11.16.2014

Humbled

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In my circles, conservative evangelical Christianity is not only uncommon but abhorrent.  Secularism reigns in these parts, and the gracious openness offered to religious people and religious issues does not extend to followers of Jesus. 

Though I am myself "one of those," I did not grow up in the faith and so I feel I am in a better position to get outside of our box and think about this in more neutral terms.  It seems to me that people tend to think in one of two ways, neither of which rubs well against the Christian perspective.  One is that there is no need for atonement/redemption/salvation, because humans are OK.  The other is that there is such a need for atonement/redemption/salvation, but there are many ways to define and achieve it. 

It strikes me that most people should be able to understand that there are these two ways to think about human existence, and that there is also another approach that says there are limited ways to define and achieve atonement/redemption/salvation, of which some may believe that there is only really one way to do so.  Given that reasonable people disagree about small and big things all the time, it shouldn't surprise folks when they encounter people who come at this from all of those different angles.

The particular bile directed at Christians must come from somewhere, then, besides just something inherent to this kind of disagreement.  Here I must jump back into my Christian box because when I wasn't a Christian I was never hot against Christians for believing what they believed, so I have no special insight as to where the venom is coming from.

Back inside my Christian box, I think I can see what the problem is.  In our minds, we are the aggrieved, simply adhering to and speaking forth what we have learned from church and the Bible, and incredulous as to why so many people are so furious at us for what we believe to be the truth, and life-giving truth at that.

What we don't realize is how little we have translated our salvation experience into the kind of humble and deferent posture that ought to mark our interactions with the world as redeemed people of God.  We know in our heads that what we have been taught is that we are all broken and guilty and dead and hopeless, and that it is only by the saving work of Jesus that we are made whole again in God and with God.  And yet how we live so seldom conveys any such relief or gratitude or joy, but rather evokes a conceited and arrogant and dismissive posture to those around us.

Most of those around me have not likely had any contact with a truly humbled Christian person to know what it is really like to have your life changed by Jesus.  Indeed, many of those around me have had bad experiences with Christians, and have taken in all the hypocrisy between what they profess and how they actually live.  Why wouldn't you react harshly against a religion whose adherents act so condescendingly and self-righteously? 

While involved in a Christian group during college, I attended a number of training conferences on overseas Christian missions.  Through those events I was introduced to the concept of "syncretism," which basically means grafting parts of your home beliefs onto the Christian faith.  I admit that upon hearing examples of syncretism among new Christian converts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, I found them blatantly and obviously wrong.  Couldn't these new Christians see that what they were holding onto about their home cultures was clearly not of their new faith?

But it turns out I and other American Christians are similarly guilty.  We have metastasized our salvation story into something that resembles little of what we should look like if we have truly encountered Jesus.  We are far too dismissive of God's right to speak absolute truth into this world.  We are far too dismissive of just how far gone we are apart from divine resuscitation.  And, having been redeemed, we think far too highly of ourselves and far too condescendingly of others.  And finally, to top it all off, we've cocooned ourselves in a world of material comfort, somehow not only ignoring God's calls to radical anti-consumerism but patting ourselves on the back for deserving our fortune more than those around us.

Don't get me wrong: I love America.  I bleed red, white, and blue, tear up at the singing of the national anthem, and believe in the controversial notion of American exceptionalism.  We are the greatest nation human history has ever seen, we are the strongest country in the world, and we are most emphatically not on the decline and nor would it be good for the world if we were.

However.  America's DNA includes some dark strains.  We chafe against absolute authority.  We think that doing whatever we want to do and being whoever we want to be is literally our God-given right.  We think everything we have is by our own hard work.  We are used to getting our way, and to thinking that if we don't that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  And we are not a humble people, when it comes to our own successes and when it comes to comparing ourselves against the failures of others.

That DNA has infiltrated most of us American Christians' way of life.  It is difficult to see it, admit it, or turn from it.  But until we do, we show nothing new to those around us.  Would that instead we realize how mighty is our God, how far we have fallen, how high He has lifted us up, and how little we have done to warrant such a rescue.  Then we might live joyful, simple, and humbled lives in the presence of others.  Then they might see that as good as happiness or advancement or possessions or comfort are, there is a life that is deeper and richer still.  Then we might speak of absolute truth and unexpected mercy in ways that do not put down others or elevate ourselves, but rather that give credit to Whom credit is truly due. 

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” - Luke 18:9-14
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