The Reality of the Self

So I end up posting “Science, Love, and Faith Development” while simultaneously reading William Wilberforce’s “Real Christian”, and the two seem to clash rather brilliantly. Wilberforce argues at one point vehemently that the Christians of his era do not take sin seriously, and they do not take the sinful condition of man seriously. He forcefully points out the fact that man’s condition is one of depravity, and the Christian who progresses is one who takes this seriously.

So is Wilberforce right? Or is Hart right? Is spiritual growth tied to recognition and belief of oneself being depraved or belief of oneself being positive?

The answer, I believe, must be both because both are true.  I am fundamentally messed up.   I was born with sin wrapped around my little heart, and there are tendrils still choking the life out of pieces of my soul.   But no matter how much sin has marred it, I am still made in the image of God.   I am still a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, ruler of all His works.   The human person is both horribly disfigured and unbelievably wonderful at the same time.  Both are true, and therefore spiritual growth will be a continual discovery of both of these realities.

But there is a trump card.
Depravity may mean that the original perfect condition of the soul is fouled horribly.  But even that which is fouled may still be and unquestionably is loved.  A child’s beloved stuffed animal may be dirty, rubbed threadbare, so raw that the stuffing is pulled out, missing its button eyes, and discolored beyond almost any recognition, but as The Velveteen Rabbit notes, that stuffed animal may still be loved.  In fact, it may be the love itself that leaves the toy in its tattered, deplorable state.  The love remains.

An increasing realization of our depravity and sin is part of growing mature in the faith.  But so is a growing acceptance of the fact that we are loved and accepted.  Both must be held together, and, strangely, I believe that they aren’t held in tension.  The are both realities.  As we grow, we come to live in acceptance of both, remorseful for our sin but also grateful and comfortable in our belovedness.

Henry Cloud once said that there are multiple levels of the person that must be brought into relationship: the created self, the fallen self, the redeemed self, and the growing self.  To paraphrase him, we must come more and more to say, “I was okay, but now I’m not okay.  But that’s okay.  And someday it will all be okay.”

I’m not okay.  But that’s okay.   Both true.  Both of supreme importance to the Christian life.

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19 responses

  1. mike

    ….All this baggage..simply for the knowledge of good and evil….

    March 10, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  2. mike

    …”As we grow, we come to live in acceptance of both, remorseful for our sin but also grateful and comfortable in our belovedness” ….obviously there is a real and present danger of swinging too far to either side and lapsing into the extreme emphasis we’ve seen within the ‘christian’ sects throughout all of church history…Balance is not a virtue all will achieve..especially with the emotionally charged issues involving concepts and interpretations of scripture when formulating dogmas concerning right belief and the practices of christianity…A piece of “radical” advice i heard a few years ago and which still resonates with me was: The scriptures are intended to reveal and to point us to God the Father..and once we find/know Him..we can safely lay them to the side and allow His Holy Spirit to teach and guide us thus bypassing in a matter of speaking the doctrines and machinations of ambitious men….

    March 11, 2011 at 7:30 am

    • And yet, we still have this sinful corruption within us, and that corruption will draw us away from the truth, which means that we need and will always need fixed points to serve as guides and markers. Scripture is the most fixed point we have, and therefore I don’t think it’s ever safe to lay them to the side. We must come back to them repeatedly as did Joshua, the Psalmists, the Bereans, Paul and the other epistle-writers, and Christ himself.

      March 11, 2011 at 8:12 am

    • You know, something you said keeps coming back to mind, and I wonder if the Spirit is trying to tap me on the shoulder. The way you express yourself makes it sound like maybe you’ve been hurt by someone who might have been pretty dogmatic about what exactly to believe or what exactly to do. Is there something in your heart regarding this that perhaps God is trying to talk to you about?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      • mike

        …Yes..your very perceptive..and God is speaking loud and clear..but its not so much ‘hurt’ that your detecting as it is disgust..at the wolves in sheeps clothing who lead the gullible flock of God astray by clever deception and overt psychological manipulation..these self appointed preachers/pastors who are driven by their lust for power and recognition and whose only God is their ego..im angry that every new church opening its doors is just one more preachers pipe dream come true and another thick wall going up further dividing the body of Christ..yes im cynical of anyone and everyone who purports to speak for God because i see the total folly in such nonsense..im mad that christians are either too fearful-complacent or cowardly to ask themselves the really tough and ‘forbidden’ questions regarding what and why they believe as they do..so Yeah..i’ve been hurt but i will channel this hurt into an unrelenting resolve to dismantle brick by brick this facade of the American God.

