- Her thought life, she admitted, is more judgmental than it should be.
- Her good deeds, she acknowledged, are partly motivated by self-congratulations.
- Her repentance, she confessed, is often shallow.
Now as far as I can tell, this woman is not committing adultery, nor is she robbing banks (at least not recently), nor is she kidnapping children for the sex-trade industry. I don’t think she lies much either.
Yet she claims a growing sense of her own badness while—at the same time—she experiences a greater joy in her relationship with God.
This wicked-joyful woman is my eighty-seven year-old mother.
Who are the real oppressors?
I hear a chorus day after day—like an annoying advertising jingle I can’t rid my mind of—singing the self-serving lyrics, “I’m a good person; I’m a good chap; I’m just not so bad.”
When we read history—or just look around us today—which people oppress, coerce, and tyrannize? Is it the humble or the arrogant?
- Is it those who claim, “I deserve what I have, and probably deserve what you have too,” or those who admit, “I don’t even deserve the little I have”?
- Is it the one who proclaims, “I worked by the sweat of my brow; what’s your problem?” or is it the one who confess, “I don’t deserve a fraction of what I have, so you can have some of it as well”?
It is a documented fact that the poor in the world share more generously than the rich. Because they know that the little they have is a gift. It’s called humility.
I don’t care what others think of me
Pop-culture croons an eerie cliché:
I don’t care what others think of me; I only care what I think of me.
It sounds like freedom. The opinions and agendas of others no longer control us. That’s good. But think with me a moment.
Does it comfort us to claim our high-jump bar is so low that we can trip over it and still win the blue ribbon?
There’s a term for people unmoved by the opinions of others, who lack shame or guilt, who are caught up with a false sense of their own value. We call them sociopaths.
We need to know we matter
One single desire drives every human soul: We need to know we matter. This drive is alive because we are made in God’s image. His image in us is significant. So are we.
This need for significance drives our desperate, nonstick-nature to deny our failings. We say, “I’m a good person.” We deny our badness because we’re frantic to claim our value.
Failure to admit the evil in us, however, prevents us from knowing our value. It’s inside out, upside down, and contrary to common sense; yet we will find our deepest value only when we admit our deepest failings. It’s a paradox, yet the only way to find value.
The preaching we hear hasn’t helped
Many of us have been punished from the pulpit and tortured by talks of our failings: “You’re wicked; you have nothing to offer; you are of no value.” Conviction without grace kills our hearts. And it totally ignores our intrinsic value. We are made in the image of God, and we have something good to offer to the world.
Another set of us have been pampered from the pulpit and therapized by talks: “You are good; shame is bad; God is love; and everything is groovy.” But there’s no electricity. “God loves me; sure, what else is new?” Love without cost isn’t grace.
Instead, we need the paradoxical preaching that proclaims, “We are worse than we ever dared admit, and we are more loved than we ever dared dream.” The only love that will move us is the love that costs, the love that swam the deepest ocean to restore us.
What if someone else’s opinion does matter?
If you play cello, and you say, “I don’t care what others think, I only care what I think,” how much satisfaction will you get? How much will that warm your heart?
But what if Yo Yo Ma (perhaps the greatest living cellist) magically appeared at your recital and exclaimed, “That was unbelievably beautiful and artistic.” Your soul would soar with significance, and your heart would blaze with fire.
The opinions of others DO matter. It just depends on who that other person is.
The most graceful was the most convicting
Jesus described the law more strictly than anyone before. He said we are adulterers if we simply harbor lustful thoughts. He said we are murderers if we call others a fool. How could graceful Jesus make the law so harsh and still remain so full of grace?
He did it out of mercy, to drive us to him, so we could see our utter need of him. We need to know the evil in us AND his love, at the same time. It’s the only path to humility without hopelessness and confidence without arrogance.
The best significance is given. We either receive it freely from the grace of Jesus …
Or we can just grab for it by ourselves
Last week my wicked-joyful eighty-seven year-old mother bumped into a family friend who stocks shelves at a department store, a young woman with Asperger’s. The two chatted as my mother waited in line.
When they got to the head of the line, the cashier said to the young woman with Asperger’s, “Why are you always annoying people? Get back to your shelves.”
My stunned (and wicked and joyful) mother paused, looked at the cashier, and whispered, “You know, that was a cruel thing to say.”
The clerk grabbed for self-significance, “Hey, I’m a good person; I have a good heart.”