How to Get Better

Religion’s power is stripped away these days not by calling it an “opiate for the masses”* but by reducing it to another self-improvement program.

achievement

But do some of us religious people actually live like this? Are we giving the critics some fodder? Do most of us live as if “getting better” is the only goal of Christianity?

If getting better means becoming something glorious by the sweat of our brow, I don’t believe in that version of Christianity. But, if by “get better” we mean the less-commonly-used-except-at-hospitals: no longer be sick; then I want to be part of that. If we believe (against the most elementary principles of the world) that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, that even in our sin we are loved by God, that even in our failings God glorifies himself, then we can only mean “get better” as a slow healing process.

feeling any better

Christ said he came to seek those who are sick not those who are healthy. He didn’t mean that some people don’t need his saving grace. He means that you are either delusional or you know that you’re sick. From Christ’s words, we can only assume that “get better” — if it is at all Christian — must be a slow healing process for those in Him.

But, once in the door, can’t we then help people buck up and get it together?

“‘Speaking the truth in love’ . . . is an empty set. It never happens. Although this form of law is loftily protested as being ‘within the bonds of love and affection,’ there is always that basso continuo of judgment in every appeal of criticism, which disqualifies such speaking from having transformative effects.”
(Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice)

pullyourselftogether

The problem is that “speaking the truth in love” is a way of speaking to someone who is already righteous and no longer sick. When you are speaking “challenges” and “hard truths”, you aren’t speaking to sick people. It’s not how you talk to sick people.

crying

To those who know that they are sick, you don’t speak “hard-truths.” You speak grace upon grace upon grace. To the hard-hearted, however, you can speak all the hard truth that you want. But don’t just make it hard truth and challenges, make it impossible truth and challenges, like Jesus’ sermon on the mount. If anyone can look at that sermon as if it is attainable, then they haven’t a clue how sick they are.

cocky corey

I have been railing against pastors on this blog for a while. I should apologize for some of that. Proclaiming justification by grace alone, as Gerhard Forde says, is polemical by its very nature. It’s a doctrine that hogs the whole space of our mind. It creeps into all the dark corners and roots out the lies, captivating them by God’s promise in Christ. But it’s polemical nature doesn’t entirely excuse bludgeoning people over the head with it. Especially those who I know will continue to disagree with me.

i did not do that

It’s for the sick Christians that I write. For those who need Jesus as healer, not Jesus as imputed super-power.

I met with a pastor yesterday and he said to me, “It’s hard for me to preach self-improvement even if I wanted to. I just talked to a lady who probably isn’t going to be alive in six months. How am I supposed to tell her that the goal of Christianity is that she become more glorious in some ambiguous earthly sense?”

To him I replied: Boom.

To you, I say, go forth and ‘Boom’ on behalf of the sick whom Jesus loves desperately, so much that he gave his life for them. For you.

_______________
*A rigorous understanding of law and grace isn’t an opiate for the masses by any stretch, evidenced by how resistant and haunted people are by only a few seconds of God’s law doing it’s diagnostic work on them. If “opiate for the masses” is meant only to make us distrustful of good news, then I think it is a bit redundant: we are already profoundly distrustful of good news. And yet, I say to you, God’s grace in Christ is completely yours. He is for you. And God doesn’t break his promises.

4 Comments

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  1. A guy was telling me his story the other day, where he was just being hauled into the emergency room after a head on collision and he had multiple shattered bones and was barely hanging on for life. however, somehow he was still conscious, and this sheriff was (wrongly, it turns out) lambasting him about his traffic violations, on and on and on apparently. This is how the law works, and it does nothing to heal or even to make up for real transgressions. It can only nail you no matter your circumstance for your violations.

  2. It was just yesterday that I listened to the sermon on the mount and felt completely overwhelmed by it’s seemingly impossible demands. You want me to do what Jesus? That sure sounds like a life crushing burden. Didn’t you say you’re burden is light? I’ve got no shot at this.

    All my responses to the sermon on the mount were desperate realizations of my innability.

    And YET, there is the part of me that says to this kind of post, “but what of encouraging one another to love and good deeds, what of the scripture being good for reproof and correction, what about Jesus calling people to repentance, what about pulling the log out of your own eye so that you can see to help your brother with his spec, what of the fact that Paul always follows Gospel with sections on how a life in grace should bear fruit, what about running the race as so to win the prize”???

    This makes me feel like a crazy person clawing to get away from good news to something I can control. How do I strive and rest in freedom at the same time? I need Jesus to be sure because I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

  3. Wonderful gospel! Enjoy your posts. I must say though, the moving pictures in your posts make them so hard to read. The pictures keep grabbing my eyes, making it hard to concentrate on what I’m reading.

  4. Maybe a lot of the pain we experience is to be expected when we really consider the Sermon on the Mount for what it actually is: Humanly impossible. Total, 100% perfection in word, thought, deed, motive ? We are absolutely nowhere even close. To think we can even come close ? Wow…..

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