It is, according to CS Lewis, one of the most potent pulls into sin, the desire to belong. Were Maslow a bit more honest in ranking our “needs”, I suspect the approval of others would make the top five of his hierarchy. For teens we call it peer pressure. Sadly we tend to diminish its power to those clear crossroads moments, when the joint is passed around the circle or when some back seat Lothario is pushing a peer to fornicate. The temptation, however, is likely more powerful when the stakes seem lower, and our guard is down. It is in the ordinary that we sell our souls.
We are fools. That’s a good starting point. We are all together made in the image of God. We are all together by nature children of wrath. We who have been born again have been remade into His children, by His grace. Yet, at every step along the way we face the compulsion of judging ourselves by ourselves. We want to know how we stack up against other image bearers, as if the petty things that distinguish us from each other could compare with the august majesty that we all have in common. We want to insist that sin has wreaked less havoc in and through us than it has in others, which is rather like arguing that Hiroshima was damaged less than Nagasaki. We want to insist that our sanctification is more potent than another’s, as if our actual holiness has a measurable significance in relation to our imputed…
There is such a thing as poverty. Throughout history and in many parts of the world there are those who, for a variety of reasons, some self-inflicted, others not, have experienced or are experiencing real poverty. That is what happens when you are in danger of not consuming enough calories to make it to the next day, who genuinely can pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Most of what we call poverty, however, falls well short of this standard.
Though it isn’t the most delicate metaphor in the world, I have been grumbling of late about our propensity, especially in the Reformed world I am happily a part of, to suffer from spiritual constipation. This condition is what happens when we take in with our minds all manner of healthy theological food. We read the best books, attend the best conferences, and download the best podcasts. We take in and take in and take in. But all that information, that glorious, God-honoring, biblically sound information gets stuck in our heads. It doesn’t pass through our systems, entering our hearts and coming out our hands. We are a people of sound mind and cold heart.
It is, in one sense, a simple enough question to answer. When you remember that we are wicked enough to murder our own children it makes sense that we are also wicked enough to not be terribly concerned about the murder of children. Thus the answer to the question – why are Christians so profoundly unmoved by the murder of babies? – is this – sin. We are outside of wombs and therefore safe, and struggle to have compassion on those who are in danger.
It’s a strange phenomenon. I’ve written here on the sacred cows of evangelical social media, those themes that simply cannot be talked about without a sharp uptick in heat and a deep drop in light. Of late I’ve virtually set up camp on one of those third rails, considering on both my blog and my podcast issues related to various military engagements around the globe. I’m concerned that because some on the left instinctively hate America and in turn grumble every time a soldier takes up arms that we have lost the ability to think through important moral issues, none more important than the principles of just war. We have become reactionary, jingoistic, and profoundly emotional right where we ought to be most careful and dispassionate.
We are all tempted to be practical deists. The deists were the poster children for god-of-the-gaps theology. That is, because they wanted the universe to make sense, but didn’t want to have to answer to the living God, they posited a creator god (for how else could we have gotten here?) who, after creating the universe, took a walk, never to return. God explains the universe, but is not active in it. If He’s watching at all, it is from a distance, and with a deep indifference.
How important it is to not allow our grasp of man’s total depravity to cause us to miss the remnants of the image of God in us. We are plenty bad. Sin touches every part of our being, and makes us utterly unable to do anything in ourselves, by ourselves pleasing to God, including coming to faith on our own. We do not, however, run in precisely the opposite direction of where we should be running. Romans 1, wherein Paul’s chief goal is to explain the universal guilt of man, for instance, tells us not that man, made to worship God, in his sin merely refuses to worship God, but rather says we worship the creature rather than the Creator. Because we’re fallen we won’t worship God. Because we bear His image, however, we will worship. Even at Babel they didn’t merely turn their back on the dominion mandate but…
We had been through what was, up to that point, the most trying season of our lives. We had watched as our beloved church was torn apart by sin, slander and pride, too much of it our own. Relationships had been broken, reputations dragged through the mud. Denise and I had clung to each other through the tumult and finally found that the storm had calmed. We caught our breath, mourned the damage, but saw clear skies before us. Which is when I said to her, “Are you ready to go through this all over again?” I overcame her shock as I patiently explained to her that what we had just gone through wasn’t some bizarre aberration, a freakish anomaly. “This,” I told her, “is what the ministry is.”