There was a Greek guy who once said our purpose on earth is to be excellently rational and to use this function to bring every emotion, desire, appetite and behavioural disposition and their corresponding moral virtues and vices in line to cultivate the good while abandoning the bad through activity and habitation and all that makes me think is bloody hell, that sounds like a lot of effort. I wonder then, why is that guy from down the road giving me a dirty look? Which moral characteristic is letting me down? What’s interesting is that it is here my brain will take me down one of two extraordinary roads (or country lanes as it were, because I’m English).
Pottering down the first country lane a little voice will say in my ear: ‘no, no, no, that dirty look had nothing to do with you. He probably just got fired last week’. “Oh no wait, there he goes, he’s driving off to work …” ‘It’s ok! Still nothing to do with you. His wife left him. Yes that’s it!’ “Oh no there goes his child on his bike and who is that behind him? Oh yes, it’s his wife….” ‘It’s all fine! She’s going off to spend all his money again after she’s dropped the kid off Your heard them shouting the other day, didn’t you?’ ‘Yes, yes I definitely did!’. And that’s it! I walk away! Everything is in-line with me, no deliberation about me is needed. My safety nets of delusion save me once again. Thinking about it more:
This is all well and good but at some odd points in the week arrogance sets in and I’ll take a wander down the second lane. In a quiet moment another, a much louder shout of a voice will suddenly proclaim that actually there is much point to examining myself, ‘come on, what about that Greek guy! Go you! You can handle it all and fix everything!’ However, every bloody time, this voice quickly loses its niceness and turns into mercilessly telling me that yes, it is ENTIRELY my fault and that I have a horrendous amount of work to do if it’s ever going to be not my fault. (Why on earth do I continue to listen to it?) ‘You didn’t smile at him and say good morning the other day, remember that you malevolent fool?’ It will say. ‘You know he watched and saw your face as you crushed that 50 year old man in that 10k you ran last week, right? Do you remember how happy you were about it because you beat him fairly? Do you even grasp that you are the type of person that would have happily tripped him up if no one was watching? Do you get that?’
‘You have so much to work on. You better get down to it! Don’t mess it up now!’ it continue’s to say. And so it goes, on and on down the rabbit hole, circling around and around what’s wrong with me and how to fix it until I am sitting and crying in the corner slowly rocking myself back and forth.
(Not literally, I’m far too weak to let it get that far, but you get the point).
You’re feeling it too but in the corner just to distract myself from my own voice, I’ll flick over to Twitter and I’ll see some posts by, as already mentioned before, a far-too-overly-tanned, beanie-wearing, no-one-can-pronounce-his-ridiculous-last-name American pastor in Florida giving some insight with links to some articles and stuff. Go look and come back! If you do, like me, you’ll discover a theology. And one that not only exposes what is going on inside my head but at the same time allows me to call it for what it is: A rat-race. And that it is completely not merely English at all. It’s universal. (Good Job you looked).
For me it quickly becomes apparent the first road is just irrelevant self-protection and the second is actually endless. Plus my ‘methodology’ of fixing anything along the second is but mere ‘performancism’ (see below). If it works for a week then all I can think about is how much better I am than that guy who does the things I used to do, and then I crash and burn and do what I was doing before again. But here is where it just gets fascinating for me. On top of all this he says that all the above effort I put into myself (my perpetual discovery and ‘fix-it’ mode) I now have to do that perfectly above and beyond anything that Greek guy was saying AND perfectly love God and my neighbour as well. That is actually what is required of me. ‘And not just your neighbour the ‘friend’ either, it’s your neighbour the ‘rapist’ and your neighbour the ‘persecutor’ as well!’ WHAT!? I don’t know about you but I’m already sitting and crying in the corner rocking back and forth because of myself! Now there’s God and other people! You’ve got to be kidding me.
‘Well at least if I put some effort into other people, I’m sure they’ll reward me’, I’ll say to myself. ‘Isn’t it the same with God as well? Good gets good, bad gets bad? I’m not that bad’. And so the safety nets of delusion come up again. That is until this pastor guy starts writing about a carpenter back in the day who lived the perfect life so I don’t have to.
Good does not get good, bad does not get bad, you are worse than you think and you have no control over other people. Even in this, Jesus’ actual perfection exposes the sinner that you are and that exchange of his perfection for your rat-race happened without you even realising that the only thing you contributed to it is the sin that made it necessary. Even in this, you are perfectly loved by God without you even realising that you could never perfectly love God back and you manipulate your neighbour into getting things you think you need. Even is this, you are proclaimed as justified for Jesus’ sake without you even realising that God does so regardless of what you do. Let that sink in. Your rat-race is crushed by the Golden commandments and is washed clean by the death and resurrection of Christ.
Thank you, Tullian. Your message at church every Sunday frees my soul. (And teaches me that Aristotle is a burdening son-of-a-gun.)