Sunday, October 18, 2015

Authenticity, Choice, and Free Will

For my blog post about church this morning, I would like to use as my starting-point the stanza of a song that we sang.  The song is entitled “All That I Am.”  The stanza goes as follows:

“All that I am for all that You are my Lord,
“All that I have for all that You are.
“You’re the pearl beyond price greater than life.
“All that I am for all that You are.”

This reminded me of something that I heard John MacArthur say in a sermon a while back: that true Christians exchange all that they are for all that Christ is.

It sort of rubs me the wrong way, to tell you the truth.  I believe that God made each of us unique.  Each of us is one of a kind.  God doesn’t want us to be Jesus-clones.  God wants us to be like Jesus in terms of Jesus’ love and compassion, yet to have our own personalities.  Why should we have to surrender all of what we are for all that God is?  What is wrong with all that we are?

I may be misinterpreting the stanza.  I know plenty of evangelicals and other Christians have said that God created us unique, with our own personalities, gifts, and ways to contribute.  I just get leery at this kind of surrender talk.  I am not sure what to do with it.

I recall M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie, which was about evil.  Peck was talking about a woman he counseled whom he considered to be evil.  This woman was responding to the Christian line that we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and she was baffled by it.  She wondered what room there was for her in that.  Peck seemed to be presenting her as a self-centered narcissist.  I think she was asking a good question.

Another hymn I think of is “Draw Me Nearer.”  It has a line about my will being lost in the will of God.  That turns me off, too.  Losing my will?  That sounds like me losing myself and becoming programmed by God!  Don’t many Christians like to say that God gave us free-will because God doesn’t want robots, but people who freely love him?

A thought has occurred to me more than once as of late.  Yesterday, this thought somewhat intensified, so I wrestled with it more than I usually do.  I was upset with God, and I wondered why I should pray.  I concluded that I should pray for others because I wanted to be a more caring, compassionate person, and that I should ask God to make me that.  But then I had a thought: do I want to be a Christian because I want to be caring or compassionate, or because God wants me to be caring and compassionate?  Who sets the agenda in my life: me or God?  Whom am I trying to please: myself or God?  Where I settled was to say that being caring and compassionate is a good thing—-for me and others—-so it is not just a matter of my personal preference.  I cannot deny that personal preference plays a role, though.  And, to be honest, I do not really feel bad about that.  Maybe my attitude makes me look like a consumer.  Oh well.

Worship can be a bit of a challenge for me.  I do not consider it to be as great of a challenge for me as, say, socializing in unstructured social situations.  The latter is like me as a handicapped person trying to walk.  Regarding worship, I am able to sing songs and to read prayers.  But I am required to get into a mood of getting outside myself and proclaiming that someone, God, is greater than I am.  The attention is going to God.  It is not that I think that I deserve worship.  I realize that there are people who are better in character and talent than I am, that I am far from being the greatest power of the universe, that I am powerless in many areas, that I am a blip in the vast history of the universe, and that there are beautiful and fearsome things in nature that can make me feel small.  Still, getting outside of myself and worshiping God can be difficult.  Yet, I think it is necessary, at least for me.

The pastor’s sermon was interesting.  The pastor was preaching about Mark 12:38-44, in which Jesus criticizes the teachers of the law who devoured widow’s houses, right before pointing out a poor widow who gave everything she had, as small as it was, to the Temple.  The pastor mentioned a variety of issues: how the early church gave to widows; how Jesus and his brother James (who, in James 1:27, saw caring for widows as part of the essence of true religion) may have had a special concern for widows because their mother Mary was one; how giving to the church pays the pastor to do the things that he does (i.e., preaching, counseling); how there are pastors who try to guilt people into giving by saying the people should be self-sacrificial, as Jesus was on the cross; and how the pastor gives to the church because it was a friend to him when he did not have too many friends.

This intersects with what I am talking about: certain moral standards being beyond ourselves, and yet we can authentically embrace them; caring about God and others, even as we and our self-interest do not vanish from the picture; giving as an expression of who we are and where we have been; having and expressing gratitude.  I guess what I long for is personal and spiritual authenticity: doing right out of who I am, out of my personality.  There is a place for doing right out of obligation or obedience to God’s commandments—-certainly one would do well to avoid doing wrong whether that feels authentic or not!  But there is something special about authenticity.  I have long rolled my eyes at the standard Christian explanation (or, rather, A Christian explanation) for why God permits moral evil: God gave us free-will because God doesn’t want us to be robots but beings who freely love him.  Even if that theodicy does not solve everything or make me feel totally better about God or the evil in the world, there is something to it, in my opinion; at the very least, I like its valuation of authenticity, choice, and free-will.

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