Monday, March 23, 2015

To be good

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 5.23-5).

These days I find myself quite tired -- not just physically, but also spiritually. The ceaseless conflicts ongoing at my church, disappointments and frustrations with persons close to me, and an unending awareness of my own shortcomings and faults and vices are weighing down upon my spirit. I am getting tired of seeing the same old life in the flesh, to speak theologically, the same old life of vice and sin.

Christian existence ought not be like this. It shouldn't be "the same old" every week. Paul told the Ephesians that the very substance of the teaching they received when they were evangelized was this: put away your old identities and become new people in light of the salvation of Christ. Your whole way of life and identity must be transformed, so that you are renewed and remade in the image and likeness of God. You are supposed to be like God in the world.

And what is God like? This how God manifests himself in us through the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5.22-3); pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy (Jas 3.17). We are like God when we exhibit these traits, and yet these traits are most often missing from my church experience, as well as in my own life.

I think the existence of God would be clearer to many if those who believed in him actually spent time in fellowship with him. Plotinus once said, Without virtue God is just a word. That is exactly right. If God himself has broken into the world and changed things from the very root, then this ought to manifest itself in the way you and I live, who claim to know this God. I have to be different.

But I'm not going to become different by making efforts on my own power, as if I could prove God's power through my own. I must commune with God, enjoy fellowship with God, be with God -- then the presence of God will transform me.

At the end of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, the whiskey priest has a brilliant realization, just as he is staring death in the face. To be saint -- that's what truly mattered. And it wouldn't have been that hard to do, he realizes in retrospect. Saying "No" here, refusing that offer, spending more time in prayer, whatever it may have been.

That's how I feel, too. To be a saint, to be truly good -- that is what truly matters. And it can't be that hard.