Last night I was exploring the web and came across what appears to be the Christian version of The Onion. The website offers a Word of God for Today and yesterday’s was taken from Isaiah 1.15a: “No matter how much you pray, I won’t listen….” (CEV). So you get the idea of the website.
When I mentioned this Word of God to a few friends, the immediate responses included appeals to God's eventual relenting, his compassion, and other soft and warm concepts about God and our relationship to him. This is common among Christians, emphasizing the goodness and graciousness of God rather than his wrath (with some notable exceptions in the popular media). God is good, and patient, and compassionate no doubt. However, the God in Isaiah is the same God in John.
This seems like it may be a problem with us Christians from time to time. We get comfortable living our lives, secure in the idea that either God doesn’t notice or that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We go to church, we tithe, we even give extra money and time to other causes. We staff mission trips, teach Bible classes, and maybe even attend Christian schools. We don’t cheat on our taxes or our spouses, we don’t actively hate others, and we don’t carouse on the weekends. We are in fact, pretty good people, secure in the notion that God is with us and he likes us. A pretty comfortable life, actually.
Lament is not something us moderns like to do and sober self-reflection of our imperfections is often avoided at almost any cost. We dismiss the moment by encouraging ourselves with comforting phrases that speak of acceptance and coverings. What is it about us that we seem not able to sit with our failings? Is it possible for Christians today to spend time acknowledging and accepting the fact and behaviors of our “bad selves?”
There is a psychological principle that asserts that mature people can incorporate the negative side of themselves and their experiences into their whole being. In fact, in many cases it is our running from those negative thoughts and beliefs that cause psychological pain and dysfunctional behaviors. Psychologists and therapists help their clients examine, re-evaluate, and accept the shadow aspects of their lives.
Read God’s Word again. Can you see yourself as the one addressed in this verse? Can you acknowledge that your own attitudes and behaviors have been below par? Can you hold that reality longer than a few seconds? While holding that thought, can you review your attitudes and behaviors, identifying habits and views that are not God like? Can you do this without succumbing to the temptation to compare yourself with others or defend yourself because someone else did something to you? Can you pause in this moment while being aware of your own imperfections and open your heart and mind to God? Can you offer him your imperfections one by one – out loud – and then sit and listen for his response?
In about a month we will enter the Lenten season, a period of reflection prior to Easter. Our Lenten reflection is supposed to be a personal examination of our part in the tragedy of Good Friday. The Word of God for Today with which I began this essay seems a good entre into this reflection. Mankind’s and God’s People’s behaviors and attitudes reached such a depth of disgrace that God was prompted to turn his ear from them – from us.
The period of Lent is forty days, a long time for this sort of self examination. The purpose is not to belittle, humiliate, or beat up ourselves. Rather, it is a space – acknowledged by those around us – in which we and they can participate in checking the direction of our lives without giving in to the immediate desire to dismiss our misdirections in favor of more positive thoughts and feelings.
God’s more harsh treatment of his people serves a purpose and that purpose is to have them stop, think, and return to him and the people they are made to be. He says as much on more than one occasion, wondering out loud it seems why his people missed all the signs he sent to them. Even in this God’s Word for Today, the same purpose is ultimately served. Even in his not hearing, he encourages his people to wake up, to return to him, to accept his character as their character. That will never happen though if they don’t slow down and examine how they have missed the mark of being his people.
Let’s take this God’s Word for Today and prepare to enter Lent ready for some sustained self-reflection, accepting our shortcomings; accepting our part in the death on Friday afternoon. An honest, sober, and sustained period of self-cleansing, openness to the working of God, and being shaped will set our hearts more ready for the coming of Easter.