Catechism: Not on the Bench

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Q: For what do we pray in the sixth request?

A: In the sixth request (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one) we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

There have been a few occasions recently when I’ve been bothered by how readily my son reaches for the doctrine of total depravity as a kind of defeatist excuse: “Yeah, well, I’m a sinner. ¯_(ツ)_/¯”

Relatedly, in a recent Bible study session on James, it came up that the book can seem discouraging because its high standards for Christian conduct seem in tension with the freedom of Christian salvation.

And frankly, the victory over death and sin that should accompany my faith still feels like it eludes me most days. I’m spooked by my shadow instead of basking in the light.

But I think I’m coming to understand this comes from an impoverished view of our God, as if he has a kind of OCD around imperfection, as if the only thing that’s important to him is that everything and everyone is just so, and he’s always tweaking us in constant disappointment. The Holy Ghost is not the Supreme Middle Manager, micromanaging us in eternal kaizen. And Jesus is not the cool older brother, who died tragically young, an aspiration so complete that it’s oppressive. This is just a bad Hollywood movie.

The real glory of God is not control, compliance, or accomplishment, it’s love. And perhaps the clearest demonstration of that is not even in the sacrificial salvation of the fallen, but in their use as mortal instruments of His will. Perhaps when it is said that God uses the weak to demonstrate His strength, it is not so much to imply that the failings of his people leave only the creditable credit to the man pulling the strings, but that He, in His strength, loves these unloveable losers so much to include them.

I want to be careful here to not make this too people-centric. God does not exist to serve us or make us feel good about ourselves — such a God is truly just an opiate, a self-serving social construction. It does not make sense, though, to just think ourselves as his cogs or vassals. Why would He care so much? To speak to us in terms of fidelity and friendship, citizens and confederates, family and body? To make extravagant covenants from which He would suffer, unnecessarily binding Himself to our destinies? To commit his Son and Spirit to our life and renewal?

In Children’s Chapel we talked about how God did not need the freewill offerings of the remnant of a lost and broken nation to rebuild His temple — but He built His temple with those offerings anyway. Imagine seeing the High Priest and recognizing that a thread of his robe derived from one of the garments you donated, or to approach an altar and knowing that it was smelted from among the jewelry you gladly gave up. Your worship would not be notional but personal. You knew that, somehow, you were in something together with your God.

He builds the temple of our saved lives the same ways. Approaching the ruins, he asks for freewill offerings as raw materials. He gives us purpose and vision, and lends us support and protection, even deliverance, usually beyond our ken, but He lets us take part in the work. He has not sidelined us. He chooses to do with what we do. Because He loves us, because He’s proud of us, because He is glorified through us.

When we one day open our eyes to the scope of the stakes of this cosmic game, it’s easy to see that we do not matter, that all we’ve amounted to is detritus and scum. But we should see that when we are pressed, dearly pressed, into participating … it is an affirmation that we do matter and deserve a place in this universe.

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