Have you ever been surprised at discovering the warmth and caring personality of someone whose appearance makes them seem austere and harsh? Casual observation taints our impression, which is often dispelled as you talk, laugh, and work with them. My husband was like that. He had a very stern demeanor which obscured his keen insight, a delightful sense of humor, and a thoughtfully caring heart. Misread circumstances can also cause misimpression. Tragically, the founder of the ministry were we heavily invested in was discovered to be abusive, and because of our association with him my husband, one of the leaders, faced the painful experience of being castigated and basically ‘cancelled’ (before it was a thing). Despite his integrity in the matter, emotions raged and facts were obscured. A scapegoat was needed and sadly he was it. I watched as his loving shepherd’s heart was shredded by those he had helped, cared for, and prayed for. The reputation he had so carefully guarded for the sake of the Lord was a tattered flag, and he never again exercised his significant gift of expounding the Scriptures publicly. I know, it’s a sad but also sadly recurring narrative. It is currently a common social strategy used to silence those deemed unworthy. This could easily become our own story, but if so we will be in good company.
Jesus can certainly relate! There has been a smear campaign against God since the beginning, the very first humans buying into the insinuation that God was withholding good from them. Ever since then we have been replacing His plans with our own. Not just the collective ‘we’ of humanity but the ‘we’ of you and me. We insist on our own way knowing we shouldn’t, so we shift the problem from ourselves to God. Nothing new here. The blame game began with our distant ancestors, Adam blaming Eve for the transgression, and Eve blaming the serpent. (He probably kicked the dog but it wasn’t recorded!) To maintain our self respect we have to find an outside reason for our relentless propensity for willfulness. So we blame others (if he hadn’t… I wouldn’t have…), we blame our circumstances (I had no choice) and we blame our Maker (You made me this way). We forget that the One Who in passionate love created us also in unimaginable agony redeemed us. So we persist to resist. Our guilt inclines us to misjudge His character and our ignorance misreads His intention. So we run away when we should run towards, we hide when we should come forward, we shrink away when we should embrace, we fear when we should trust. We let the gravitational downward pull of our fallen nature drown the spirit’s quest for completion. We try to defend the indefensible rather than humbling ourselves and admit our failure.
“Fallen humans are natural self-advocates… We minimize, we excuse, we explain away. In short, we speak, even if only in our hearts, in our defense. We advocate for ourselves…. What if we never needed to advocate for ourselves because another had undertaken to do so? What if that advocate knew exhaustively just how fallen we are, and yet at the same time was able to make a better defense for us than we ever could? No blame shifting or excuses, the way our self-advocacies tend to operate, but perfectly just, pointing to his all-sufficient sacrifice and sufferings on the cross in our place? We would be free. Free of the need to defend ourselves, to bolster our sense of worth through self-contribution, to quietly parade before others our virtues in painful subconscious awareness of our inferiorities and weaknesses. We can leave our case to be made by Christ, the only righteous one…. (and) when we come to Christ, we are startled by the beauty of his welcoming heart. The surprise is itself what draws us in.” (Gentle and Lowly; The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers Dana Ortlund)
Beautiful thoughts! Yet as we filter them through the lens of our fallen reality we fall prey to unbelief, or at least to skepticism. We know who we are! I have a new adorable little puppy. But all his cuteness could not make up for his decision to pee on the carpet – again (and it seemed deliberate) – especially after I stood with him for ten minutes waiting for him choose the designated area. His (literal) puppy dog eyes did little to temper my frustration. Thankfully I resisted the overwhelming urge to drop kick the little fur ball back to the authorized area. (Not my most holy moment!) We assume God feels like that towards us. We say we are sorry, then we go out and do it again, and again, and again ……. We project our dismay at our failure on God, and we distort His image. Unless we consciously drive out of that rut, our peace and joy are blown about like a leaf in the wind of performance – not God’s, but ours. With God we have opportunity to be our best self, skepticism stunts our growth and our joy. I love that He remembers we are just dust, and is willing to patiently teach us His ways. (Unlike me and my dog!) As a fellow traveler on the kingdom path I invite you to rethink your God as I have been doing. Let’s help each other discover all the treasures we have in our Savior!
PS That book I quoted is well worth the read and a wonderful way to rethink your God!