Just before the start of our church gathering this past Sunday night, as I stood in the doorway greeting those who braved the rain, a fight nearly broke out in front of me. Three young men, drunk and angry, were pacing around. One bumped into the other and made him drop his beer. The bottle broke, but conveniently the neck of the bottle was still intact and he began to look for someone to hurt with his new weapon.
The entire scene was an austere example of the sermon I would deliver about identity. I spoke about God’s original design for our lives and existence and how our identity reflected His. I suggested that His very identity was reflected in the authority, responsibility, community and intimacy that we were designed to enjoy. I talked about God walking in the garden and about what was soon lost.
I suggested that we gave away our authority for knowledge. We discarded our responsibility for an incessant struggle for importance. We exchanged community for individualism, and intimacy for isolation. I think it was a spurious deal. I think those three young men in the street would agree. I think were they sober, they’d want to know where they belong and if they have any value. I think they wrestle with big questions in small, dangerous ways. I think they long to know what they’ve lost—or maybe never had.
The monastery elder in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, charges the father of the three brothers to stop lying. The elder tells him, “Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love …”
The elder wisely points out that we can blind ourselves with mendacity, becoming so unseeing that we lose ourselves in disrespect, forgetting how to love. Such a state reflects the dark heart of poverty—be it physical, emotional or spiritual—the lack of life-giving relationships. This kind of isolation can be self-inflicted from lying to ourselves and it can be suffered too, from listening to and believing the deceit of those around us.
Paul, in Romans 3, talks about the insidious effects of sin. He quotes various psalms to make his point—Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips.
Sunday, I suggested that Paul’s purpose was to persuade us of the pervasiveness of sin so we’d quit lying to ourselves and quit trying to be good people. I proposed that what gives us dignity and restores our worth, is not striving but rather believing, "We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are." If I ever do one thing efficaciously, I want to convince others of their own dignity and worth in God’s eyes—that they were created in His image and in Him they can experience joy, rather than wandering in the darkness and rain looking for someone to hurt to ease their own pain for a time.
Quote of the month
""At the margins is the only place the Church will have credibility."