Meanderings on BEING

When I read the following post to my husband (he and my mother-in-law serve as a sounding board for nearly everything I put on the blog), he responded, “I’ve never ever asked myself the questions you wonder about in this piece, but I’m assuming that if you’ve wondered it, someone else has, so, yes, post it.” I then asked him, “Do you think I’m out on a theological limb in this one–just a bit?” At that he grinned, half-shrugged, and said, “Maybe a little, but not too much.” (I’ve done some adjusting since I first read it to him, and I think I’ve moved closer to the trunk.) SO, if you choose to read on, just know I am NOT claiming this is solid theology but simply, as titled, my mind’s meanderings on my being/personhood/individuality.

It all started with these questions: If I am accepted ONLY in Christ, then does God love ME? For that matter, who am I? If I am called to become more and more like Christ, then WHO am I becoming? How can I still be ME and yet be like Christ? And WHO, exactly, is God loving? Me or Christ in me?

Scripture tells me I have no “good” in me, but it also says I am made in the image of God. I have value as God’s creation in general (like the sparrows) and, to a greater extent, because of that image.

I still wonder, though, do I have value simply in being myself?

But, wait, without God, I do not exist.

Now my head is spinning!

In Him we live and move and have our being. So is there part of God’s being in me? Well, if there is no good in me, then, no, there is no “divine” in me. God is good to His core–no, that’s not strong enough. He IS good, so not only is He never unsure about what is right-wrong/good-evil, He is never tempted to do anything that disagrees with His pure nature. Well, that doesn’t describe me at all. So what does it mean that I am “made in His image”?

I go back to my earlier statement: without God I have no being. I am NOT.

Yet I am. Even in a state of alienation from God—my pre-redeemed state—I have been given being. I am able to think and reason and love and hate and feel pain and joy.

I certainly do not FEEL like a puppet.

Nor did Jesus Christ–very God/very man–treat people as puppets. That, right there, wows me. Each person He encountered was His own creation. He could have chosen NOT to create any of them. In one sense, they were nothing more than clay in His hands.

Yet He treated each person as an individual. He treated each with respect as a human, as an individual. Even when He came down hard on a person or a group of people, it was never belittling but related to the choice they had made to set or follow their own standard/to be their own god–and they were definitely faced with the option of choosing differently. (I think of Nicodemus as a particular example of this.)

We are not only treated as individuals; we ARE so individual—down to our fingerprints, as if God is saying, “I am so big I am able to put a unique image of myself in every single one of you, and I will never have to duplicate or repeat.” (We get a beautiful picture of this in Psalm 139, in which the writer, David, imagines God being present–right there–shaping him in utero uniquely and specifically–no cookie cutter “creation” going on.)

This brings me back to my original question: Who am I? But now I realize that there are two ways to ask that question, one good and one bad. The bad way is when I am wanting an individuality/personhood that is separate from God, from being His, from being linked to Him as the Source and the Sustainer.

And isn’t that the same desire Satan had?

Lucifer wanted to be Lucifer on His own. He didn’t want to maintain his being as an angel OF God. He wanted to be Lucifer, just Lucifer. He didn’t want God to be linked to his being.

God granted Lucifer’s request. I know Lucifer was cast out of heaven, but he wasn’t annihilated. Can anything that God creates ever by truly annihilated?

So Lucifer “won,” in the sense that a rebellious child “wins” autonomy. He was allowed to separate. We see the consequences. Lucifer has lost all good. He has NO good impulses. He never creates, only destroys. He destroyed Eve–and then Adam and all their offspring–with the same temptation.

When I want to be MYSELF (and I am speaking here as one who is following Christ), am I trying to separate from Christ in me? Am I trying to fill the God-blank inside me with ME (pure self-focus). And in so doing, do I, like Satan, ironically, become capable only of destruction, never creation?

Hmm. I am imagining the “God-blank” as a sphere within our souls that has a beautiful, unique shape but which is un-filled. It is merely keeping a portion of my soul from being tainted with the selfishness/self-focus that permeates the rest of me. That empty sphere will either be filled with God or be overtaken by all the rest. In its empty state, it has no power to DO good, only to keep space for Good to enter in. When Christ enters it, His Good has power and begins its work in me, renewing me.

My mind returns to Nicodemus here: is this somehow related to “being born of the Spirit”? When I surrender and say, I am Yours, God. You work Your new creation in me, exactly as YOU want to, then am I born anew to be the ME He originally intended? So, though I am becoming more like Christ, with more of God filling me, yet He is filling me uniquely so that MY becoming like Christ is wholly different than my husband or my children or any other person becoming like Him. Together we are His body, but each cell within it is individual.

He is too great to simply duplicate Himself or even a small portion of Himself. There is TOO much of Him to ever be exhausted.

