become fractured and distracted. They were marked by great miracles and charisma among them, but they had little of maturity and character where it counted.
To end the chapter, Paul made it plain: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (verse 13). If love is the greatest good, sin must be the antithesis of it. Sin is not just a violation of a law; it’s the disruption of love.
It might be easy to think of this as simply an abstract theological idea. But what if it wasn’t? What if you could trace all the horribly concrete wounds and fractures of our culture, churches, families, and most intimate relationships to the disruption of love? What if our world—so far from being good, beautiful, or kind—was in the state it was in precisely because of this failure to love?
Now, the last thing you might want right now is another preacher pointing out sin. Here goes Rich, lecturing on morality—in the first chapter, no less! If that’s you, please give me a chance, because I want us to understand together what Langston Hughes called the “worms . . . eating at the rind.” And we cannot do so, we cannot name or understand the forces that sabotage our lives and break our society’s most sacred bonds if we lack an intimate, accurate understanding of both love and sin.
The historical and modern fractures in our world need a category vast enough to make sense of our vast present pain. We need sociology and psychology to help us understand our fractures, but it is theology that places them in their true and larger context. It might sound strange to say this, but we need sin. We can’t talk about ourselves or our society accurately without it.
In her book Speaking of Sin, Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor noted that abandoning the language of sin will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives.
In a culture where Christianity is no longer the center of human reflection and engagement in the world, any talk of sin can be rough sledding. Sin has come to be associated with judgmentalism, bigotry, and a selective, inconsistent moralism, leading people—religious or otherwise—to conclude that it’s just another word used to control and coerce people in a particular way. As a pastor, I must admit that there is much truth in this. Sin as a concept has been abused, used to control, and used to shelter and even justify indefensible hypocrisy by spiritual communities in our shared social life.
Recently, I had a conversation with a neighbor in my apartment building. After hearing that I was a pastor, he began to wax eloquent about the oppressive tendencies of religion. For him, sin has been a manipulative word to keep people in line—to control their sexuality, money, and political convictions. It implies a threat. In his opinion, sin is just another way to create a world in the image of the powerful or privileged. As he shared this, I had to agree with much of what he was saying. Just look around! The language of sin has been used as a hammer to crush anyone who doesn’t share the same ethical standards, and that’s tragic. But there are more redemptive ways of understanding sin. And holding fast the hope that we can learn to love in a way that restores, shouldn’t we try to do so?
When we define sin relative to love, we do not have to discard outright the traditional ways we have understood sin. In fact, there are clear biblical passages we can point to that speak of sin as breaking God’s law. But they do not present a complete picture, and most of us need a course correction. In our culture, sin has usually not been seen as a failure to love but almost exclusively as a violation of a law: God’s law.
When we expand our understanding, we can better assess our spiritual health. Perhaps we have not broken God’s law today, in a strictly defined legal sense. But have we failed to love? Have we curved in on ourselves, missing opportunities to share the love of Christ with the poor or vulnerable around us? Very likely, and it is this increased standard of difficulty that Christ so memorably calls us to embrace. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? Again and again, Jesus quoted the Law of Moses in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said . . .” and then reframed the teaching according to love with “But I tell you . . .” We still live under the difficult inspiration of that iconic teaching today.
A robust theology of sin helps us live beyond self-deception. A limited theology of sin often results in a false sense of spiritual maturity. Like the Pharisee in one of Christ’s parables, who looked around in pride and thanked God that he wasn’t like those sinners (see Luke 18:11), it is a small step from a narrow understanding of sin straight into the depths of it. In other words, it’s easy to think, Well, I’m not doing that, so I must be okay. But sin is not just about “not doing that.” Sin is the negation of love.
When spiritual vitality is measured by sin-avoidance, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are following Jesus faithfully. But following Jesus is to be measured by love—love for God expressed in love for neighbor. This is the good, beautiful, and kind life. It took me some years to realize this. In fact, I need to be reminded of it often.
Table of Contents
Foreword by xi
Part 1 The Forces Behind the Fractures
1 A Failure to Love 3
Sin, the Fracturing of Reality
2 The Unseen Enemy 23
Living Against the Powers
3 Hindering Wounds, Holy Wounds 49
Trauma and the Hope of the World
Part 2 Walking a Better Way
4 The Problem of Prayer 73
A Contemplative Path in a Thoughtless Age
5 Beyond the Walls of the False Self 93
Humility and Lowering Our Defenses
6 Resisting Reactivity 113
Living as a Calm Presence in an Anxious Culture
Part 3 Embodying Wholeness
7 A Bridge, Not a Barrier 137
Healthy Conflict in Pursuit of Wholeness
8 The Gift of Forgiveness 159
Honestly Breaking the Cycle of Offense
9 Love in Public 181
Justice in the Way of Jesus