I have to be honest in admitting that sometimes I’m convinced that humanity thinks of itself in circles. God, and grace, and mercy – they are all things that are impossible to get to the top of. They are mountains where the air is simply too thin and too cold; or the deepest part of the sea, where the pressure alone would crush you.
And so it is with God. You hear all the time things like “if God were figure-out-able, then it wouldn’t be God that we’re talking about.” And I suppose that is inevitably true (and incredibly frustrating), but there are so many times where I wonder if God has been turned into someone or something for us to throw up all over. Someone or something for us to call "God" so that we don’t have to call it self.
I happen to believe in God, believe it or not. I believe in a God that is bigger than problems or formulas. I believe in a God that is bigger than religion; a God that is bigger than Christianity, even (gasp!). I believe in a God that wouldn’t ask of us something that He isn’t capable of doing, and a God that redeems and rescues and tries to remind us what real life is like. But I just grow wary from time to time of the different things that God “is” to people. Can I say that without sounding crass?
I just see God often being something that people attempt to take ownership or possession of. God is “for” some people, and “not for” others, I've heard countless times. That’s ownership, and I think in trying to do that we are putting the cart before the horse, or as my grandmother would tell you, that you were “getting too big for your britches.” As if the Creator is restricted from certain people, places, generations, “sins,” lifestyles or choices?
And so Scriptures are read, and there is a failure to recognize them as something that was written in and through time, instead delighting in seeing it as something magical that God wrote in the sky and plopped down on humanity. We fail to see the cultural implications and the constant themes and characteristics of God and His ways. We fail to see that the men and women that were a part of creating the very scriptures that we read today were of the same caliber that we are – only living in far less desirable circumstances most times. They were sinners and addicts and liars and cheaters and adulterers and murderers and the absolute scum of the earth. And those were the good ones.
I’m not sure where we went wrong, but it isn’t too terribly difficult for me to see how affected I am by these misconceptions. Personally, I would rather hide from my failures. Not because I'm afraid to fail, but more because I experience an unexplainable amount of shame when I fail in instances where I know better. Not shame in the “God is angry” kind of way, but moreso in the same way that your dog might when it knows it has shit on the carpet again: tail between the legs, no eye contact, would rather run and hide than face its reality, so long as you keep its nose out of the mess. I would be the first person to admit that I’m not very brave, but is this how it should be? Is this natural? Is this the reality that God has chosen?
I have a friend who has deep, deep-seated issues with self-forgiveness. He cannot help but feel alien because of his past decisions, as if they make him less human than others. And I mean this in the most intense and serious way imaginable, not simply in that self-loathing sort of way. He has a past filled with sexual abuse, which of course led him down a path filled with sexual confusion. How, when a child of six is exposed to same-sex encounters, could you blame him for growing up thinking that intimacy = sexual relations with men? You can give any number of answers or scriptures, but the simple psychology of it all is that his psyche was affected and influenced by these catastrophic acts done against him. He has found freedom in a Christ that offers redemption and forgiveness, and it is his story that often reminds me of the frivolity of my complaints. It is his story that reminds me of grace in the real and experiential way, not just the magical "Smile! Jesus Loves YOU!" kind of way.
Often we would talk about this, and I would try to paint a picture with him of God, just for one day and in giant, cursive, neon lights writing our deepest, darkest secrets above our heads to carry around for all to see. And we would smile and laugh at the very idea – him sheepishly, me more nervously – but regardless, it was lifting. And it was lifting because there is such freedom in recognizing our flaws - even our most hidden and locked away ones - as very, very normal.
Not just forgivable, or understandable, or ‘acceptable,’ but absolutely, positively normal.
So you’re confused. Or mistaken. Or mixed up. Or addicted to drugs. Or drama. Or cheap shots. Or alcohol. Or pornography. Or self-image. Or food. Or school. Or work. Or money. Or reactions. Or the American Dream. Or the opinions of others. Or all of the things that allow you to suppress your convictions in order to further fleeting falsities that tell you that you’re happy, or that you’re not like the rest of us.
Funny how we keep our secrets to ourselves but are so quick to boast in our accomplishments. And we think that if we master the art of subtlety that it’s somehow hidden. Maybe we tell jokes, or try to impress people or ourselves with our wit or our knowledge or our degrees or certifications or bodies, or maybe it's our “f*ck the man” mentality. Maybe it’s denial or deprecation covered up with pleas of humility, or for some of us it’s that unique ability to seem nonchalant about things when, in reality, we are very, very chalant, indeed.
But it’s painful for me every time I realize that the ways of God are exactly the opposite: freedom and beauty in confessing our junk to others, and truth and humility in doing our good deeds in quiet. But we don’t operate that way, for some reason. Is it our Australianness coming out? A “product of The Fall”, perhaps? The Devil himself? Maybe it's karma kicking our ass for not giving those Salvation Army bell ringers our change as we walk past them with bags of stuff that is far beyond any sort of justification. Depends on who you ask, I guess. But the undeniable truth is that it is the reality that we live in.
I talked to a friend tonight on the telephone. There was some confession in our conversation, and it sounded like there were a few moments where maybe her weakness was being cultivated to the forefront of her person. That, or she was just tired. Or maybe she had a sore throat. These things can go a million different directions, you know. As for me, I will just clear it up for you and tell you that it was absolutely weakness coming from my end of the line. Also, I was doing the confessing.
And it was so right. She didn’t offer me five steps to feeling like a million bucks again, and thankfully she spared me the generic responses to my mini-crisis. But what she did do was remind me of God’s character. Not the American version of God, or the Western version of God, or even the “Biblical” version of God. You might very well find what she said in all of those facets of the great God machine that is being constructed seemingly everywhere, but where it came from inside of her was a place of knowing, a place of experience. A place that many of us would be familiar with if we'd ever muster up the courage to die to self and find the one that is freedom.
And I will leave you with it. And you’ve heard it before, a million times perhaps. And it is simple. And however upsetting it is, it won't make everything better, either. It’s one of those things that you will never understand, although you’ll think that perhaps you do. Because every time I think I understand it I have to go back to asking myself why, then, do I fall victim to the things that prove otherwise?