Monday, May 9, 2016

Can we get beyond egocentrism?

Laid behind a stone,
You lived to die
Rejected and alone.
Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.
[from "Above All," by Michael W. Smith]

Those words come from quite a pretty song.  I always find myself blindsided by it, because it has a lovely melody and it starts out really well.  Then it ends:

Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.

Theologically, I am not sure where this idea comes from.  Jesus thought of me, above all?  It is a very romantic and sentimental thought, but it may not be rooted in scripture.  Jesus died because God loved the world and desired to restore His people to fellowship with Himself.  Jesus died for the salvation of men and for the glory of the Father.  This was an inconceivably gracious and obedient act.  I am overwhelmed at His goodness, His mercy and His love.  And yes, He loves me.  I am a part of this great salvation that He provided; I am a recipient, saved by grace.

But I do not think it is right to say that He thought of me above all.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you."
~John 17:1 (ESV)

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)  

I think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus thought of His Father's will and His Father's glory above all.  That was the overarching thing, and by some great mystery of grace, God's glory increases through my salvation, which brings Him joy.  I receive the benefit from His glory in a most amazing way.  You can, too.  He did not think of me above you, nor of you above me.  He thought of His Father above all.  The miracle is that what brings God the most glory brings us the most good, because He is God--holy and unique--and the things that glorify Him send ripples of divine blessing out over all creation. 

To say that Jesus thought of me, above all, as He poured out his blood on Calvary to satisfy the justice of God, seems egocentric.  How can we, as believers in the fully effective work of Christ, be egocentric?  Christianity is about not being egocentric.  Christianity is learning to die to our self-focus and self-interest.  The point of Christianity is that we are freed from self-absorption, which always leads to misery, and we are turned towards the face of the God, where we find perfect love and life and joy.

In a similar vein, I have heard it taught that, "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus still would have died for you.  He loves you that much.  You alone are worth all of His grace."  This statement baffles me.  It is completely moot.  I am not the only person on earth.  God's goal from before the beginning of time was to purify a people for Himself.  People.  That's plural.

Yes, God loves me.  God knows me by name.  He keeps a record of my tears, and He knows each hair that falls from my head.  He is fully aware of every word I speak, even before I speak it.  He has a plan for my life, and specific jobs (good deeds) that He has prepared in advance for me to do.  He knows when I stand and when I sit down.  He watches over my coming and going both now and forever.  He is with me, will never leave me nor forsake me.  Here's the truly remarkable, miraculous thing:  God is not just obsessed with me.  God has this kind of zeal for each one of His people, every single one.  He loves all of us, from every nation, tongue and tribe.  He has a plurality of love that far exceeds anything we can imagine.  When He spoke to Abram about the promised Messiah, ages and ages ago, He said, "Through your seed, all the families of the earth will be blessed."  The point, the beauty, the amazing thing is that there is a Divine Being who can love with that depth, power and attention to detail on such a vast scale.  It's not about me.  It's about God.

Conversely, a different idea is true.  If God were the only thing in heaven, it would still be wonderful and surpass our wildest hopes and dreams.  He is everything.  He is all.  He is truth, beauty, life, light, joy and goodness.  He is love.

If I were to get to heaven, and the only thing there was the Lord, He alone would be abundantly more than I need for my eternal fulfillment.  This is hard to understand, because it is hard to grasp the concept of God.  Actually, it is probably impossible to grasp the concept of God; all we can do is try to ponder His attributes as best we can.  But I know and believe that God is far more satisfying than any jewels, or streets of gold, or perfect sunsets, or heavenly harp music, or even precious family relationships.

Sometimes I can get to fretting about who may or may not be in Heaven.  Sometimes I wonder if I can be happy if certain ones whom I love don't arrive there.  Surely, it will be wonderful to be reunited with loved ones in our promised eternal home, but this is not the Great Hope.  This is not the Ultimate Reward.  The Great Hope, the Ultimate Reward, is the unveiled presence of God in all His glory.

When we are with God in Heaven, nothing else will matter.  When we are with God in Heaven, we will live in unending joy and peace.  We aren't going to miss anybody at that point.  It's going to be okay.  We will be with Jesus!

We still need to testify to the goodness of the Lord.  We need to speak of His grace, His love, His salvation.  We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to convict and enlighten.  We need to pour out our lives for the salvation of the lost.  What does that even mean?  We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in love, demonstrating the grace of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in whatever ways He shows us, ways we probably could not even imagine on our own.

When we learn to be channels for the Holy Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, to abide in Him, to truly offer our bodies as living sacrifices, then we will become instruments in the Father's hands, instruments He uses to accomplish His salvation for His people.  He will use us, and it will be glorious, and there will be no regrets.

No regrets.


Anonymous said...

So Much YES! I have always thought that about this particular song. I really Love the melody and the lyrics of the first verse..however, I've always been a little queasy about that last line of the chorus. Its not dissimilar to the over quoted line, "When He was on the cross, You were on His mind".. well yes, in the general sense that omniscience presupposes that ALL things are on his mind at all times. Someday, I'll have to do some historical study of the when and how of the introduction of this level of egocentrism into the church.. love reading your blog -- Rich

Ruthie said...

Hi Rich. Thanks for reading!

J.I. Packer wrote about this in an introduction to a book by John Owen. You can check out what he said here:

Here's a quote from the above link (it's a long article) -- "The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed."

Also, if you are doing historical research on this phenomenon, check out Tim Keller's "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering," Part 1, which discusses a history of different religions and philosophies, and the rise of the "Immanent Frame" and the "Buffered Self." Keller writes, "If you believe that the world was made for our benefit by God, then horrendous suffering and evil will shake your understanding of life" (p.56).