Tuesday, May 26, 2009
To and From
Again, my intention is not to nitpick what was likely a kindly volunteer at a simply country church function. Rather, the comment revived my recent quest to identify the nature and practice of this most fundamental of Christian acts: believing. The message of the Gospel, we were told growing up, was not activated in the life until it was “received” and “believed.”Let's put that into a sentence:
First, the sensations associated with the act of believing are painfully hard to define in that world. The descriptions believers give of the event usually end up being marked by some vague inward impression that they are in fact feeling positively towards the speaker’s message. They agree with them. They like what they are hearing. They are willing to go ahead with the emotional transaction, albeit with wildly undefined currency.
Finally, my suspicion is that this confusion is due to the fact that a fully Biblical consideration of faith cannot be separated from its spiritual flip-side, repentance. Faith and repentance are regularly spoken of together in Christian spiritual theology. Why? I suspect because there is no turning TO when there has not been a turning FROM.
That is to say, repentance leads me to despair of myself, to stop focusing on my ability to do anything about my current spiritual state, to drop my arms helplessly at my side and admit that I am powerless before my addictions, broken but for his grace. Ironically, this painful, Spirit-created admission with its attendant posture towards God, my neighbor, and myself IS the very posture of believing. I am in fact believing when I own this truth about myself: that I am a sinner, that I am needy, that I am hungry.
That single sentence could be the stuff of reformation for Evangelicalism. The gift we receive when we say "yes" to Jesus is not the "feeling good about ourselves," or "peace," or "security," or anything else that I necessarily want. The gift we receive when we say "yes" to Christ is clear vision - seeing ourselves as we truly are, and seeing Jesus' love in its genuine immensity.
And yet, whether typically evangelical or newly emergent, what we see is the church turning TO culture, instead of asking people to turn away FROM it.
Now here is where it gets really interesting. This approach is ultimately, about us, as individuals. It is about stripping away the cultural that we hide behind and that we say "defines us" and makes us look starkly and harshly at ourselves - our deepest, inner most self. And that picture is never pretty.
I have lost a lot of weight in recent years - hundreds of pounds. I am constantly complimented on my appearance in light of such. But here is the thing - everybody sees me with my clothes on, and I do look pretty good that way, at least relatively speaking. But, take those clothes off and it is not a pretty picture. I have only had one of the numerous plastic surgical procedures required to deal with the "leftovers" of such tremendous weight loss. When naked, while dimensionally much smaller, the flaps of wrinkled, loose, crumpled flesh are unsightly to say the least. Only real love can look past something like that (THANK YOU HONEY!)
Repentance hurts - but in it we discover the real love that Christ offers.