Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rivers and snakes

Hey everyone!

Sorry for my blogging absence. It turns out that figuring out what to do with your life is time-consuming, and I’ve spent a couple weeks catching up at school and trying to figure out how to finish all my assignments before the semester is through, which is sooner than you’d think. I’ve got the plane ticket home – my mom is visiting me for a few days, and we’re flying back together on Apr. 18th. What I’ll do when I get there is still TBA.

Since deciding on the MDiv, I’ve felt quite peaceful with myself, and much more purposeful in my classes. Actually, more purposeful in everything. I’ve been trying to see lessons in everyday occurrences, things I can learn about myself and my gifts, and about how to be a Christian leader, how to love people more deeply. It’s refreshing to feel the momentum of this decision, even though I’m not sure exactly where I’m going. Realities are starting to sink in… how many more classes I need to take, how much it will cost, how challenging church-related jobs are, the huge responsibility that comes with teaching people about God. Generally, though, I feel like I’m growing into myself, and I love it.

I’ve been thinking about all the different streams of personality that make us who we are. Passions, interests, gifts, experiences, all running alongside each other, coming out in different ways. I like to picture myself on a rubber dingy in one of those lazy rivers at a waterpark, where there is a slow current carrying me along. (I remember my dad losing his keys in one of these lazy rivers when I was young…) There’s also several other little rivers parallel to mine, some with faster currents, some moving at a much slower rate. They intersect in some places, they twist and turn ahead, some slowing down and some picking up speed. I see my decision to do the MDiv as me grabbing my dingy, climbing out of my lazy river, and jumping into a faster stream, getting carried away along it. The slower “biology” stream is still there, still flowing, still part of me - I will always find outlets for that passion. It will still feed into whatever I teach people in ministry, and the time and money I’ve spent studying biology will never go to waste. Who knows? Maybe it will build speed further along the way - maybe in another season of life, that will be my calling. Or maybe God will delight me by joining the two streams together and forming a larger and even faster river. But basically the last month has been about God taking off my river blinders, showing me that there are fast-flowing, rushing parts of who I am that I’ve been ignoring, because my lazy river was a lot safer and less controversial and still a lot of fun. It’s been fascinating to zoom out and see all the flowing streams of who I am, and to discover that I’m much more complicated than I thought, and to remember that no matter what I do, these beautiful (and not-so-beautiful) elements will keep flowing through me, showing up as hobbies and passions and careers and interweaving their way through my life. But right now, I’m feeling this burst of exhilaration at the whitewater rapids that are carrying me along into the MDiv.

I’ve been reading some great books lately… for my Systematic Theology class, we all had to read John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ”. There is a lot about the cross that I’ve never considered in depth, even with 23 years of church, 23 seasons of Lent. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to think more about the cross- it covers a lot of ground, but it’s very readable. It’s got me thinking a lot about sin, which isn’t such a bad thing to think about during Lent. Stott says that until we realize what a big deal sin is, until we stop sauntering presumptuously up to God, we won’t experience the true joy of forgiveness or the depth of love he showed at the cross. Stott also quotes from a book by Harvey Cox called “On Not Leaving It To The Snake”. Cox’s idea is that sin is not so much rooted in pride, in wanting to be God - but instead in apathy. For Eve, this meant letting a snake tell her what to do, an animal over which God had given her dominion. She refused to be truly human; she “went with the flow” and surrendered responsibility for her actions. This is apathy and sloth. I see a lot of it in myself.

I’ve also thought about something I read last year about how we “unpersecuted” Christians in North America experience suffering, how we can still identify with passages about suffering in the Bible, like 1 Peter. We still suffer in the process of sanctification, like every Christian. Becoming holy is a painful process. Actually, sin in our lives is often more the avoidance of pain than the temptation of pleasure. We want to lie to avoid the pain honesty brings. We want to cheat to avoid a bruised reputation. We want to sin sexually to avoid the pain of deep unmet emotional and physical needs. Sometimes what I need to remember is that denying myself and taking up my cross is a defiant (and often painful) action against the apathetic, pain-avoiding ease of sin. It’s better to choose to suffer and let God sanctify me than to take the easy way out and let the snake tell me what to do. I don’t know why, but thinking about sin this way gives me more of a passion to see God destroy it in my life, it gives me an eagerness to suffer in self-denial, to refuse to give in, to experience his sanctifying work.

That's all for now - maybe later I'll tell you the story of my weekend, which I will title "The Worst and the Best Youth Retreat Ever".


christine said...

John Piper's book "The Passion of Jesus Christ" is also very moving; it gives 50 reasons why Jesus came to die. The focus isn't only on overcoming sin, but on many other aspects of abundant life that is offered at the cross. I like that it focuses on healing and redemption and not only on eradicating sin.

On the idea of Stott's book: I wonder how to approach coming to the realization that sin is such a big deal. I'm beginning to think that it's a slow process, as we discover the depth and rootedness of sin in terms of how it separates us from God and tempts us to settle for less. I can see that forgiveness and love would be a treasure in the face of sin that is that deep. For me, seeing my deeply rooted sin has come hand in hand with healing and restoration, as opposed to trying to convince myself that sin is bad or remind myself of how sinful I am.

