Monday, December 17, 2007

Grace and Love

Some interesting questions came up when I was talking with some friends last weekend. The biggest of these questions was, "Why do people love each other?" While that's a good question, a better question was found in the thought that the big question sprang from: "I'm a terrible person . . . I have so many flaws, I fail so often . . . I'm just all-around inadequate. Knowing how horrid I actually am, why would anyone love me?"

It's a question we've probably all asked at one time or another . . . some of us with more frequency and a greater sense of self-doubt than others. It's a question that I've struggled with for years. I've done some pretty terrible things . . . heck, I DO some pretty terrible things on a fairly regular basis. There are days when I'm pretty convinced that if people had any idea how often and how far I fall, they would run as fast as they could in the opposite direction.

It's interesting how hearing someone else ask the question in your own heart can help you get a little bit closer to an answer.

Here's the thing . . . I don't know that love needs to make sense. In fact, if love made sense, it probably wouldn't be love, because love is such a reflection of God's character, and God's character is not something we can ever hope to fully grasp. I can't exactly explain why I love anyone; I just do. Love isn't dependent upon merit. Love acknowledges flaws and emphasizes strengths. Unless it's love for God, love isn't something that's ever really deserved. It's just given.

When it comes down to it, rejecting the love of another person because you think you don't deserve it really amounts to 1) accusing that person of being an idiot and 2) throwing something wonderful that they're offering freely back in their face. It ultimately comes down to a question of whether you believe that God knew what He was doing when He saved you. If He did, then you must have a great deal of worth, regardless of your ability to see it.

Granted, it's a lot easier to say that than it is to take it to heart. I know it, I believe it . . . but can I accept it?

I believe that one of Satan's strongest lies is that beating ourselves up over our failures will somehow make up for them. It's ingrained in us as human beings—all across time and culture, sacrifice of some sort has been the common answer to the problem of human failure. I actually did a project about the concept in my AP Psych class my senior year of high school, which culminated in what may be my best (and certainly my most morbid) artistic endeavors:

Here's the thing. Yes, we need to acknowledge when we've messed up. We need to realize that we're flawed individuals in need of a Savior. But continually beating ourselves up over past mistakes is wrong. That Savior that we so desperately need already came in the form of Jesus Christ. He's already paid the price for our failures. Clinging to those failures is the moral equivalent of slapping Christ in the face and saying His sacrifice wasn't good enough.

Last week in one of my psych classes we talked about forgiveness. My professor told us that there are three kinds of forgiveness, and that all three are important: forgiveness of others, forgiveness of circumstance, and forgiveness of self. Forgiveness isn't forgetting. Forgiveness isn't pretending that what happened was right. Forgiveness is realizing that dwelling on what happened isn't going to make it go away. Forgiveness of self is realizing that the fact that you fail doesn't make you a failure—it makes you human. It's looking at failure as an opportunity for improvement rather than a reason to develop a self-depreciating attitude.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Romans 6:17-18

If we have accepted Christ's gift of salvation, that means that we're not slaves to sin anymore. It doesn't mean that we never fail anymore, but it means that our failures don't own us any longer! Christ died on the cross so that sinful people like us could be free, not so that we could keep going around beating up on ourselves for what we've done wrong. He made the ultimate sacrifice so that we don't have to. Too often we try to complicate God's gift of grace. We try to make it all about us, when really, it isn't dependent on us at all. By saving us, God brings glory to Himself. Because really, what could be greater evidence of His glory than the gift of eternal life that He offers to us freely?