An author describing a character from one of his stories. He is an unlikely hero with a dark past. It’s an action book and I’m pretty sure this hero dies in the end (some form of classic, unexpected self-sacrifice involved, of course). There may also be a train, somewhere?
“That prayer at the end is the crux point, the encapsulation, the anthem-moment of this character. I wanted to set out to tell a story about someone ‘too far gone’, someone with no basis whatsoever in imagining any sort of self-righteousness, someone who would be unwelcome in ‘proper company’. I wanted it to be about how this person could represent us in proper relation to God – someone who believes recklessly that it is Grace which enables us to be heard, and not ‘doing our best’ or any sort of inherent righteousness. This person – a lost cause in the eyes of the world, and the eyes of the pious, and the eyes of, for lack of a better word, the ‘proper’ – is the one whose faith is heard despite all his unworthiness, for in his heart he knows that there is no way he will be heard by God apart from the compassion, the glorious forgiveness and love of Christ, whose gift of himself, offered in love, opened the door to the everlasting arms.
“This is someone whose sin is obvious, ‘always before him’, in the words of David, but whose heart is set on God’s promise, rather than on his own potential, or track record, or good deeds. Many of us Christian people say often that it is only grace, grace, grace, but a lot of the time our words are facade and parrot-talk; for, underneath, perhaps subconsciously (and often by default), we still have a class system of piety. Surely, this person will be heard, for he is the spiritual one; surely, this person has it all together and is viewed more favorably by God; and on and on. It is this class system, so ingrained into our mentality and every aspect of our society, but specifically that found in the spiritual community, which I wanted to reveal and confront through him, by his contrast. Not the most original, I know, to talk about classes like this! But it is something worth confronting and noting nonetheless.
“Through the letters of Paul and James (esp in 1 Timothy and in James) we can see that for those two men, whose hearts are so transformed by God’s love that their words are a true reflection of His desires, partiality is something to be fervently avoided, even condemned. In the same way God will not show partiality, judged with the criteria which we like to use – vocation, ‘spirituality’, image, spiritual ancestry, etc. Jesus addresses this topic in the Gospels (Matt 3, Matt 7, Luke 3). In their time, it was certain classes of Jews who were the ‘spiritual elite’. In our days, there is still a ‘spiritual elite’ class. (For the record, I am not, by any means, saying that leaders should not be honored, because Paul says that those who are deserving of honor should be [1 Tim]. I only want to helpfully dismantle the idea in the mind of the ‘lay person’ that our track-record or spiritual status qualifies whether we are heard, and worthy, as well as that idea of different levels which make it less about God’s goodness and more about us, whether that is our ‘goodness’ or our ‘badness’.) This idea of a ‘spiritual elite’ can sometimes lead us to limit what we ask for, or cause us to feel limited, based on our own perceptions of our respective qualifications. We don’t ask, so we don’t receive! We suffer from these imposed self-perceptions and limitations. This is an unlikely comparison, but imagine how silly it would seem for some NBA superstar, some Lebron or Dirk or Rose, to be playing in amateur leagues simply because he did not acknowledge (or realize?) that his talent made him perfectly qualified to not only be playing in, but dominating, the big-time league! In the same way, our faith in the fact that it is Christ who lives in us makes us perfectly qualified for the kind of life that Jesus, the apostles, the big-time saints, led! It means that, in Christ, there are no limitations. Why ask for Little League things, expect Little League results, and only expect and hope and wait to be used in Little League ways? Why wield that verse in Philippians, about how we can do all things through Him who strengthens us, to anything lower than its full potential: anything?
“There was no such stratification of classes in the mind of the character. In the beautiful and innumerable small things, God had proven faithful, and when the big things came it was no grand jump to expect God to be so again. You hear me because of how good You are, not because of how good I am at the moment, this character in the story would say. In his humility, his lack of pretense, we find inspiration to also believe recklessly in God’s goodness, and begin, slowly, to dismantle the reverse-telescope we have constructed over many years which focuses the universe on ourselves and our drama (whether good or bad). For truly, the focus, if only set on our victories, failures, successes and setbacks, if set only on ourselves, is misplaced. Our story is not the important one, and thus our aim is not to improve our ‘statistics’ – our aim is to dwell less and less on ourselves and to dwell more and more on Him, resting our thoughts, our hope, our prayers on the only One who can make any ends meet, who can build any house worth building, complete any task worth completing, create any lasting beauty worth beholding.
“Oswald Chambers says that ‘there is only one place where we are right with God, and that is in Christ Jesus.’ Amen. Like this man in the story, I want to pray as if I believe that is true… as if I am ‘not surprised by anything God may tell me about myself’ (Oswald again). The character knows he’s not the leading role; he sure as hell knows he won’t be the one to save the world, get the girl, ride off into the sunset, because he recognizes whom the story is truly about. He’s let go of any hope except to fully leave it to God to be the one who does the hero stuff. And it’s not something difficult… it is a beautiful surrender, to something greater, more beautiful and joyful and life-giving than ever could have been accomplished on his own. ‘Cause I got changed by what I been shown, more glory than the world has known; keeps me ramblin’ on…’
“I used to know something about my depravity… but now the only thing I know anything about is the beauty, the overwhelming grace of Jesus and his love. That’s some good news, if you ask me, the character would say.”