The Theory of Relativity
We see ourselves through the lens of relativity. Relatively speaking, we are people of faith. Relatively speaking, we are active in church. Relatively speaking, we like to study the Bible. Relatively speaking, we are pretty much the kind of Christian that the Christian people around us pretty much think is the kind of Christian a Christian person pretty much ought to be.
It's all very nice. And quite comfortable. Unless, of course, you happen to look around and discover the people in church study their Bible much more than you, trust God in ways you find almost unfathomable, and invest extraordinary amounts of time and effort bringing the Good News of the Kingdom into the abandoned places of the world. Then, of course, you are compelled to act. Time to look for another church.
For some, certainly, the pretty much average level of normal Christianity takes a great deal of effort and change empowered by the Spirit to reach. They come into Christ out of lives deeply damaged by sexual excess, violence, addiction, and a long string of fractured relationships. For these people, the typical normal is so abnormal they feel overwhelmingly subnormal. For these, average is a goal to achieve, not a state to maintain.
But, once we land in the middle of normal, we discover the subtle pressure of our personal community of faith resists radical holiness as much as it retards radical backsliding.
We absolutely know we are sinners. We wish we weren't. But, we are. And we're not exactly overwhelmed by the shame of it. It's kind of okay, because we recognize we are not noticeably more sinful than the average Christian.
If you won't make me skinny…
When Isaiah encounters the vision of an enthroned lord surrounded by six-winged seraphim crying out the thrice-holy so thunderously the very foundations of the great temple shook, he is terrified. But, as he describes the encounter, he seems more shaken by what he saw in himself than in the spectacular theophany spread across the sky.
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:3-5, NRSV)
Isaiah was completely unprepared to see the truth about himself. I'm sure he never thought he was super holy. He knew he was sinner. He must have thought he had a reasonably accurate picture of himself. The most shocking aspect of encountering God was discovering he was wrong.
In Terry Brooks' first ground-breaking fantasy novel, The Sword of Shannara, Shea Ohmsford retrieves an ancient weapon so powerful it can destroy the feared Warlock Lord. As Shea discovers, however, the power of the sword is not to slice or pierce. It is truth. Not just any truth. It is simply that, upon being touched by its blade, you see yourself as you truly are. For the Warlock Lord, that knowledge is too terrible to endure.
Worship is not all about God. If it's all about God, then it can never be authentic worship. Worship is a counterpoint of glory and shame, ecstasy and agony. Were we to glimpse, even for a fleeting moment, a small fragment of the glory of Almighty God, we would find ourselves caught and exposed in the bright light of reality. And, no matter what we think, we are as utterly unprepared as Isaiah to see that truth.
Relatively speaking, I'm a pretty good guy. In a room full of third graders, I feel amazingly tall. In a room full of illiterate people, I feel quite educated. Standing in the middle of church on Sunday, I feel like I'm a nice guy and a fairly committed Christian.
Relativity can be so deceiving.
Wow, I need to go on a diet…