|Self-esteem. Self-care. I’m all-in on the need to love ourselves as God loves us. However, as with all truth, truth exists in the tension of paradox. God’s truth lives in the realm of both/and, not either/or. Consider how Ephesians 2:8-10 states salvation as a paradox with grace and works, God’s part and our part all held in the tension of the both/and:|
For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.
Half-truths are the deadliest of lies because they fool us into thinking we’ve got the whole truth. I have a confession to make…like Stephen Colbert in his Midnight Confessions…I hope you won’t tell anyone. There is an unsettling conviction growing within me that I’m not currently living a life that fully embraces the whole truth of salvation as expressed by these verses. There are times when God’s voice is comforting and soothing, but there are other times when God’s presence is unsettling and correctional, because love is both/and, not either/or. I’m unsettled.
This is the story God’s Spirit seems to be nudging me with right now. A study was done of New York students to measure both their perceived math ability and their actual test scores. The question was, did their self-esteem correspond to their mathematical abilities. It did not. Among the many districts compared in the study, New York students were among the highest in their math self-esteem but lowest in their test scores.
Here’s what is unsettling me. Am I suffering from a higher estimation of my “walking the walk of faith” than the facts from God’s perspective warrant? The more I’ve read the Bible the more I know that God really is serious about both our God connection and equally concerned about our neighbor connection. The summary of the law and prophets is this: How we treat our neighbor matters to God. No ifs or buts about it. All the barriers we create to differentiate between us is sin at work in us. “So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I’m saved by grace, and so are you: nothing we did or need to do to deserve or make it happen. Even faith is a gift from God. Then in Ephesians there is a pivot, as there is in so many of the prophetic biblical passages, from the vertical connection with God to the horizontal connection with our neighbor and what we can do to help each other, especially those of us blessed with more resources than others. This is how Brueggemann puts it (For me–pow—right between the eyes!):
The God of the Bible so wants humanity community to work, right here. But the God of the Bible also tells us what it costs for community to work. What it costs is a harsh criticism of the terrible advantage some have over others. God is indeed “pro-life,” for the poor, for the hungry, for the homeless, for the naked. When these become the center of policy, the city becomes both pro-God and pro-life. Then Brueggemann points to Isaiah 58:1-9:
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
If you’re following along in Brueggemann’s A WAY OTHER THAN OUR OWN, you know that he rejects the either/or of our current politics and the false wall between our faith and public policies. He declares that we’re living by half-truths and it is doing real damage.
Which all leaves me unsettled. As much as I’d like an easy answer, I’m praying to be willing to be willing to listen for God’s answer and direction. I might not like what I get (in fact probably won’t), but I need what God has for me. That is what the journey of Lent is all about