I hate admitting that I cannot do something. I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
The one notable exception is raising children. I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis). This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith. I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit. I want to be proud of my own accomplishments. I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
God, however, is quite clear. We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.
This is folly and this is scandal. It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence. This is offensive. It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height. The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God. I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday. What is His goal and where does He end His descent? He ends where we belong. In Hell. Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it. He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God. It is the only way.
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent. This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away. It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus. Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences. When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence. You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you. But it is a dangerous grace. This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished. It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin. The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread andWine)
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent. It is a long journey, these forty days. It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone. God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross. As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us. This body of Jesus that is our grace. This grace that brings fire. This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
~ How Firm a Foundation
Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.
Those who follow Jesus are, I fear, often suspicious of reason.
Some believe that the spiritual is far above intellect and cannot be discerned by the mind. Some are simply afraid that those who are deemed intellectual will produce proof after proof to debunk their cherished beliefs.
It seems a paradox that we can know God by reason and we can know God only by revelation.
Yet our faith is full of paradoxes: the last will be first; the King came as a servant; you live by dying; you gain by giving away. It is one of the things I love about this Christ-filled life. One can never get bored; there will never be a dearth of things to discover.
I love a good mystery novel. I adore following the clues and trying to figure out the solution. The best mystery authors are the ones who can lead you on, doling out all of the necessary clues and handing you a surprise twist at the end, a twist that you never saw coming but one that perfectly fulfills all of the clues that came before.
This is our faith. The Old Testament prophets gave all of the necessary clues to finding the Messiah yet when He finally arrived, the way in which He perfectly agreed with their descriptions was a complete surprise.
I imagine that this is how it will be at the end of our own times. The final revelation of God will perfectly complete all that we have reasoned out, yet in a beautifully surprising way.
Our Creator gave us reason, gave us intellect, gave us curiosity for a purpose. I suspect that He delights in surprising us, in crafting intricate puzzles that lead us on ever new adventures of discovery.