August/September 2013 - Vol. 69
Thomas Jefferson was a man of his time. His age of reason denied the possibility of miracles. So he took his old Bible and an old pair of scissors, and he cut out any verse with a hint of the supernatural.
Modern Christians do the same thing, only ours is the age of therapy (we like miracles). We rescue the Bible, highlighting anything that makes us feel good, and ruthlessly amputating every verse about sin (except for the sin of feeling bad about ourselves).
We adopt the book, I’m Okay—You’re Okay, baptize it, ordain it, and put it in the pulpit. Our new preacher skips any verse that questions our okay-ness, like:
The truth is: I’m not okay, and neither are you.
But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater
Therapy addresses a need that many believers overlook. The world is filled with broken people. We are fearful, angry, insecure, and self-absorbed. That’s on our good days.
Many of these adult problems come from painful, unaddressed childhood experiences. Perhaps we had an angry, frustrated father who dealt with his disappointments by verbal abuse. Then many of us grow up mistrusting any authority figure, even God.
And it’s understandable.
Infants are born with soft bones that need the strengthening of dietary calcium. A lack of calcium causes rickets, bent and fragile bones. Likewise, infants are born with soft hearts that need emotional nutrition. Any lack of emotional calcium causes rickets of the heart, fear, anger, and authority mistrust.
Therapists ask adult patients to revisit childhood experiences of abuse or neglect. They ask the patient—as an adult—to see those experiences through mature eyes, and to recognize that the abuse or neglect was not their fault.
And it wasn’t their fault. It’s not that the child was perfect—none are—it’s that God designed us to receive love even in our imperfections. When this love is missing, it is not the child’s fault. Someone failed to feed us the nutrition needed for a strong heart.
A step too far
Many therapists (and quite a few Christians) go a step too far. To bolster self-confidence and self-esteem, they say, “You’re a good person. I’m okay, you’re okay.”
This contradicts the Bible which says we are broken sinners. I understand why they say it. They’ve heard too many preachers scowl, “You are bad, wicked, and sinful; you have absolutely no value at all.” This too contradicts scripture which claims every human soul is valuable because God’s image is stamped on our very soul.
Modern therapy says we are valuable because we are good; scripture says we are of infinite value and precious in the eyes of God; but nowhere does it say we are okay.
The gospel is just different
At a public dinner, Jesus deals with a Pharisee and a prostitute. The Pharisee feels good about himself and the prostitute feels bad. Jesus doesn’t commend the Pharisee’s self-esteem, nor does he encourage the prostitute with an ephemeral, “Hey, you’re okay.”
Instead he praises the woman, “She loves greatly because she’s been forgiven much” and he denounces the Pharisee who “loves little because he’s been forgiven little.”
The key to esteem (and loving others) isn’t the arrogant, self-esteem of the Pharisee; it is the humble God-esteem of a person who was not okay but has been forgiven.
Forgiveness is the key to a transformed life, but forgiveness requires the essential first step, admitting we are not okay. Don’t we get it? God’s love is proven when he loves us before we’re okay. Only that love gives unshakeable confidence:
God demonstrates his love for us by the fact that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).Logic, truth, and confidence
I recently read a book that describes a woman who couldn’t come before God because she felt bad about herself. The authors’ only solution was to try and build her self esteem. They said, “All she had to do was feel good about herself.” Their logic was lacking and their theology was abysmal.
There is another way. Our problem isn’t that we feel bad about ourselves—we might have very good reasons to feel so—the problem is our bad, unbiblical opinion of God. Like the man with one talent, we say, “I know you are a harsh God.”
This is the opposite of the Biblical God who loves us so much he personally pays for all we’ve done that causes us to feel bad about ourselves, who died while we were sinners.
Where will you get more confidence: if you come before God because “you are okay,” or if you come before God because he can love and forgive even before we’re okay? “I’m okay—you’re okay” burdens us with an unbearable load.
Next time we’re tempted to take scissors and cut out a verse of the Bible that makes us feel bad, let’s take out a highlighter instead. Let’s meditate on that verse, and let it drive us to God. The more we’ve been forgiven, the more we’ll love.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “Redeemed humanity will somehow be better than unfallen humanity.” Let’s find our unredeemed-ness and come to God with that.
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom