Before Jesus was crucified, He stood before Pilate on trial. Pilate was intrigued with this Man, and asked Him, with mocking sarcasm, if He was a king. Jesus answered that He was come into the world to bear witness to the truth. He said, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate answered Him, “What is truth?”
I can’t be sure what was in Pilate’s mind, but in his question I hear the cynical weariness of a judge who has heard it all before. Every prisoner who had come before him must have tried to persuade him that he was telling the truth: “I am innocent, I am not lying”. Every philosopher has tried to deal with this question about the nature of truth. Today it is harder than ever to know truth, because secular humanism has taught us that truth is relative: that my truth may not be the same as your truth, and so each of us designs his own truth. No wonder we are all so confused. On the other hand, God’s truth is absolute. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. If we really want to know truth, we need to put some effort into studying God’s Word and the nature of Jesus.
One of the current views of “truth” within the church that troubles me is the idea that we must all be victorious, all the time, over every obstacle and stumbling block that appears in our path. Of course that is the goal, but it is seldom the reality. As a young Christian I was overwhelmed with guilt much of the time. I knew that nothing was too hard for the Lord, but I sometimes forgot to include Him in my struggles. Every day I found myself impatient with myself or someone else. I got angry. I avoided things I didn’t want to do; sometimes that included prayer and studying my Bible. I really disliked certain people. I believed I always had to be perfect, and here was daily proof that I was still a sinner. The church is often complicit in this implication that we need to be perfect at all times, and that to be less is just not acceptable. This makes most of us, if we are sincere about wanting to please God, feel incredibly guilty as we sit in the pews contrasting our own inadequacies with these stories of perfect victory, perfect lives. It is a life lived in fear and guilt, instead of the freedom of grace. I want to be all that God wants me to be, but I am not always able to rise above my humanity. This forces me to live a kind of secret life where God and I know who I am, but I must hide from the church by projecting this mask of spiritual perfection.
I have spent much of my life trying to learn to be real. The truth I have come to understand is that I am always a work in progress. I don’t have it all together. Sometimes I remember the right things to do: seek the will of God; don’t try to do it all in my own strength; unload all my anxiety and questions at the foot of the Cross. Then there are other times when, in the crush of the moment, I try to take it all on in my own strength, or I forget that God will hear my fears and my failures with the same compassion as He hears my triumphs. Sometimes I fail. That is when I really need to remember the bottom line of all truth: God’s grace.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. Recently a friend was trying to figure out how to comfort the unbelieving husband of another dear friend who had unexpectedly died. She was also trying to deal with her own grief. In the course of our conversation I said something about realistically recognizing that there are times when it is reasonable to be afraid or sorrowful, and that we need God’s help to deal with it. This jumped out at her, and she confessed that somehow she always felt that she should know exactly what to do in all situations, and felt guilty when she didn’t. I think a lot of us have these feelings at times, including me. We forget to accept His help and His love; we go back to trying to do it all ourselves.
Learning Christ is a process; we have successes and failures, and we can deal with it in a number of ways. We can be in denial, and tell ourselves that we are wonderful examples of all that a Christian can be, and live lives of self-righteousness and pride; or we can assume that we are always failures, and live defeated lives of doom and gloom… Or, we can realize that most of us are pretty much a mix of success and failure; just accept it, and keep working at studying God’s Word, working at deepening our relationship with Christ, and moving on as He gives us wisdom. We aren’t in this alone after all; He walks with us, and will lead us if we let Him. We have a Father Who loves us. When our own children get it wrong, do we stop loving them? No; we make sure there are appropriate consequences, but then we give them a hug and let them know they are still precious to us, and that nothing they can do will keep us from loving them. God is like this.
He gives us the gift of His Son freely. We don’t have to do anything except repentantly receive Him. We can’t earn His grace by fearfully obeying all the rules and being in terror of making a mistake. That is a life of futility. The joy of serving a gracious God is that when we inadvertently fail, or when we just don’t know what to do, He is there. He forgives our repentant hearts. He helps us stand again, and gets us back on the path. He knows when we are genuinely conscientious about wanting to please Him, and when we are just faking it. We forget that He knows everything that is in our hearts and minds, and takes it all into account. Part of truth is in recognizing our own limitations as well as our gifts, and leaning, in our brokenness, on our Father. It is the world’s view, not God’s, that only our “success” is meaningful. He specifically tells us that we are to desire humility and a contrite spirit. We are often stumbling instruments of God’s will on earth, but God can transform our worst efforts in to something redemptive. It is He Who is glorified when others see His transforming power reflected in our lives. We know that it is not about us; it is about Him.
Instead of trying to project the image of spiritual superiority, we need to desire a servant’s heart, and a spirit of humility. We work from a position of brokenness, in process of being healed by the grace of God. Part of the mystery of God is that He trusts us with His work here on earth. He knows we are bumblers; that we are going to get it wrong sometimes. Yet, He continues to put the spreading of His Gospel into our hands. Even when we have been deliberately willful, there is opportunity for restoration. After David sinned with Bathsheba, he is brought again through repentance to restoration. (Read Psalm 51.) After Peter denies the Lord three times in the garden, the Lord, when He shows Himself to the disciples after the Resurrection, publicly restores Peter to His service; even to a position of leadership. (John 21:11-19) That is God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption. All of this is still available to us in our journey of faith, through the love, grace and mercy of God.