God’s ways often strike us as odd. That God creates makes us marvel. That creation happened by speaking surprises us. That God rescues and saves relieves and gladdens our hearts. That the rescue comes by striking dead firstborn animals and humans or by parting a sea or by a sevenfold walk around a city to pull down its walls — well, we could never have seen that coming. Even God describes his ways as odd, at least to us. “For my thoughts/ways are not yours,” He says through Isaiah (55:8). No kidding!
When God visits our world in Jesus, the oddness of it all becomes even more glaring. So much about Jesus seems strangely surprising: born in Bethlehem, or born at all, to a never-married girl who had never “known” a man; to live on the other side of the tracks in Nazareth; to declare God’s kingdom come; to demonstrate the kingdom’s reality by casting out demons; healing the most ill; welcoming the worst sinners and outcasts; renouncing violence, anger and revenge; dying and then rising from the dead. Everything on that list surprises to such an extent that, if you had thought about it beforehand, everyone would think you odd.
Jesus, the oddly begotten Messiah of God, describes the kingdom in similarly strange ways. To be great in the kingdom is to become like a child. In fact, no one enters without becoming and remaining like a child. To be alive, one must die. Crucifixion is the most humiliating and painful of ways. To be a leader requires serving like a slave. To love God leads to loving someone in your life (your enemy) who seems least like God and to love that enemy as God loves you. Through and through, how odd of God.
We should not be surprised then to discover and experience the freedom of God as an odd reality. Scripture clearly shows that Jesus promises and provides freedom. He says He came to set captives free (Luke 4:18–19). At times when everyone “naturally” feels at least some fear — as when facing death or in the midst of a raging storm, or when it seems like the end of the world has come —Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” Remarkably then, by saying it, He sets people free of their fear. Jesus delivers people from demons ravaging and ruining. He calls the dead back to life, and was Himself seen and felt to be alive three days after the government put Him to death and secured the tomb where His corpse was placed. Indeed, Jesus was all about freedom.
Yet, how He liberates strikes us odd again and again. According to the Apostle Paul, He rescues humanity by giving up everything, relinquishing God-likeness in order to be and live as human, but not an exceptional or even ordinary human, rather a slave who obeys and serves until it kills Him. He sets free by enslaving self. He triumphs over the enslaving powers by surrendering to them. He gives self to see others gain. That is the oddly wrought freedom of God.
But it gets even odder. Most of us eventually grow accustomed to the odd way Jesus worked to set us free. He dies so we live; His dying broke the power of what bound us. That His self-emptying makes us full and empowers us to live as the redeemed people of the Lord. Amen and hallelujah to that!
It slowly strikes us, however, that God’s freedom never gets anything other than odd in the way it works. Thus, for us to live free and for our living to have liberating impact on others, we will have to let God be odd in, among and through us. To be free for God strangely draws us to be servants of God. The word in the Bible is actually “slave” of God. To enjoy and express the fullness of God’s being, love and power, we must empty self out and generously share the life, love, joy and grace we have received and enjoyed. That’s how Jesus does it for us and the world — oddly. That’s also how we will join Jesus as agents of freedom for others and the world today — oddly.
Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save (substitute ‘liberate’ here) some,” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul was saying that he freely places all of his rights, privileges and freedoms on the altar, and accepts whatever limitation, deprivation and sacrifice necessary to connect with people in hopes that God will be in the connection setting them free. We set others free by “enslaving” ourselves in love for their sake. How odd the freedom of God.
BISHOP DAVID KENDALL is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus.”