So perhaps God says to each of us: “You are YOU. Yes, you are from me, yet you are you, and the more you surrender to ME, the more you become the YOU I designed you to be. I take joy in your uniqueness because you display ME uniquely.

“When you are focused on self, you are not YOU—the real YOU is being overcome. The real YOU is completely at peace in your being my intricate masterpiece. You lose self-focus and, in so doing, become more YOU.”

All this is too big for me, but I end in awe rather than confusion because I have returned to my Creator. I place my weary, addled head on His chest; I feel His loving arms encircle me; and my spirit is reminded that He is for me.

I rest my whole being in that.

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Celebrating our slivers

I took this pic in Kenya last summer. Those are discarded water bottle woven into a wire fence. Very creative!

I took this pic in Kenya last summer. Those are discarded water bottles woven into a wire fence. Very creative!

Not long ago one of the pastors at our church mentioned a scene in the movie Amadeus to illustrate a sermon point, and I was gripped by a line he repeated from it: “I am the patron saint of mediocrity.”

The musician Salieri says that at the end of the film. He has made a full confession to a young priest and finishes with that line. “You, too, are, mediocre,” he says in effect to the priest. “I, the patron saint of mediocrity, will speak for you.” He is referring to his musical talent as “mediocre,” but he didn’t always see it that way. As a younger man, he viewed it as a reward from God for his piety and devotion—until he was faced with the genius of Mozart, and realized his own talents paled in comparison. Not only does Salieri grow jealous of the younger composer’s gift, he is angry at God for giving them to such an irreverent man while he, Salieri, labors and toils “to the glory of God” and produces far less stellar work.

In the film (which is based on a legend and not exact truth) Salieri’s jealousy sours him. He stops producing music and fixates on Mozart’s destruction. He allows Mozart’s music to silence his own.

We all have that option. There are few geniuses; most of us muddle about in a state, comparatively, of mediocrity. But that shouldn’t dishearten us. It shouldn’t have disheartened Salieri.

No, he was not talented to the degree Mozart was. But what if Salieri had music only he could create? What if his abdication of his talent resulted in something being left undone that was meant to testify to some particular facet of God’s creativity and beauty? Compared to Mozart’s broader testimony, perhaps Salieri’s would have been but a sliver, but when Salieri abdicated his talents, he failed to redeem a portion of the manifestation of God lost to mankind in the Fall.

I’m extrapolating here in my application, but in trying to imitate someone else’s gift, or in failing to pursue the unique way in which God has gifted us (though it may be far less in scope and greatness than others), we “create” a lack. We “live” out and perpetuate the Fall. No, we in essence say, God is not purposeful and good. He plays favorites, and the amount of His love can be measured based on the ways He has gifted us. The cruel lie comes full circle when we believe we must earn God’s love and can do so only by exercising our talents; therefore, the lesser the talent, the less able we are to please God and “get” His approval and love.

Scripture tells us this is a lie. God honors the widow’s mite; Jesus extols the woman who anoints his feet with her tears and wipes them with her loose hair. He flat out says He chooses the weakest among humanity. The Beatitudes praise those who accept their vulnerabilities. The Gospel “works” only when we admit how greatly we need it, how completely unable we are to earn it.

So press on into your giftedness, no matter what it is. Press into it as part of God’s purpose for you, not as something you deserve, but as something He’s given so you can know and point to Him as the author of all good, of all creativity. Don’t compare your gift with others’ and don’t measure its greatness by how others react to it. Know (and remind yourself often) that since God gave the gift to you, He has purpose for it, and He is pleased when you exercise it. Your gift may not reach millions or even dozens of people. Your gift may be meant to touch only one. But to that person, your gift can be the touch of God.

There is a wonderful by-product to this: when we view and use our gifts in this way, we do not begrudge others theirs. We can rejoice. We can encourage. Salieri hurried down the road to bitter envy. We, instead, can support others in their talents. When we do this, our gifts mingle and grow, and our creativity is not only a testimony to God’s imagination but also to His love.

Early in Amadeus, when Salieri is still honored and praised as a gifted musician, Mozart listens to one of Salieri’s compositions. He immediately sits down, plays the piece from memory, critiques it, and then plays it again with his own vastly improved improvisations. Salieri’s face reveals his heart. He is shamed, and he is jealous. These are our natural reactions. But Romans tells us Christ has set us free from our natural “body of death” to think and live as redeemed people. How different might Salieri’s and Mozart’s stories have been had Salieri rejoiced in providing Mozart with an idea that Mozart was able to bring magically alive. Who knows what their partnership might have produced!

God certainly creates geniuses, people touched to create in seemingly effortless ways—it’s a little glimpse of God’s work! But the rest of us, gifted to one degree or another, in one way or another, are celebrated in Scripture as a body—working in harmony, honoring each other—especially those whose gifts are less celebrated by the world—and together providing a shimmering image of Christ.