Well, I am smarting a bit, but I have discovered another of the benefits of really embracing a doctrine of depravity – the idea contained in one of the earlier prayer books of my tradition that “…there is no health in (me).” I have re-discovered the comfort in this idea. There are of course many benefits to owning this –certainly the fact that Jesus came to save and heal such is at the heart of all. But specifically today I have in view the fact that it makes me darn hard to insult.
It was recently tried. If you were watching this blog closely (and even I know THAT would be a big mistake!) you would have seen it flash by for a few hours, before I saw it and took it down as off topic and mean-spirited. I didn’t think the charges true; I wasn’t even entirely clear what the particular allegations were, just a general one. But it did sting. Quite a bit. And as I sat with it, and talked with other people I realized, at least in part, why it stung. The comment was made by someone I know well, and who has at least a claim to know something of my character.
It stung because there was more than a grain of truth in the charge – which as near as I can understand, is that my inner life does not match my profession, my past private statements and behaviors do not match up very well with some of the things I have proclaimed. And this person is right –I am guilty as charged.
In some places the lack of consistency is because I have grown, and have laid down hurts that I once blamed on others. I have acknowledged my fault, and have received forgiveness even as I extended it. The fact that I am inconsistent with my past in these areas is a mark of restoration and God’s good grace. May I become ever more inconsistent in this way!
But the more serious charge is that there is an inner hypocrisy, and I must yield. Again, I am guilty as charged. Many of the good things I believe have a hard time getting all the way to my emotions, and have a hard time getting into actions. But I proclaim them because I believe them true, not because they are natural to me.
What I understand by the term “sanctification” is the process by which a child of God grows into the fullness of the image of God he or she is intended to be. That is accomplished, in part, by the Holy Spirit presenting ideas to us –conviction, word, example, all sorts of methods – and we struggling sometimes to live into the truth we have seen. There is a great deal of the Glory of God that I have at least been favored with at least a glimpse, but I am like the hiker standing at the base of a tall mountain or waterfall (and again, images from Hannah Hurnard’s little book, “Hinds’ Feet on High Places” comes to mind) –but I am not surprised. Nor am I dismayed when I see my stature compared to the Glory. Nor am I astonished when someone else sees it. The sting is a remnant of the part of me that pretends to be good, healthy, righteous and holy. I am none of those things. Never have been,
and never will… No that’s not right.
In the vision of God, I am all those things, because he intends to work with me until I become so. He declares what He is doing, even before it is completed, because He does not fail or stop short. The thing for me is to cooperorate with my great physician, and not just listen to his diagnosis.
As for me, the allegations are true. I own them. And I am again challanged to live into what I believe.
That is why it’s so hard to insult me – most of what anyone would choose to say is true. But if I acknowledge the truth, it does not destroy – it would destroy me if I did NOT acknowldge it, I have certainly tried that before! The “awful truth” is what He has redeemed me from. Even wrapped in the style it was, the insult contained some illumination, and required me to think about things I would rather avoid.
“But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…” again, from the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer”
That is the true distinctive of Christianity – “Getting it right” in respect to our behavior, is important; justice and righteousness do matter. But Christianity’s core message concerns the central, undeniable fact that, no matter what particular set of rules one uses, we don’t seem to be able to “get it right” very well, or for very long. We all fail, we “all fall short of the glory of God.” Doctrine that is specifically Christian starts with that observation. In part, the “Good News” of the Gospel is that we don’t have to deny the bad news any longer –we don’t have to pretend that we are whole when we are ill, strong when we are weak, or perfect when we are sinners. The Good News is that people who will own that truth, their own need, are exactly the sort of people Jesus came to take to himself.
So yes, your arrow found its mark, to the glory of God. But all is well, “and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”