“Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.”
-Flannery O’Connor, 1957
I want to add something to Ms. O’Connor’s thought. And it is that right now (I can’t speak for the 1950’s), not only is it a secular belief but a widespread religious belief that there is no reason for Redemption in the actual lives we live. And nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus had a word for the Pharisees who believed that: hypocrites. He called them white-washed tombs.
Much of Christianity today acts like once you (the sick, the weary, the poor, the sinful) start following Jesus, He makes you perfect and you never doubt, sin, or get sick again. You are now a righteous person in yourself and so your relationship with God is pretty mutual. You keep doing good stuff for Him and he just keeps blessing you. Nothing is further from the truth! Hell is full of “righteous” people who believed some fact about God, thought they were then perfect, and then went on living trying to earn God’s favor with what they did. That teaching, whether explicit or implicit in any institution is an outright lie. It may seem harmless, but it has real world ramifications.
I recently heard someone tell me that at a church several years ago (not in Little Rock) in Sunday school, the leader asked for everyone to write down a personal need on a card along with your phone number, which he would then read the need out loud, and someone would raise their hand for that need, and get in touch with that person during the week to help. My friend wrote down a personal struggle with sin he was having, and obviously wanted prayer or help from anyone in the class. The Sunday school teacher started reading the requests – somebody needed help with a broken mower, somebody’s dog was sick, somebody needed prayer to sell their car, somebody wanted prayer for their business – etc, etc. My friend’s request was never read to his brothers and sisters in that room. It was thrown away by the leader. He didn’t want to read it. And what was the message that that sent to my friend? Don’t bring up your stuff in church. We keep it artificial here.
Later he was able to be transparent at another church, and found out that most everyone else was like him anyway, on the inside. All it took was him being transparent, and they all started opening up. It’s called community, and every human on the planet needs it. “Here’s who I am & what I’ve done, the very worst and the very best. Tell me about you. Ok, cool. That sounds a lot like me. Now we all see the good and the bad in each other, and yet, we’re strangely OK and happy to know each other. It’s like a little refuge from all the fake people out there. I really love you guys. We know the way to life, and we encourage each other along the way.” This necessarily involves vulnerability, transparency, and intimacy. We are like this because God is like this – Father, Son, and Spirit, who made each of us in their image. You will either find community in the body of Christ or in the body of another. Bars, clubs, anonymous groups, rehab facilities, affairs – all of these offer some form of transparent community that every human needs. It’s just who we are. And some of them (not affairs…) are useful and good for what they are. However, none of them can provide what only the body of Christ can provide.
I’m glad my friend found a group of believers he can be real with. We all need that. I know I do, and am thankful for the people in my life.
Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary” and he also said “Abide in me…If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away”. To me that sounds like we come to Him and then we stay with Him because we still need Him. The New Testament also tells believers to confess our sins to each other, and also not to say that we do not sin, or else we make God out to be a liar. Practically, I know this is hard, because no one wants to hear somebody be negative all the time. Also, American culture is just generally very positive in nature. But, somewhere along the way the American church started replacing “Come to Me….Abide in Me” with “Come to Me…Ok now you’re good, you won’t sin anymore, therefore you don’t need me. Go do something FOR me. And, if you notice something wretched in you, just don’t tell anyone.”
I think we “abide in Him” by listening to him (his word), talking to Him (prayer), and being with and loving His body, the church. Kind of makes sense, really, since to know someone you need to be with them, talk to them, and listen to them. Also, for people that are married, knowing your spouse I think is a part of how you know God, though I am as yet unqualified to speak in that area! 🙂
And, part of all of those is admitting to yourself, Him, and each other – STILL – that we need Him. If our lives are perfect and we’ve got it all figured out, we just don’t need Him. We don’t.
However, we are far from perfect. And even what we think we know isn’t even a drop in the bucket of all knowledge. The good news, though, is that if you know Him, you know all you need to know. You know the one who has it all figured out, the one who is perfect, the supreme creator and ruler of the universe. If you know Him then He has your back, and He will never let you go.
If you know Him, our confession of sin and brokenness to Him and to each other will not make Him angry, but will bring Him joy, as we abide in Him.