this was a guest post i wrote for rachel held evans‘ blog last week (see, i do know how to use capital letters!). i wanted to re-post it here so i had in my archives; plus, some of you may not have seen it or wanted to comment over there because there were loads of them. anyway, i’d love any thoughts you wanted to add to it.
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I had an amazing conversation last week with a non-Christian counseling grad student who had a project in this class to “move toward something in their culture they were uncomfortable with.” He chose Christianity. His experience with it wasn’t a positive one so he was trying to bravely explore it. We had a delightful conversation because he asked the best questions, the kind where trite Christian answers won’t quite do. He wasn’t talking about atonement theories or biblical interpretation of certain passages (for the most part, I think only Christian insiders give a rip about that kind of stuff).
He asked–Why do Christians never seem to feel very good about themselves?
I laughed that he had hit the nail on the head. The basic premise of Christianity is that there is nothing good in us. That original sin has ruined us and we are miserable sinners, unworthy of anything good without the blood of Jesus. That depravity is our essence.
With that as our starting place, my experience has been that despite all of the “God loves me” messages that get tossed around in church services and Bible studies, nothing completely fills in the cracks of that deep chasm. That somehow, no matter what, we just aren’t good. We aren’t worthy. We aren’t secure. We aren’t loveable. We are fatally flawed as human beings.
I know this well in my own life. I come from a liberal, non-churchy family that believed in the basic goodness of people (we were those people who evangelical Christians worried about!). When I opened my heart to following Christ, I needed a real, tangible God and was strangely and beautifully drawn to Jesus. I always say that if I had just stuck with that and never became involved in the kinds of churches I ended up attending, I would have been better off in the security-as-a-person department. But alas, that is not my story, and the rigidity and rules sucked me in, and I learned about what a miserable person I was without the cross of Christ. I ended up feeling worse about myself than when I started, and I brought a lot of shame and guilt to the table from the beginning! Christianity seemed to cement in me my badness. It reminded me constantly how much I fell short and how unworthy I was without God in my life.
About 17 years ago a wise and beautiful friend rocked my world with an important theological twist that some of you might say “duh!” at, but it was never taught to me in my hyper-conservative-evangelical circles. We were made in the image of God. That goodness is in us from the beginning. Sure, sin and brokenness has infiltrated this Genesis 3 world, but we must remember it all started with Genesis 1. Man and woman, created in the original image of God. That is our essence even though brokenness buries it.
I think that the spiritual journey is to uncover God’s image that was originally placed there.
I know from experience in my own life and journeying alongside many others that this is no easy task. It makes it far worse when the starting place is “I am really a miserable wretch.”
The Apostle Paul in Romans 7 talks about the struggle of our humanity to lean into sin. This passage is used all the time to hold up basic depravity, but we forget the twist that is there–“It’s not me, but the sin that lives in me” (vs. 7:12).
As a mother of five, the last thing in the world I want my kids to think is that they basically suck and are unworthy, unlovable. I want them to know they are beautiful, created in the original image of God with his imprint built into every fiber of their being. I want them to know they are worthy, secure, free. With a great human capacity to sin, fall, fail and really mess things up, sure. But I do not want a faith that forces me to build in them a basic insecurity from the start. That feels cruel. And completely counter to what I know about being a loving parent, and I’m only a human one.
My experience in working with people in pain in the church is that there’s an awful lot of insecurity going around in a system that is supposed to be built upon freedom, healing, and wholeness. Far too much fear, depression, inadequacy, unworthiness exists in countless Christ-followers when they have a chance to be really honest. Something is gravely wrong with this!
But the systems we’ve created and the theologies we’ve clung to perpetuate it.
Ultimately it not only damages us personally and relationally, but keeps the real power of the church paralyzed and stuck.
And really insecure.