A Taylor Swift Song and Theology

You’ve heard it, it’s on every other radio station right now—haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…players gonna play, play, play, play, play… It will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day now, sorry about that.

photo source

photo source

The chorus is catchy, you have to give her that. Shake it off, shake it off. I didn’t want to like it at first, but now I dance around in my car when it comes on and find myself singing it in the shower. Strangely, it’s been a good reminder to me when things seem stressful and frustrating to just shake it off and let it go.

This week as this song has been buzzing around in my head, I’ve had several intense conversations diving into mysteries of the Bible that we as humans can never fully understand. They may seem simple on the surface and they might make for a great sermon topic on a Sunday morning, but they are challenging and complex in the craziest of ways.

Forgiveness. Justice. What does it look like to fully receive forgiveness and what does it look like to freely give it? What does it look like to act justly? When should we turn the other cheek and when should we fight for justice?

I had a conversation last night that debated these questions endlessly, both of us playing devil’s advocate and bringing new points to the light over hours on the phone. We went round and round in circles, getting deeper by the minute, running into our limited knowledge repeatedly.

It’s in our nature to want to hate the haters right back. It’s in our nature to get down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world. It’s in our nature to fight for what we think is fair and right.

Even the toddler I babysit throws a tantrum when his big brother gets a few more goldfish than he does—it’s not fair! It’s in our blood from our very beginning.

We so badly want to shine spotlights on the people who sin against us or against humanity. We want to point our fingers their direction and tattle on them and make sure they get what they deserve. We want them to be punished for what they did—we want justice.

But what if we need to do is turn the other cheek? What if we really do just need to shake it off?

We are called to forgive as we have been so abundantly forgiven, Jesus made that more than clear. He also said not to judge for we will be judged.

So where do justice and forgiveness intersect? How can we forgive freely and trust that the Lord who is perfectly just will handle it all? How can we turn the other cheek but still fight for good to win?

I don’t know the answer. I wish I did, I wish this could wrap up nicely with a quick summary and a formulaic plan for how to honor God with our lives in a world full of wrongs. I have no idea.

I know that forgiveness has freed me. I know that the times I’ve sat down across a table and a mug of coffee from the people who have hurt me and said I forgive you have been times where the boulders I’d been lugging around on my back seemed to shatter and fall to the ground. I’ve never felt lighter or closer to the heart of love than when forgiveness has been shared.

I know that the heart of the Father is for justice, and only He in his perfect holiness can be the Judge.

I know that every sin and injustice of all of us was taken on the back of one man to the worst of deaths, was taken by a Savior who gives us forgiveness and freedom. And I know if He forgave me and can forgive the very worst in all of us, I should learn from His perfect example what that looks like and lean into Him.

Maybe the work of forgiveness is the work of justice. Maybe every time we say I forgive you we free both ourselves of the burden of holding on to the pain and others of the due consequences, all the while freeing our Lord to do the work of justice in the way only He can.

It feels passive to drop our weapons and our self-righteous anger and indignant attitudes and turn the other cheek. It feels almost silly, a lot like dancing to Taylor Swift at red lights. But the haters are going to hate, the players are going to play, the heartbreakers are going to break and the fakers are going to fake. If we get down and out about it, what does that solve?

I don’t think it’s as simple as just shaking injustices off. I think at the end of the day, in an unjust and broken world, we have to rely on the strength and saving grace of Jesus--only one who has modeled forgiveness and justice for us flawlessly. I think we must continue to press into Him and press onward, persevering in our faith as we trust God to act justly in all of it in the way only He can.

And when Taylor Swift comes on the radio, I think we should always dance.