Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Imperfect Past

It's been a heck of a few weeks. We just moved into a new townhouse, which, while only a mile or so from our old apartment and very nice, still requires going through the whole moving "thing". Boxes like Tribbles take over your dwelling and you experience a radical sense of disconnect and disquiet in your life. The move went well and we were getting back to a semblance of routine and Memorial weekend hit. Not only was there a funeral of a dearly loved member of church (who had died suddenly), but an election for a new bishop, as well as the requisite BBQ on Monday. Just a crazy handful of days.

All this is to point me to the fact that we are creatures who are forced to remember. We are rooted in the past. Who we are today - with all our "issues", fears, shortcomings, and even joys - are almost entirely the product of our past. It is the unavoidable reality of life that the present is always flying past us into the past (the present is always becoming the past), and we are irrevocably people of the past. Never mind what Garth says ("live in the now!" - Wayne's World), everything we deal with, or rather, how we deal with everything, is phenomenally dependent on what happened in our past.

Furthermore, very few people that I meet who are "dealing" with stuff in the present, have difficulties and challenges in dealing because they had such a wonderful high school graduation. Or really enjoyed their cotton candy at a beautiful day at the zoo in fourth grade. Just about everyone I know (including myself) who is struggling to deal with something in the now is struggling not because of a positive thing from their past but a negative.

We are creatures formed and sculpted by the past. But we are creatures who are undeniably formed particularly by the negative things in our past. Not 100% shaped by the negative, but without a doubt upper 90s%. Why do some women fear and even hate men? Not because of a positive thing from their past, but a negative. Why do some people have a really hard time opening up in a relationship? Not because of positive things in their past but negative - a bad breakup/rejection in high school, or perhaps experiencing a divorce in the family.

For God to be Gospel he has to be able to impact us not just today but also yesterday (and tomorrow too for that matter, but for now I'm not going to focus on the future aspects of the Gospel, but the past). Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). If I was meeting with someone who was struggling with something and they were bearing their soul and I were to respond, "I hear what your saying, that's really heavy. Let me ask you this: have you tried being perfect? Why don't you go home today and try being perfect for the next few days and see what that does for your situation." If you were that person you'd want to slap me, wouldn't you?!

The reason being is that the demand to be perfect, whether from counselors, friends, or even God, does not do anything to help you in a season of distress. If anything, all it does is crush your soul. And we all know this because our pasts are littered with the strewn carcasses of our failure to be perfect. Our pasts are searing indications of our imperfection. When Jesus says, "Be perfect," it is not a suggestion, nor hyperbole for literary effect or shock value, but the simple truth. The righteous demands of God in our lives are simply summed up in the demand: Be Perfect. In the end, however, this demand only crushes us, it does not inspire. We can fake ourselves into being inspired, but that only prolongs the inevitable.

What the crushing weight of "Be Perfect" does to us is forces us to cry for a savior. In the face of my history of imperfection I am forced to cry out "Save me!" Save me from my past, from my failures, from myself. Your past, when truly remembered, experienced, and exposed, will force you to either lie (to yourself and others) or to cry "Mercy!"

Incidentally, the only person who could take that demand and say, "yes" is the one who said it: Jesus. And it is Jesus, the Perfect one, who ends up loving the imperfect and also dying for their imperfections. And what happens when you trust this radical truth? When you remember your failures, you will not only see them for what they are, but you will also see him. The pain and frustration don't necessarily go away, but under the cool shadow of the cross, something else becomes present in our past - peace, and love. The sense of fear or loss or sorrow doesn't evaporate, but rather something covers it over like a balm, so that when you revisit those emotions and memories, the sting is not as sharp.

This is a taste of the peace which passes all understanding. When an utter Failure finds they are loved by the complete Success, that is called grace, and grace heals. Grace soothes, and by the power of Jesus' own Spirit, grace changes. That is why when Christians remember, they don't just remember their failures (like in a worship service during the confession), but they go way back to remember the Cross where the righteous died for the unrighteous, so that the negative, formative failures of the past might be mended by undaunted love..."love to the loveless shown that they might lovelier be".

Mike, we love you and we miss you but you are with Christ, which is better by far.

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