To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do – to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst — is by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own. – Fredrick Buechner
We grow up. While we do, we learn. We learn how to survive in this life. We do what it takes. Some of us have a lot of learning to do, for others… not so much. As Fredrick Buechner has said “we clench our fists and grit our teeth.” While we are learning to survive, we are also losing. We lose what God has made. We lose ourselves. We may look good to others, but that what God has made, is covered by years of prevailing.
I believe God made us and what He made is good. But the world continuously tells us that we can be more.(The devil said so it in the garden.) If you look like this…If you wear these clothes…If you drive this car…If you have this income…If these people are your friends…If you go to this university…If you buy my product…If you sound like this…If you do these things…you can be more. More than what you are now. The message constantly is…you need to be more special that you are now. And we oblidge by chasing after all these things or people.
The same message is being proclaimed in the church. Give yourself to Jesus and He will make you a first-class person. The more time you spend with Him the more “super” you will become. You will begin to shine. You will be seen. In short , you will become a good person that does a lot of good things. That’s how a real christian SHOULD look like and that is what WE EXPECT from you. So we become people that look good. Since we have a relative idea what good looks like, we then start to replicate acts of goodness. Jesus only loves good little boys and girls, remember? We become concert-driven christians giving a performance of goodness. Because this goodness comes from us and not from God, we can measure ourselves against one another. We can measure our humbleness. Take pride in what we have accomplished. There are levels of “goodness” that can be accomplished. The more you do, the more you are. Look at the successful christian. Look at his car. Look at his house. You should be more like him/her. Look at their smile. You too can be this happy. You can be more than you are.
Perhaps I should say at this point that I do believe that God changes us into better people, but there is more to that. I believe He changes us into REAL people. When we meet Him, He slowly and surely takes us back to the person He has made. When we meet God we begin a journey that is best descibed by John Newton “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am” We begin to find out what it means to be “what I am”. “Throughout the Bible, God shows a marked preference for “real” people over “good” people.” Phillip Yancey
In this process we find out that we have become strangers to God. We present ourselves to Him in a way that will impress Him. We believe that WHAT we are, is not enough. Somehow we need to be more. Do more. We try to show Him our best. We put on a nice friendly do-gooder mask when we approach Him. When we fail we hide from Him.(Did it work for Adam and Eve to hide?). We play the game of performance and pretense.
It was Blaise Pascal who said, “Not only do we not know God, except through Jesus Christ, we do not even know ourselves except through Jesus Christ.” Thus begins a journey with Jesus where we begin to see God for the first time and in the process we begin to discover who we are. Jesus comes and puts us in a place of brutal honesty. We discover that we cannot impress God with our goodness. We discover that we cannot MAKE God love us more with all our effort. We come to a place where we discontinue any hope of pleasing Him. Our goodness is simply never good enough. We come to a place where we acknowledge our nothingness. This happens at the cross when the whole person dies.(We keep on thinking that the cross is only for bad people or the bad in us. This is a mistake. Our good also have to die.) J. B. Phillips said this, “The “good” man, the man whose god is righteousness, has as his life’s ambition the keeping of rules and commandments and the keeping of himself uncontaminated by the world. This sounds admirable; but, as the truth of Christ showed, the whole of such living, the whole drive and ambition, the whole edifice, is self-centered. That entire process of effort must be abandoned if a man is to give himself in love to God and his fellows. He must lose his life if he is ever going to find it.”
Our lives are lies, consisting of masks that we put on for every occasion. And all those lies encircle the lie that, what God made, is not good enough. Of course many of us have strayed so far from Jesus that we have no idea who we are any longer. We’ve become the lie. In this life, we will never think of being “what God has made”, because I have to be better. It is this life we have to lose. The false front has to die. As Garrison Keilor said, “Give up your good Christian life and follow Christ.” Or as Brennan Manning put it, “The preoccupation with projecting the perfect image, of being a model Christian and edifying others with our virtues, leads to self-consciousness, sticky pedestal behaviour, and bondage to human respect. As my spiritual director Larry Hein said…'”Give up trying to look like a saint.’ It’ll be better for everybody.”
Why is this so important for us in the church? Again Merton, “Man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself; he is not at peace with himself, because he is not at peace with God.” We, in the church, are not at peace with God. We proclaim Him to be the life-enhancer. He is not. He is the Life giver. We come and ask Him to bless our deceitfulness. And yes, we are just that. False. What do we give the people around us? Fakeness? The church is exceedingly good with fabricating illusions of wellness. We constantly struggle to become……better, but we do not know that the greater struggle is to become REAL. “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy…He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A friend of mine, Albert, says the following. To be humble is to be known for who we really are. Do we know who we really are?
Philip Yancy said this, “We must first receive before we can give, must possess in order to give up, must have a place before leaving it. Many Christians, diminished by misguided theology, need a healing emphasis on self-possession before they can think about self-sacrifice. Wounded children must be healed before becoming capable parents.” Perhaps this is what this post is all about. We tell christians to give God’s love, but we live lives that do not know His love. We are not rooted in it and because of it, we constantly tell people to become better people without knowing what we are asking them is unworkable.
What then, does God give us? I think He gives us the gift of what He has made. He gives us the value of “what we are”. When we acknowledge our brokenness we become owners of loved lives. We can give people “what is real” because we no longer live in the realm of “you should be better.”
WE SIMPLY SEE PEOPLE FOR WHAT THEY ARE AND NOT WHAT THEY CAN BE.
Will we allow God to peal away all the layers of protection and show the world the person He has made? Perhaps then, we can agree with Soren Kierkegaard who said, “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.”