A while back a good friend asked me a good question. He asked how I thought a growing love for Christ and a growing awareness of His love for me should affect my assessment of my place in my journey. In a culture that sees adversity as something to be overcome, that sees transformation in adversity as something you do in order to not have to suffer anymore … how does the gospel help you deal with adversity that seems to continue?
I thought it was a brilliant question. I waited a while to answer it. I waited until I felt more awake. Some days I’m just more awake than others. Metaphorically “awake.” I probably stole the idea initially from Buddhist/Hindu teachings on wakefulness, but I’m a firm believer that all truth is God’s truth, and that if I can glean something from the mouth of a speaking donkey, I can certainly do so from the teachings of an image-bearer of the most high God who just happens to be a Tibetan Buddhist.
I always throw in the caveat that I firmly believe that there is only one way to God, not many. I believe that Christ is the only hope humanity has. However, I believe that the gospel is not an exclusively Western thing, neutered and demystified to fit neatly into our academic boxes. I believe it is very mystically writ so large upon all of creation that its echoes shake and shimmy down the halls of every cultural and ideological system and construct. This desire to know and be known by our Maker is part of our DNA, and so is the promise He began to give us in the garden … that He Himself, for His own sake, would carry out our redemption on our helpless behalf and remember our sin no more.
“Awake” to me is a state where I’m looking more at Jesus than I am at other people, myself included. “Awake” is trusting that Christ’s assessment of my situation (both personally and globally) is infinitely more true than my own. “Awake” is really knowing that pain and suffering can be agents of renewal and genuine growth, even when they are stepping stones to more pain and suffering. “Awake” is being able to see the brokenness in those around you and to realize that the painful things they do and say come from a place of great need and not great malice. “Awake” is to let the gospel really begin to affect the moment by moment decisions you make about the world and your reactions to it.
Being awake is painful, though. It requires a great deal of us. That’s the messy reality of faith. Salvation is this beautiful free gift given to us when we were far too dead to be worthy or deserving of it. God makes the way possible, then applies it to us unilaterally, rendering us from death, alive … from total unconsciousness, awake. That’s the easy part, at least from our perspective. We have nothing to bring to the table, so we couldn’t really assist. Most of us are in total awe of that moment. Really seeing for the first time. Knowing colors and flavors we never knew existed, all our senses alive in the way only our Designer could bring them out. Quickly, though, we reach a point where most of us, if the truth were told, would really rather go back to sleep.
It’s a free gift, yes. But it will cost us everything. Everything. There is no corner of our life that will go unviolated. There is no closed up basement room full of filth that will not be opened to the light. The Holy Spirit will not rest until every nasty, wet, slimy chunk of black, slippery resistance is dragged shrieking into the front yard and tossed onto the funeral pyre of the “you” you thought you’d one day be.
I was talking to a friend about this a while back. I commented that we go from “destitute beggar” to “lawyer/accountant” pretty quickly when God starts putting His finger on our favorite pieces of filth. I go from prostrate on the floor clutching at the hem of his garment in abject poverty to “Now let’s not be hasty. Can we at least discuss this?” in about a half second. It’s easy, in the middle of the fire and pain to look at God and question His motives.
“Why are you taking the things away from me that comfort me?!”
“Why are you making my pain worse?!”
“Why are you demanding things from me that I don’t know how I can live without?!”
“My hopes and dreams and plans aren’t evil, why are you requiring that I surrender them?!”
In the fire, we can’t see it, but it’s compassion. God has a perfect idea in His perfect mind of a perfect “you” and He will relentlessly work until He brings it about. He does not demand that we surrender our plans as a test of our faith. He demands that we surrender our plans because He knows a.) they won’t work; and b.) even if they worked perfectly, they would accomplish a result far short of His perfect idea of the perfect “you.” He demands that we surrender our plans because He wants to do it for us, and needs us out of the way.
It makes me think of a Rich Mullins quote I saw recently. It said that being loved by God is one of the most painful things imaginable, but that it is the only way to find salvation. My thoughts above are at least partially a response to that quote, actually. God is at work in my heart and in my life. I know this. There has been a great deal of transformation. The problem arises when it’s not the transformation I want. Spiritual insight instead of what everyone around me would call “stability.” Wisdom instead of my marriage. A deep awareness of His capacity to provide for my physical needs instead of a lucrative job or a place to live.
The question then becomes whether or not I am willing to submit to the painful process He has sovereignly chosen to use in my life to sanctify me, to make me into his perfect idea of me. Not gonna lie, some days I don’t want to. Some days I cry out to heaven in exasperation and list all the things that define me, all the ways in which I fall short of where I think I should be. I tell God “This is me. This is who I am. I’m a wreck!” But even when I’m saying those things, I know that the twisted reality of it all is that I’m still staring heaven down, full of arrogance and pride.
I’m rejecting God’s assessment of me. I’m telling Him that He doesn’t get to define me, that I’ll take care of that.
Ultimately, I’m terrified to submit to hearing His voice tell me that I’m His beloved. I really don’t want to let Him define me as righteous, as blood-bought, as loved with an everlasting love by my Maker Who cannot change. I don’t want to surrender to it because that would be me admitting that I have nothing to bring to the table. That I have no bargaining position from which to exert leverage.
Even in the middle of my problems and my pain, I’m trying to establish my kingdom of filth and build up walls of excrement to keep Him out.
I’m trying to stop that. Love is changing my perspective by slowly exposing my objections as silly and petty.
He just wants to take my crap kingdom and knock it all down so He can build something glorious. Something so glorious, in fact that Lewis says if I could see it now I might be strongly tempted to worship it. He wants to do this because He loves me. And that’s what makes me love Him.
He has promised He will finish what He has begun. I’m just trying to stay out from underfoot.