Image: Jorge Láscar
The Bible is clear: we all need the gospel. For instance, have you ever noticed that virtually everyone in scripture could have been introduced in some kind of recovery group? Imagine it:
“Hi. My name is Noah and I am a drunk.”
“Hi. My name is Abraham. I am a coward and a liar. I would tell a lie to put my wife’s life at risk, to save my own skin.”
“Hi. We are Isaac and Rebecca and we’re dysfunctional parents.”
“Hi. My name is Jacob and I’m a cheater and a scoundrel.”
“Hi. My name is Aaron. I’m a religious leader; but I cave in to peer pressure.”
“Hi. My name is Miriam. I’m jealous of my little brother Moses and I’m a racist; I’m upset about his inter-racial marriage.”
“Hi. My name is Moses and I’m a hot-head and a murderer.”
“Hi. My name is Naomi and I am bitter.”
“Hi. My name is Samson and I struggle with lust.”
“Hi. My name is David. I am an adulterer and a murderer.”
“Hi. My name is Thomas. I struggle with doubts.”
“Hi. My name is Peter and I let down my best friend when he needed me most.”
“Hi. My name is Timothy. I struggle with paralyzing fears and insecurities.”
“Hi. My name is Paul. I am a Christian killer and I am very difficult to work with.”
These folks were certainly flawed and yet each was a hero of the faith. I do not believe they were rewarded for their flaws, nor do I believe their flaws were unrelated to the good that eventually occurred in their lives.
Awareness of their flaws preceded real humility and unmasked their fears. They came to acknowledge in progressively deeper ways their need of God’s love and mercy. At the place of specific need, God met them with unconditional love and grace. Clearly, His love is not conditioned by our performance.
In Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven,” the hound, who represents God, asks the man who has been running from Him (the man whose life is now spent in dissipation) this question:
Human love demands human meriting; how hast thou merited? Of all man’s dingiest clay thou art the dingiest clot. Alas, thou knowest not how unworthy of love thou art. Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, save me? Save only me. Rise, clasp my hand and come….
The good news of the gospel can be found here. The words are very powerful. Again, God’s love is not conditioned by performance and, perhaps, all the folks listed above went on to accomplish their greatest work after their hour of crisis because they came to understand more deeply than they might have otherwise known that God’s love was deeper, richer, wider, and mightier than they ever could have imagined. Furthermore, His forgiveness goes ever deeper as well.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that pride was the great sin. It is certainly bad, and perhaps we can legitimately say it is at the apex of all sin. But an apex, like the top of a pyramid, is always supported by that which is much more substantive.
What precedes pride, fear, and insecurity? Pride, or pretense, covers our fears. We think, If people really knew me as I am, they might reject me. This fear is easily cultivated in our subculture. For instance, in an evening of watching the nightly news (right or left), we see a row of talking heads, pointing out someone’s failures. The visual often reveals a lack of humility in those doing the talking since they act as if they are above the fray.
The process unwittingly creates the picture that people in this subculture better be perfect for they could also become the object of scorn and ridicule. Consequently, people mask their fears and insecurities. A culture characterized by condemnation and fault finding is not a safe one. This pretense creates a grace-denying subculture, even when that pretense reveals we are longing for something better.
The Bible says the antidote to fear is the love of God. First John 4:18 reminds us, “Perfect love casts out fear.” A corollary is that imperfect love breeds anxiety. If “human love demands human meriting,” then each of us is freighted with anxiety. Even well-meaning associates who love us, as well as they might, are incapable of loving us perfectly.
And it gets worse before it gets better, for we’ve never loved anyone as well as they should be loved. Consequently, we have contributed to the anxiety of others around us.
Only God, from whom we can hide nothing, fully knows us, and He loves us unconditionally, with a love that casts out fear.
If my analogy is correct, and pride is at the apex of the pyramid, then at the very base of that pyramid is unawareness, perhaps even an unwillingness, to receive the love of God so freely given. The love and mercy of God came to each of those heroes of the faith, listed above, in their darkest hours in order to restore them. The true Kingdom of God is made up of broken men and women mended by the love and mercy of God. I do not know much, but I do know this is true.
Consequently, the gospel remains as “good news,” and it is important to share it in a world where fears are masked by pride and pretense, and yet, at the deepest levels of our lives we simply long to know that we can be loved unconditionally.