What I Learnt by Being A Thief (Rodger McEachern)

When I was a young boy I stole five dollars from my parents’ dresser. I was found out and duly discipled – how, I don’t remember.

How to understand my parents’ response to their young thief?
1. They didn’t like my stealing, and they didn’t like me…
2. They didn’t have a problem with my thievery, but they didn’t like me…
3. They were okay with my petty larceny, and liked me…
4. They didn’t like my stealing yet liked me.

What makes sense? My parents either liked or didn’t like the act of my stealing, and they either liked or didn’t like me. (I am using the words ‘liked’ and ‘like’ to avoid using words like ‘hate’ and ‘love’ that often incorporate large investments of emotion, which may skew one’s thinking concerning the situation in question) So, which is it?

Well, my parents didn’t like my stealing – not from them or anyone. Yet, they genuinely liked me – they really did! To understand my parents’ response of discipline for my stealing money I think the fourth option is the best explanation for their discipline; indeed, as a parent I would have the same position towards any of my children. They wanted me to learn that stealing is not good, nor right, their discipline was oriented to help me learn that, and their discipline was grounded in their affection for me.

Okay, here is where I’m going with this. There is an idea floating around our society, and even in the church, that it is meaningless, even hypocritical, to say to another person, “I don’t like your behaviour, or act, or word, but I like you.” Yet, isn’t that what my parents were doing in response to my stealing – not liking my behaviour, but still liking me? To think otherwise is to conclude that there is no behaviour that is not acceptable or not likeable, because if there were, then “I couldn’t like you!” The idea we can’t like another’s behaviour and not like them is a sophistry; is it true that I, or another person, are incapable of distinguishing the worth and value of another person from what they do? Perhaps for some people that may be a possibility, yet it wasn’t true for my parents, nor for me raising my children, nor it is true of the people I know.

Neither is it true of the Lord. The idea that another’s actions, even lifestyle, is not acceptable and liked, and therefore, that person mustn’t be liked is to deny the witness of Scripture, and to confute the common experience of many people of faith. Two great truths in Scripture (and reflected in the Judeo-Christian tradition of western society) are first, God is love, and therefore, loving and good in all decrees and works; the second is, humanity is broken and infected with what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ This ‘sin-infection’ results in all that is wrong with me, and you, and all other people. C.K. Chesterton, in response to a letter in the London Times asking, “What is wrong with the world?”, was allegedly reported to write, “I am.” Chesterton had a handle on the clear teaching of Scripture concerning sin and its consequences. There is nothing in Scripture that would support the thinking that God likes our sin, or our behaviour that flows so easily from what Jesus described as our ‘unclean heart’. Much is made concerning how Jesus loves us, and how his love shapes his relationships, and rightly so, yet, it is fallacious to suggest that Jesus’ love for us also means he doesn’t have a problem with our sin and sinful words and acts. There is ample support in the Bible for the contrary, as there is ample support for thinking that God likes us, no… God loves us! This despite our sin and our behaviour that expresses our sin.

So, my parents didn’t like my sin of stealing, yet they liked me. Similarly, God does not like my sin, but likes me (perhaps it would be right to insert the words ‘hate’ and ‘love here?).

One final thought. If I have the love of God in me, transforming me through the work of His Spirit, conforming me to the likeness of Jesus, is it not reasonable to conclude that I don’t have to like what another person does, or even their lifestyle, but I can like that person? Isn’t this how the Lord relates to us?

Rodger McEachern, Callingwood Road