This morning, I felt like reading Jude again, if only to see what other wise words he had to say besides my second favorite verse, Jude 22, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” I was saddened to find, I hadn’t retained the rest of the letter, which actually shifts the verse into a context different from the one I liked.
Jude writes of malicious, unholy folks among the believers who prefer to create their own morality and are therefore immoral. (According to the traditional Christian view of morality, humans can’t have morals other than those from God, and you can’t have morals from God unless you are Christian. Thus, if you decide on your own morals, you are doing something proud and misguided and will be mired in immorality as a result.)
Here’s the verse in which Jude mentions these unsavory folks:
For certain men whose condemnation was written about [OR who were marked out for condemnation long ago] have secretly slipped among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (4).
So from my understanding, these are people who claim that they can do whatever they like because God forgives them, and they don’t believe in Jesus Christ.
That’s not me. I doubt Jesus’ divinity, but I am not arrogant enough to claim that I have God’s grace; how can I turn what I don’t have into a license for immorality, much less a license for anything?
What troubles me about Jude is that he seems to have conveniently lumped all unbelievers in with the debaucharers. And he furthers this assumption with the following details:
Though you already know all this, I want you to know that the Lord / Jesus delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe (5).
… these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authorotiy, and slander celestial beings (8).
… these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them (10).
Dreamers (not the good kind) who engage in vices, rebellion, and slander. Unreasoning animals. How can a doubter like me hope to put across to a Christian that I came to doubt through a long period of careful thinking and that I continue to subscribe to the values I learned from Christian teachings, if the Bible paints me as incapable of doing so?
What’s worse is that Jude seems to say that we cannot be friends:
These men are blemishes at your love feasts… (12).
And unbelievers cannot do good:
They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead (12).
Unbelievers are pretty much jerks:
These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (16).
What then of my favorite verse? Here it is in clearer context:
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (22-23).
I’m chewing on it now, and it tastes like, show mercy on doubters by bringing them back into the fold, quickly. To “others”–to Jude’s credit, here seems to be a finer distinction between unbelievers–show mercy, but keep them at arm’s lenght. We don’t want to get cooties now.
Jude makes me sigh the same sigh I keep for misguided Christians who think that all unbelievers are immoral. He does have one thing going for him, though I’m afraid it might just get overwhelmed by all his anti-unbeliever stuff; because it’s sandwiched between his pictures of licentiousness, banality, and arrogance:
Yet even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (9)!
The Lord rebuke me, and no one else.
I guess I need some new favorite verses now.