        March 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      • From your last sentence, it sounds like you are very attached to that hurt and may not want relief or healing for it. What do you gain by holding on to it?

        March 12, 2011 at 7:04 am

  3. mike

    …seriously…over the course of my life ive watched as everything ive ever held and believed as sacred or idealized as godly and holy within Christendom be eventually exposed as some sort of fraud or wrought with sin in one way or another..including myself..so my cynicism is well founded being born of the life experiences that dissipate naivete and expose the defense mechanisms of denial and idealization and teach that nothing..not even devotion to God/religion can render the inherent depravity from man who will always and forever be ‘acting out’..this is a painful Truth based Reality..painful because it totally shatters the nice sanatized fairytale illusions of life with ‘Jesus in my heart’ we have been programmed to believe…so by ‘holding on to it’ i stay well grounded and immune to the enticing B.S. of the American Jesus.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    • It sounds like you’ve experienced a lot of pain and disappointment. Sin is indeed prevalent in all of us, and therefore to some extent, in any system and organization. I wonder, though, if in the process and manner of immunizing yourself against the failings you’ve been hurt by, you might not also be immunizing yourself against the true God as well.

      March 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

  4. mike

    …true God? ..i subcribe to the nicene creed..anything beyond that in my opinion is conjecture and fodder to fuel division among believers by self appointed men-o-God intent on building a legacy

    March 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

    • But in the act of pushing away all the things that have caused problems, could you be inadvertently pushing away at God Himself?

      March 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

      • mike

        …pushing God away?..no..im enjoying a deep rich communion with God now that i never thought possible before..and im so very grateful for that…my ‘problem’ isnt with God at all..im sorry if i have’nt made myself clear on that…..I Love God

        March 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      • It feels like you feel attacked, though I could be misreading things. I’m sorry if you feel like I’m assaulting you. My intent was to offer questions for reflection and prayer, not to call your beliefs into question. I feel a lot of emotion coming from you, and I know that sometimes when I feel that much emotion, it spills over into places that I don’t intend or want. I was wondering if perhaps that might be true of you as well.

        March 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

  5. mike

    …my ’emotional rants’ are reactive in nature..I feel anger and contempt toward them who would decieve those seeking God…

    March 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    • I hope your contempt doesn’t inadvertently lead you down the same kind of path that you are angry over. Where is God when you bring those kinds of emotions to Him?

      March 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

  6. mike

    …” Where is God when you bring those kinds of emotions to Him?”….i don’t understand what you mean??

    March 16, 2011 at 5:04 am

    • Do you ever talk to God about that anger? How does it seem that God responds? Does He seem nonchalant? Distant? Pleased? Saddened? Blank? How does God seem to feel about your anger and contempt toward them?

      March 16, 2011 at 7:39 am

  7. mike

    ..Matthew..its called righteous indignation…it springs forth from caring..perhaps too much..i’ve not yet reached the perspective where i can just ‘let it go’ without speaking up and confronting it head-on when i see it..but even more importantly..im not so sure i should…let me ask you..when you see the jim and tammy faye Bakkers of the world or the host of prosperity gospel preachers on T.V. siphoning off money(by using Christ’s name) from naieve followers does’nt it stir you in some way from within???

    March 16, 2011 at 9:21 am

    • Jim Bakker is an interesting choice. When I think of him, I am indeed stirred. First, with grief that he spent so much time being blown about by wrong things and potentially drawing many away. But I also feel a warmth that God was still at work in him even in the midst of all of that, and while it took losing his job, reputation, family, money, home, freedom, and very nearly his psychological stability, he learned to listen to God. I feel great compassion because I know I, too, have been very foolish and still am many times, but the Lord is patient and persistent. Jim Bakker reminds me that we’re all very frail, and that frailty leads to so much hurt, and therefore we are in great need of God’s mercy.

      But perhaps I ramble. I fear that we may not be entirely hearing one another well, and if that is the case, perhaps it’s best we bless one another and leave each other in the hands of He who is far more capable than we. May the Spirit continue His work in your heart to lead you more and more towards His design for you.

      March 17, 2011 at 6:47 am

  8. mike

    …..until another day brother

    March 17, 2011 at 8:15 am

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