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.