This post continues a series on a passage of Christian Scripture, John 9 (The Healing of the Man born Blind). The usual themes of culture, traditions, and redemption will be discussed, but they will be applied to interpreting this passage of Scripture, as I prepare to preach on this passage on Sunday. This post is not meant to be a commentary on any specific current events in the United States. It is purely part of my preparation for Sunday.
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. – John 9:41
“Oh, yes, I’ve read lots of those kinds of books…”
“My flaw is that, because I’m good at what I do, I work too hard, and there’s not a lot of time for my family.”
“My biggest problem lately is that I’m basically a perfectionist, and so I’m frustrated at my wife a lot lately…”
“I just can’t open up about my thoughts — it’s just part of my personality…”
“It’s just the tyranny of the urgent — everything in my life is urgent right now, so I haven’t been able to do any of the important things…”
There comes a point when we must choose to either keep the status quo of respectability we have built up around ourselves, or finally resign from trying to save face and admit that, if the Bible were written today, we might play the part of the pharisees. This is because, when given the opportunity, just like them, we would rather keep our reputation, than admit our own guilt. And we aren’t admitting guilt if we simultaneously sugar-coat our intentions with claims to admirable qualities, like competence and conscientiousness.
I once heard a very godly man refer to this phenomenon as image management. It is our attempt to make ourselves seem acceptable to those around us by embellishing our strengths and admitting only those weaknesses that we can claim are actually due to admirable desires.
Let’s have some time for sharing.
Many of us have participated in men’s groups, women’s groups, d-groups, 242 groups, 722 groups, bible studies, prayer breakfasts, men’s retreats, and countless other types of groups that are formed to promote openness and spiritual growth. But when the time for sharing and personal application comes, the room usually gets quiet, and we scramble for socially acceptable things to say that will create an appearance of openness but actually reveal very little.
I’m pointing the finger at myself here. I say these things because I know them to be true — not because I admit more than others, but because I too often admit less. And at every turn, I have been validated and enabled — empowered, even — to continue in my quasi-confessions, admitting enough to those around me so that I can feign honesty and appropriate vulnerability while still refraining from admitting anything really damning.
Sins are actually the result of sin.
The problem with all of this face-saving semi-confession is not that it’s not sufficiently revealing. The problem is that it’s not true at all. When we claim that our sin is the result of our God-given virtues, I believe that we are selling ourself a bill of goods.
We don’t sin because we’re so good — we sin because we’re so bad. And like those Pharisees, we’ll never be able to change until we find some forum where we can open up and tell someone that our bad deeds aren’t the result of good intentions — they’re the result of intentions that are pretty bad.
Take off your sandals.
When we do find these places where we can throw off our reputations and status quo, we have found holy ground. This is what God’s kingdom is supposed to be like — all the time. This is the Church. It is a community where the people are transformed because are dedicated to changing every day.
These people have realized that the only way to change is to finally decide that maintaining a reputation is worth less than obtaining the change that they need.
Not a Summer Home
European country sides are full of what people call weekend houses. Many of them are little more than concrete sheds, lacking electricity or running water. They are meant to be used only a few weeks out of the year, and provide little more than a place to sleep. They provide respite from the city, and little more. But they are incredibly special places if for only that one reason.
The reason that the kingdom of God remains so elusive to most of us is that we treat the “holy ground” of confession like those European weekend houses. We don’t get to experience the kingdom that is possible because we don’t spend nearly enough time there. These houses need development and infrastructure — we can’t get the refreshment they could provide if they are merely outfitted with a couple of beds, lights that don’t work, and no pictures on the walls.
And then, as we go back to our normal lives, we usually wonder if the weekend house of confession was really worth the long journey in the first place. That’s because the life of confession and repentance was never meant to be an oasis — it is powerful because it was always meant to be our normal mode of living.
If you call yourself a Christian, I encourage you to go on vacation. If you don’t have a special place to go, go find one. Then go there. Go now, and don’t come back.