I’ve been reading old soldiers of the faith, these last few weeks, and feeling both encouraged and humbled by their strength. It is safe to say that a person’s grasp of grace is directly proportional to his sense of how far he has fallen and his utter desperate need for forgiveness. We have somehow lost both grace and desperation, in the modern swell of psychological Self-boosting.
But there’s a difference between hating your sin-disease and hating yourself. There’s a difference between feeling shame and feeling worthless because of it (though the Enemy of your soul will rush you right from one to the other without a second thought). It’s really not that we need to find a way to feel better about ourselves. It’s that we need to pull off the masks and see ourselves clearly. We are genetically flawed– at the mercy of our bent and broken natures. We are born into the middle of this crazy rebellion against the King and are running headlong toward our own destruction, like so many larger-than-life lemmings. And trying to patch up the effects of shame and guilt by building self-worth on our own is as appallingly futile as treating a flesh-eating virus with a good diet and exercise. But maybe that’s part of the problem, that we have lived so long with this malady that we have accepted it as a normal part of life, just one more everyday hazard to cope with the best way you can, until you run out of time.
Thing is, when you can see yourself clearly, flawed as you are, the answer is similarly obvious… as plain as that Cross on the hill. The Apostle Paul knew just what his sin problem was, doesn’t hesitate to tell us “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:11) And he waxes eloquent about the Grace that rescued him and gave him a new start– practically sings it, in words that can barely contain the Mystery: “So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us…. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us…” (Ephesians 1:6-8a) Far from making Paul miserable, recognizing the depths of his personal darkness gave him a profound appreciation for the gift of forgiveness. Maybe he was onto something, along with these other saints long-gone: don’t bother patching up the soul, because “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) anyway. Just stop running ragged and making do on your own; dive into endless grace for a complete re-creation, and revel in the simple freedom of starting over.
And the old words still ring true to the soul:
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die….
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.”
(Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, Augustus M. Toplady)
There is a Savior who takes me just as I am, and a love that defies all explanation or measurement, and this is the source of true worth and a healthy self-image. I don’t really see myself clearly until I can see a forgiven sinner made whole, “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9) There’s joy here, in coming just as you are.
“You’re more than your hands do. You’re more than your hands have. You’re more than how other hands measure you. You are what is written on God’s Hands: Safe. Held. His. Beloved.” (Ann VosKamp)
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” (Ephesians 3:17-18)