Posted by: 15shekels | February 2, 2011

Fearfully and wonderfully made

“After Mother Teresa died, I was in an interview with some reporter who asked me if Mother Teresa’s spirit will live on. I said, “To be honest, Mother Teresa died a long time ago, when she gave her life to Jesus. The joy and compassion and love that the world finds so magnetic are only Jesus, and that is eternal.'” -Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, pages 88-89.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” -Mark 8:35

As I discussed in my previous post, one of the things I initially found most shocking about Christianity was the joy and delight of its citizens. The Christians I met weren’t weighed down by guilt and restraint as I had expected. After this discovery, I regrouped and adjusted my philosophy: Ok, I thought, they might be happy in a brainwashed kind of way. But their lives are about submitting to God’s will and rules. That must come at the price of their freedom and individuality. It would be a fair trade, after all—personality for eternal salvation.

But I was surprised again. I found the Christians I met to be more alive, more dynamic, and more interesting than anyone I knew who had maintained “control” of his life or self. These Christians had somehow managed to surrender everything to God and yet become more themselves in the process.

To some degree, this is one of the mysterious paradoxes of moving closer to God. The best evidence for it is empirical. However, a humble attempt at analyzing how we can both lose ourselves and become more unique and likable at the same time:

1. God > Man. God is more vibrant and interesting than man. So, a man with God will be more vibrant and interesting than a man without God. In fact, as Shane Claiborne points out when talking about Mother Teresa, the less man and the more God in a person, the better (in point 2, I will explain why this doesn’t make us all the same).

All men are created in the image of God and manifest some of His glory and goodness. All men are also fallen sinners and manifest cruelty and selfishness. The man who has accepted Jesus’s offer of new life has something in addition to these two influences. He doesn’t just manifest the thumbprint of the divine, he manifests the divine, because the Holy Spirit (who is God) lives inside of him.

This is not the same as the eastern belief that God is in everything and everything is God. That cheapens God by muddying his goodness with sin. Instead Christianity says that the blindingly good light of God comes to dwell in muddy houses—us. His goodness isn’t polluted by our sin (that only needed to happen once, on the cross). Instead his goodness shines out of us. And so even though the world will still see our sin, it will also see God’s glory.

2. God created each one of us with unique attributes and unique purposes, and He wants us to be different. Even though the best parts of us are the God-parts, we each manifest different aspects of His goodness and glory. He could have created an army of automatons. But instead He delighted in creating billions of unique children:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” -Psalm 139:13-14

God’s purpose isn’t to make us boring. It is to make us into unique manifestations of his image, that when brought together form the colorful and glorious kingdom of God. And nobody knows our specific eccentricities like our creator. As the creator of “me,” God obviously knows what my best qualities are, what my worst qualities are, the paths and choices that will make best use of my gifts, and the traps into which I am most prone to stumble. As I get to know God and learn to trust Him, I learn His specific plans for me.

Think about it—God may ask for obedience, but He doesn’t ask for conformity. Fear is what makes us conform. Fear of judgment, fear of unworthiness, fear of failure—these are the forces that make us timid, scared and boring. In contrast, when we understand that we are completely unworthy of God, but that He loved us enough to suffer and die for us, and that nothing can take us out of his hand, we forget to be self-conscious. We know we are loved, worth fighting for, redeemed. And so we are free to become who we were created to be. We are no longer afraid of the judgment of the world, because we play for an audience of one. We can finally take real risks.

3. An outward-focused man has a lot more in his life than an inward-focused man. When we naval-gaze, seek our own pleasure, believe in ourselves, and take all of the other advice of modern Western culture, we end up living very small lives indeed. If, however, we shift our gaze from our puny selves to our glorious king, we will catch our breaths. And when we ask Him to expand our hearts to seek His will and purposes, when we choose to care about the things that break His heart, suddenly life becomes a great (if unpredictable) adventure. As we shrink, our mission and purpose grows, and others will be drawn into the excitement.

There are many other ways to answer this question, and I know I have only begun to understand what happens to our “selves” when we lay them down. Comments, disagreements and elaborations welcomed.

So loosen your grip on the “self” that you prize so highly. It’s not as great as you think it is. But it’s also so much greater—because it was worth dying for.

And its creator has much greater plans for it than you do, if you get out of His way.

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