Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Perfection and Weakness

I was talking to one of the waiters at work yesterday about deep matters. I told him that I think that one of our biggest problems that we as humans face is that we keep choosing to believe that people won't fail us. We cling to the illusion that someone (especially those close to us) can achieve near perfection when it comes to their dealings with us. Yet everyone fails everyone else. Sure, some people do more then others (and some of those people are in jail!) but the truth is that none of us is capable of really living good. We are all sinful, as the Bible says, broken and unable to do the high and mighty things we know we ought to. Deep in our hearts we realize that we can never really be good but oh how we have high expectations of others!

We desire grace for our weakness with others, even if we won't admit or accept it. But we certainly want it. We want others to forgive us, to love us anyway, to look past our sins and mistakes. Yet at the same time we have a hard time giving that kind of grace to others. Even though we recognize our own weakness, we assume that others can or should be better. Certainly my spouse, parents, pastor, boss, children, neighbor, etc. ought to do better then me. We are continually shocked when those around us fail us. Why? Maybe because if we really accepted how messed others are, we'd have to face that these people can never ever truly make us happy. Or maybe because if we accepted our sinfulness we'd have to find some other (daily communion with God perhaps?) coping method to help us survive a sinful and depraved world? Sticking to our illusions most of the time is a lot easier!

In the church we certainly do this. We love to judge people! We often fall into the trap of believing that we saved by God's grace but then we (and others) need to earn our salvation with perfection. And if you mess up you'd better confess fast before you get hit my a bus or something! Somehow we believe that after we become believers we shouldn't really mess up much anymore. This, even though Paul (yes, Saint Paul!) talks in Romans about his wretchedness and inability to do good even when it is his hearts desire. In all of our illusions the core message of Christ gets lost: that we are sinners depending totally on the Christ's redemption of us to be reconciled to God. We need to somehow live in the discomfort of accepting our sinfulness so that we don't lose our dependence on God and so that we can treat others with grace instead of judging them. How do we do this? Don't ask me, I'm as sinful as you are! By the way, the image is "Man as Gutter Spout" a sculpture in tin by June Leaf.

May Light increase!


Elayne said...

Great post Mark! It reminded me of a person I spoke with a few days ago. He is new in his journey with God. He took me by surprise when he told me a story of how he was tempted to do something he knew was wrong and immediately called on God to give him strength to resist! I'm sure this is how most of us would want to live ... with a constant awareness of God with us so that we talk to Him FIRST.
As you probably know, if you read my blog, the topic of grace is huge in my life right now!

Mark said...

Yes, grace, easier spoken about then applied (either to self or others). I find that it is difficult to balance the application of grace with my understanding of human nature. For instance, when a man in leadership at the church falls into some serious sin, should we give grace or judgment? How can we not punish people, yet protect the church? I remember a friend telling me of a youth pastor who got caught doing something illegal. His senior pastor showed up and said, hurry up and get our of here. The crestfallen youth pastor asked why, his life was pretty much finished. "Because once you get this sorted out, we want you back." The youth pastor was astounded, "Why would you want me back after what I've done?" The same reason we Christ wants us to come back to him - because we love you." The friend told me this as a story about mind-blowing grace, but it seems unwise to promise someone their job back when they've just sinned terribly. That is where the tension is, offering grace but somehow tempering it with wisdom. That's tough work! It would be much easier to not offer grace or to never withhold from someone even in their sin. Balancing these two - that is where true wisdom and love comes in. It seems to me that we are under the illusion that a "good" pastor or Christian leader will never seriously sin - but it's not true. How then should we react when they do?