Monday, December 24, 2007

The Fine Print

This has been a year of intense discoveries about the world and myself. Some good, some bad--all needed. I genuinely believe that the course I was on in September would have led me into ruin, that this would have been the year to destroy me. But God intervened. And even though I've generally identified myself as a Christian for as long as I understood the term, I think it fair to say, in hindsight, that this is my first Christmas as a genuine believer. To call a spade a spade, Christmas had become for me a time of grief, of emphasized wrongs and vacancies in my life.

On paper, I look pretty good now. For the first Christmas ever, I don't believe the Bible is a hodgepodge of God's Word and a bunch of oppressive jargon written by clergymen. I believe it is the true Word of God, authentic and complete, a faultless canon. I haven't read it all, but I've read over half the book in less than two months. I will finish it within the next. Trust me. For the first Christmas ever, I don't believe in degrees of sin. I believe that all sin separates us from the LORD Almighty, that each sin is like a dart that pierced Christ on the cross, and that through His forgiveness we might stand before God and be judged, instead of hurled directly into the depths of hell. For the first Christmas ever, I will attend a Christmas Eve service as a man who has chosen Wesleyan principles above all identifiable vices. If you stalked me with a camera à la reality TV, you would see that I have cut illicit substances, all forms of gambling, cursing, and so on from my life. I've had opportunities to indulge in private, but it's my prerogative to look at myself in the mirror with a clear conscience, that God's lens is the one most feared, not the one with the red flashing light. On paper, I've done okay.

And yet, I wouldn't make the same assertions Job does in the Bible. My failures have been subtle, if not utterly invisible. But they've been big. In many instances, I've tried to pool from my own strength. I've tried to search for the perfect words or the perfect gestures, and my search for perfection--scratch that, my insistance of perfection--is a standard long-engrained in my self-image. My approach couldn't be more destructive, and this is where I need to be healed. This is the greatest discovery, aside from God's grace, that I've made this year. And here's how Solomon phrased it:

Ecclesiastes 7: 16
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?

So. I guess I'd better interpret that, lest I be thought conceited. For starters, I'm neither overrighteous nor overwise. I have an Israeli friend who doesn't seem to identify himself as being very faithful, but he's assured me that English translations fall a little flat. Perhaps even modern ones, but who can say for certain? What I do believe, however, is that this is certainly a passage that means close to what it actually says. At face value, it's ludicrous. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not identifying myself as either of those standards because they simply don't exist in humans. Solomon boasts about the virtues and advantages of righteousness and wisdom throughout Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. In other words, you can't have too much of them. What you can do is commit your life to the pursuit of knowledge, the endless pursuit thereof, and never be satisfied with it. If you set your heart at discovering the mysteries that aren't to be known to you, you will surely fail:

Proverbs 2: 6
For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

I don't know why my mind vainly pursues answers, whether it's my own volition or a result of sheer habit, but this part of me has not yet been healed. Now, we could debate the semantics, but I'm going to share something about myself that you wouldn't so much detect in my actions unless you knew precisely what God had placed in my heart. I habitually commit what I consider to be the greatest sin as ever existed: doubt.

In doubt, we find the absence of virtues. All of them. If I were to make a chart of sin and virtue, all the ones we've come to know would be sandwiched between doubt and faith. I know it says in the New Testament that love is the greatest virtue, and perhaps that's because love can transcend Christianity. It is entirely possible to love someone with or without a knowledge of God. I would argue that God's grace is at the heart of all love, that we are so complex that we might act out things we don't intrinsically understand, but for anyone to exhibit or embody any Christian principle, one must walk the path of faith. I believe this is utterly irrefutable.

As for me, I doubt in myself all the time. Over the last two days, more than one person has said to me that the image I have of myself is very unlike what others see in me. Not only do I seek perfection, I also impose on myself what I should trust God to do on my behalf. But in many ways, knowledge is still a god to me. Observations and vicarious experience, viewed from a distance, define my life. Fear governs my life. I am clinging to invisible things that now camera could detect, and this is why I have some deeply embedded components that must change. It sounds pretty bleak, but it's certainly not as bleak as I was before I knew these things. Before I identified this about myself, I constantly waited for signs. For me to place myself in a potentially vulnerable position, I needed a more than a tangible invitation. The more impatient I grow, the more I was embittered, and the more left to my own devices. Everyone's own devices could destroy them.

Have you ever wondered why Satan is so powerful? In pop culture he's depicted as a guy that appears through a puff of smoke and makes you sign a document before handing you an artificial solution. If that was accurate to real life, I'd like to think that most of us would be able to see this as proof of God's existence and thereby take the higher road based solely on logical consideration. Instead, Satan is much stronger. He has nothing on you but doubt and your own insecurities, which he will mercilessly pit against you. That's what I've been describing here.

So I can't play the mercenary anymore; I need to be part of a body of believers. I need to understand that I'm only as weak as my doubt is strong. I'm not as unworthy as Satan has whispered in my ears. Heh, understand. No. Understanding is nothing. Living it is a much stronger declaration of faith. About a half hour ago, I thought that I needed my mind destroyed. What I really need is for someone to come along and tame it. So, if God will accept this post as my evening prayer, I need that kind of blessing. I want to be a genuine example for people. And that's why I've aired all these things about myself.

If you should find yourself reading this, and if you've accepted Christ as your personal Saviour, don't question the thoroughness or legitimacy of His sacrifice. Once your debts have been erased, don't ask where you can make a payment. Don't act as if your strength has to carry you. There is nothing made of flesh that Satan can't destroy. Just as there's no one in God's salvation that Satan could even blemish.

Forget all your logic, take the leap, and embrace the Hands that catch you. A lot of this easier said than done, though.


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