Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Shattered Box--Pride and its Lies, a Confession

I am a judgmental person--criticism of myself and others is my default setting. What is the root of this critical nature? Pride, arrogance, vanity--my heart is truly a factory of idols.

However, one thing that I have learned is that anything, in the "right light," can be twisted from a vice into a virtue--instead of wrestling with my critical nature, I have found ways to use it as an asset. I'm not judgmental, I'm a 'problem solver.' I only judge others because I want to help them--or so I have often lied to myself.

There is no better place to masquerade the sin of pride as a virtue than in the Ivory Tower (followed closely by the church). We are taught in the academy to read critically, to deconstruct people's arguments, to analyze and review. Within the ivy covered walls, this is not just tolerated but expected--however, like many things, those trained with this outlook often take their tools undiscerningly out into the world with them.

Where is the recycling bin?
I am guilty of putting people in boxes, of trying to define them. Oftentimes I will evaluate a person based on their worldview, where they studied, what authors they are reading, their political views, etc. Once I have determined a person's pedigree, I can then decide whether their opinions are worth listening to or not--what a wretched man that I am, appointing value to people so arrogantly; despite espousing the view that all people are created in the image of God. I am guilty diminished their dignity by deriving it based on superficial things. Unsurprisingly, I found myself doing this with my professors in graduate school.

Professor A's views on women in ministry put him in this box, Professor B's views on the authority of scripture put him in that box. I have to listen closely to professor A, I agree with him on this position, so he must be worth listening to on others. I disagree with Professor B on this that issue, so everything he teaches must be suspect.

I only realized what I was doing when I met a professor who I couldn't put into a box, Jerry Root (Wheaton Graduate Chapel Video). He is a self-proclaimed five-point Calvinist Quaker, and according to him, the only one in existence. I found myself in sharp disagreement with him on some issues, but in the 'Amen Corner' on others. It was quite jarring. I wanted him to fit into the boxes I was making, but every time I thought that I had defined him, he would punch out a wall. Jerry Root is what I needed--he was a grace from the Lord to me, because he exposed this area of atrophy in my heart towards others.

This was one of the most significant formative realizations in my graduate studies. I realized that I had been partisan, a band-wagon theologian who was unwilling--probably even scared to deal with those of differing opinions. Studying under professors that have significantly different worldviews was easy while at a secular university as an undergrad--but I was unprepared to deal with someone who so clearly loved Jesus and yet was juxtaposed against my clean, well-ordered theology.

It is a lesson I am still learning. I enjoy reading books by authors that I agree with (or should agree with). I can even read books by those that have significantly different views than mine--where I have trouble though, is reading the views of those that are similar to mine, but different in significant ways.

One of these men, someone I hope to treat in more detail in a future article is the 20th century Japanese Christian thinker Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960). When I read about his life and ministry I see someone who is deeply in love with Jesus, someone clearly anointed by the Holy Spirit--passionate about evangelism and caring for others. He wanted others to know about the Father's love for them--however, his means and methods of going about this were significantly different than what I would have advocated, or even been comfortable with considering.

Kagawa, Toyohiko
Kagawa was a social activist, labor organizer, agriculturalist, social worker, counselor--he was the friend of the poor, the 'Saint of the Slums.' He was an avowed Socialist--he believed it was the Christian's responsibility to leverage all means to alleviate human suffering (both physical and spiritual). He was a pacifist, in his lifetime compared glowingly with Mahatma Gandhi, and because of his labor activism, socialist political ideals and anti-war stances he was both reviled and revered by the Japanese government and people.

Kagawa was a man of action, he put his beliefs into action in ways that I would never have considered--whether through land reform, establishing credit unions and cooperative ventures, by advocating what he called 'Brotherhood Economics,' all the while telling people of God's love for them, and at the same time demonstrating it, by living in their midst, in the slums. He lived for many years in a 6x15 foot house in the slums of Kobe, with no ventilation or light except through the front door--which he shared with a mentally ill man and a recently released criminal.

Disease, filth, hardship, prison, hunger--these were his food. He willingly left the Ivory Tower (Princeton in his case) and went into the darkest of slums. He suffered along with those he loved so much, because he loved God that much. He was motivated by his love for God to love with an abandon that the world rarely seen--and the world was not worthy of him.

My Christian walk seems incredibly comfortable and clean in comparison. Rather than being friends with God, I have been content to be a friend of the world. To parade my pride around as a virtue--but it must, like all my sin and selfishness be crucified with Christ. As Jesus said, 'If anyone would be my disciple, he must daily take up his cross and follow me.'

The Cross of Jesus is the sledge hammer that breaks the boxes that we put ourselves and others in. He calls us to awaken, to open our eyes to see ourselves and reality as it truly is. To see others with the dignity and worth that God gave them in creation. To let him be Lord and become channels of his love to this broken world. The answer for suffering in this world was God suffering on our behalf--the ability to love, renew, reconcile is found in the love of God living through his people.

My good works are filthy rags before the immense sacrifice displayed on the Cross. Kagawa had a way of either drawing men or driving them away, much like Jesus, whose presence changes those that he is with--who draws a line in the sand. In Kagawa I have seen Jesus' love and the need for radical discipleship much more clearly.

I am such a small, selfish, petty man--may my boasting be in the Cross of Jesus; and by his grace may I become more like him.

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