In terms of being 'unpersecuted', we may not be in physical danger, but I would think that there is still some suffering for those who follow Jesus, maybe a different kind of suffering. Say, suffering that comes from loving a family member in vulnerability who continues to be hurtful. And we may still suffer in the process of sanctification- but could it be that sometimes sin is not the avoidance of pain, but a short term relief from pain? I think that for some, sin is committed not in emotionally distanced apathy or pain avoidance, but in an emotional, desperate cry for something deeper. In that case, choosing to suffer, be sanctified and 'take the hard road" seems a bit more challenging, a bit more out of reach. For in that place, being sanctified means first being touched deeply, being held in love, being healed by Jesus' wounds and then being redeemed.

Beth said...

Hey Chris,

Thanks for entering the discussion on sin and the cross, and pressing me on some of the things I wrote.

I didn't mean to give the impression that Stott's book was all about the cross eradicating sin. This was only the topic of one chapter out of fifteen, but it happened to be one that spoke to me. I'll have to check out Piper's book, too - sounds good!

I agree that discovering the severity and rootedness of sin is a slow process, and not something we can just glibly remind ourselves of. I think Stott's point is that we often downplay sin today, treating sins as "mistakes" or "sicknesses" or even "the way I am", and we tend to enjoy transferring blame. We sometimes picturing an easygoing God who tolerates our slip-ups. The realization that God is actually holy, a bright light, a consuming fire, who cannot tolerate the presence of sin - this is something Stott says we have to return to. Yes, this realization leads to healing and restoration, but I think Stott would argue that in the Protestant church today, we rush too quickly to this stage without letting the depth of our need "sink in". As long as we're not wallowing hopelessly in guilt, I think reminding ourselves of the depth of our sin and the holiness of God is a healthy thing, and something maybe the Catholics have understood better than us.

I appreciate you pointing out another way we all suffer as Christians - in vulnerable love. And I also agree that like you say, sin isn't the avoidance of pain, it never actually succeeds in avoiding it, only in relieving it for a short time, since God is the one thing that can satisfy our deep hurts and desires. And I don't mean to imply that "taking the hard road" is something we do ourselves, easily - you're right, it comes out of being held in Christ's love and redeemed, especially in times of deep hurt. But we have to want to be redeemed, held and touched - God doesn't force this on us - this is what I'm talking about with the "defiance". We have to turn from the option of easy short-term relief, realizing that it won't satisfy. This brings us to the place of brokenness where Christ can sanctify and heal us. And it's this "wanting to" that this view of suffering instead of sin helps me with.

p.s. Man, good stuff! Carey won't be disappointed.

christine said...

Here I am again.

I can agree with Stott's point that we treat sin lightly, as mistakes, and that we may see God as easygoing. I wonder if that view is maybe a symptom of something bigger for us, of our society. Maybe as a people we've become too comfortable with skimming the surface of God (and the christian life), by accepting preliminary niceties (like not going to hell, having a group of friends who like us, going to church on Sunday)- and then we stop. So that we never dive in to who God says He is, which would include his intolerance of sin, among other things. I know that was a loaded sentence, but I won't unpack it here. And then we're also comfortable skimming the surface of ourselves. We know our likes and dislikes, and maybe that we keep getting stuck in the same rut or have a sin tendency, but we never face ourselves honestly enough to feel the weight and severity of our sin, and other things, maybe the weight of glory too. If we committed to knowing God for who he says he is, and knowing ourselves for who he says we are, would we still be so glib and complacent about sin? Could we avoid it even, if we knew let ourselves feel hopelessness until he came to give hope?

My other comment about taking the hard road by choice stems out of the above question of sin too. If we treat sin lightly, and only see it as something to be eradicated, then we never admit or face the deep hurts and desires that lie beneath our sin. We spend time trying to stop sinning or change our behavior without ever voicing the longings underneath. And if we don't face ourselves either, we'll never admit that we need a deep remedy for sin, someone to accept our longing and offer a way out.

Beth said...


I must say, I agree totally and completely. It's all about knowing ourselves and God, and, I suppose, knowing our Bibles, because that's where we find out who we are and who God is. I like how you put it, too, with "skimming the surface".

Amaris said...


Thanks for posting these thoughts. I thought the idea of Eve's sin being apathy, laziness, the ease of giving in rather than living out what it means to be human with all its privilege and responsibility was really striking.

The sins we do to avoid pain... In oh-so-many ways we break the two greatest commandments because love is painful. I don't stop to spend time with someone in need because it might cost me. I don't share the gospel truth when I should because of what someone might think of me. Love in those cases could be painful. Would that I - we - had the courage to bear that pain, we who follow the "man of sorrows, familiar with suffering."

You mention feeling that we as Protestants move too quickly from realization of sin to its forgiveness. For some time, I have felt the same way about Good Friday and Easter. We as Protestants miss out on what it really means that Jesus-God joins us in suffering. Dies. We know the end of the story and so we miss part of its meaning.

I am not sure but that the two are connected. Good Friday, after all, is the price for the sin we want to avoid thinking about. It is a reminder of the weakness and frailty behind the sin. And Easter is the victory, the forgiveness. We need both, yes, but we need BOTH. Some thoughts this Lenten season as we approach Holy Week.


Amaris said...

Oh, and I forgot to say that one of the things I have learned this year is how when we refuse to acknowledge our own sin, we cut ourselves off from the gospel. That is, if I have no sin that needs forgiveness, I have no need of a gospel of grace. It is so simple, yet, in my habitual self-justification, so easy easy to fall into denying my own sin. That seemed to connect with your thoughts on acknowledging, truly and deeply acknowledging sin.

Beth said...


Thanks for your thoughts, especially with Holy Week coming. I look forward to seeing you when you come visit next week!