When I look at myself, I see pride. I see writhing self-justification and miserable foolishness. Willful rebellion, chaos of indiscretion, high treason. And the just sentence is death.
I won’t argue with that. I’ll go die. That’s fair.
When I look at Jesus, I see love. I see justice and mercy, perfectly harmonized in the blood sacrifice that ransomed my soul. I see hope of eternity offered freely, joy beyond imagination, truth and reality restored, and everything as it should be. I see life.
I won’t argue with that, either. I’ll cast myself in worship before that throne, overwhelmed by the magnitude of grace bestowed on a wretch as undeserving as myself.
As undeserving as myself.
Undeserving as myself.
And sudden, subtle, slow, a single supporting role in this beautifully complex drama becomes a one man show with a solitary trick.
The entire orchestra sits in duct taped silence while a lone cellist drones her sporadic tenor line on repeat – meaninglessly disembodied from the context of grandeur it was written to grace. The audience contemplates mutiny.
Having done all, the voice cries, “I am an unworthy servant; I have done only what was my duty” – and it cries aright. But the words are empty when the heart behind them withers with, “I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man, taking what you did not deposit, reaping what you did not sow.”
The inner dialogue is two selves, one stern and black-robed, the other cowering on cold stones.
Suck it up, I tell me. You’ll be fine. You are fine. You have to be. It’s your job. How could you not be? How dare you complain? Look at all you’ve been given, and look how you’ve messed it up. Just look, look, look at how you’ve messed it up. You’re doing it wrong. You’ve – failed. You’re forgiven, sure; but you’re still a mess. Don’t dream of wanting things, asking for things – you’ll only mess them up. It’s what you do. Yeah, you’re a child of God – somehow! But you’re His stupidest, lowliest, most rebellious, stunted, stinking child. Anything short of everlasting, torturous death is better than you deserve. So suck it up, I tell you. Grin and bear it. You’re far too ugly and muddy for company; you belong in the background, so stay there. Quiet. Maybe you can even be a little bit useful, if you stay out of the way. The world is harsh, but really, do you really think you have a right to anything else? People out there have it worse than you – so much worse. Hush. Hush. You’re fine.
Truth – disembodied, disproportionate, grown into a heaving, cancerous lie.
I chide myself endlessly, cognizant that I may be being over harsh, but thinking (of course) that I deserve no less. Self-perpetuating death spiral of irony, that obsessing over regret of indwelling idolatry should become, itself, the largest and least visible idol in all the vaporous temple of lingering falsehood.
Oh, and by the way, rejoice and be glad. Sing a new song. Do it.
The dissonance of commands is lost on my weary preoccupation. If I think this self-flagellation is at least acceptable – probably even right – then I have to ascribe its origin to the Author of everything right and acceptable. I label my condemning voice an echo of God’s, and refuse to see that that’s what I’ve done. I say I believe in a gracious Lord; I marvel, a little breathless, at His mercy; I really do. I insist that He is kind and good, that He never inflicts pain without purpose, that the debt of my sin has been utterly erased. I call Him Father. But I live like a cringing, writhing, subhuman slave-creature.
I expect to be whipped. I’m ready for it, I won’t cry out, I almost want it. But I think He’ll do it; that’s the problem. I don’t really believe He’s forgiven me. Is He unwilling? Unable? Would I call Him a liar? Of all the things I mustn’t dare to do, this is the one to avoid at all cost – yet the one I may, after all, have been daring all along. Father, forgive me.
And here’s the crux of it: He has.
So leap into the light, young soul! Unglue yourself from the groveling ground and be alive! The price has been paid, it really, really has. A cruel dictator might have bought prisoner-subjects with blood, might have been honored by endless muttering oblations – but your Father wants children. Eyes wide open, He wants you to rejoice in His presence and dance in His light; there is no darkness in Him at all, no shadow of change. He loves you.
He loves me.
Many things are true, and few enough of them are easy. Liberty doesn’t mean flowers and marshmallows everywhere. Life is war, because there are legions who want me back in chains. It’s war because I am made new, yet still am becoming, and every day is a putting to death, a bringing to life. It’s war, but it’s been won. Jesus has secured the victory, and with Him, so have I. There is therefore now no condemnation.
A gentler voice must echo the chambers of my heart – gentle, but deep with eternity.
Abide in Me, My child. Live the truth: you are, so be.
Be vibrantly alive. Be a miracle. Be growing into fearless, expansive love. Be poured out, every drop.