I had planned to write a post entitled, “The 5 people I murdered this year” but I got a comment yesterday that’s more important. Someone mentioned on my site about a struggle they’ve had for almost a decade with prostitutes. They went on to say, “I am so broken hearted about it, and feel like God won’t forgive me because I am a Christian and should know better.”
Hidden in that sentence is one of the three most dangerous words I think we face in our brief time on this planet. It doesn’t look that way, on the outside it’s really quite vanilla, but what it implies is pretty destructive.
I am of course talking about the word “should.”
What’s so deadly about this word is that it subtly makes God’s unconditional love conditional. When you add “should” to a sentence, there is an implied sense of evolution. That you have grown or learned something and thus changed what is expected of us. My friend used that word because as a Christian he felt he should know better than to pay for sex.
And when he felt the word should, he felt even further from God. Have you ever felt like that? I have. I used to think that when I got the Welcome Home Party from the father, I was also given a new set of expectations. That now things were different. I had tasted the good life and there was an added sense of failure if I left now. I had already returned. I should know not to leave again. I should be good.
Should is a separator. It builds a wall between us and God. But it’s not the only one:
As someone that struggles with addictions, this is one that has crossed my lips a thousand times. Still is like should, but it focuses our progress on a time frame. It’s a word used to imply that at some point in time we should have stopped doing something. We should have given up something or repented and never returned to a certain activity or person or behavior. Here are a few real examples from my own life:
Why do I still doubt that God exists some days? Isn’t that a fundamental belief that good Christians never struggle with?
How can I still try to win the approval of other people when my wife and I have a fight and I don’t feel of value?
This is a powerful little phrase because it indicates again that something should be different. You’ve had more than enough chances to get things right but you haven’t. You’re blowing it and you shouldn’t be. On some fake timeline you should be in a better place, making better decisions, with better outcomes. But you’re not. Here’s where I see it in my life:
By now, after 6 years of marriage, I should not think other women are physically attractive.
By now I ought to be more interested in reading the Bible.
You have your own words that hurt like these do. I bet we could make a long list that stretched for pages and pages. But the thing I think is important, is that God knew we were going to do this. He knew we’d struggle with ideas like this and he addressed them in the form of the cross.
In Peter’s denial of knowing Christ, we see God’s willingness to forgive things we ought to know by now. By now, Peter knew who Christ was. He traveled with him. He ate and drank and walked long, dusty roads with him. He was called the rock, but he denied him three times in his darkest hour. And God forgave Peter even though by now he knew better.
In Christ’s desperate plea to “forgive them for they know not what they do,” we see the concept of “should” addressed. The people that crucified him should have known who he was. They had been waiting and planning for him for years and years. They knew the bible inside and out. They should have welcomed him, but instead they killed him. And all the should in the world was not held against them.
In the forgiveness of the thief on the cross we see how little God cares about timeframes. The thief never lived a long life of faith. He never learned or grew or changed. He didn’t collect good years to off balance his bad years. He was a Christian for hours, maybe minutes. But the time didn’t matter to God. The length of his faith was not equated with the strength of his faith. And the concept of “still” was put to rest in that moment.
This might only reach the guy that posted his “should” comment, but I think it’s something we can all agree on. I hope today you’ll retire the words “should, by now and still” from your vocabulary. More than that, I hope you’ll think for a minute about your own words that are subtly choking the joy from your faith. I promise you have some too.