Due to combination of busyness and laziness, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. We’ve been talking about slaying the dragons of doubt. I’ve been emphasizing that for the sake of honesty and integrity it’s important not to cover up our doubts or pretend to believe things we don’t really believe but to be brutally honest with ourselves and with God. That might feel awkward but God can take it. And in the long run, it’s a path to a more robust and assured faith.
So today and I want to make it clear that I’m not just talking about faith in God in general. I’m talking about faith in the Triune God of the Bible. And in order to have faith in that God, you need to understand and embrace the logic of the gospel. And the starting point is this: recognizing your need for a Savior. About 10 years ago I was speaking with an Asian woman. She was quiet and kind and an exceptionally intelligent medical professional. A “good” person if ever there was one. But here’s the thing: there never was one. I told her that and she disagreed. And not just in theory. Most people go with abstract references to Gandhi and Mother Theresa. But not this woman.
I told her about the gospel and Jesus Christ and explained to her the logic of the gospel: we are sinners and have failed to live up to God’s standard and therefore we need a Savior—someone to clean up the mess that we’ve made because of our sins.
And so in the course of the conversation I said to her, “You know how however hard we try, we just never quite live up to our own standards of what’s good and right? How we sometimes let ourselves down and make a mess of things? And we get that nagging feeling that not only is all not right in the world but all isn’t even right in our own hearts?”
- Her: “No.”
- Me: confused look.
- Me trying again: “Okay, well think of a time when you did something that you knew was wrong. The Bible calls that sin. Have you ever done anything like that?”
- Her: “No.”
- Me: “What? You’ve never sinned or done anything wrong in your life?”
- Her: “No.”
Now keep in mind, this woman wasn’t belligerent or defiant. She was just as confused at the way that the conversation was going as I was. She just really didn’t think she had done anything wrong. Ever. So why should she need a Savior? She didn’t need to be saved from anything. In some ways, though it sounds a little backward, a good starting point for faith in the God of the Bible is to start with myself and my own situation. Unlike this woman I was speaking with, I don’t need to be convinced that my heart can be an ugly place and I’ve made a royal mess of things on more than one occasion. And it is not at all hard for me to believe I am in need of some sort of heroic, Godlike, Savior to bail me out of this mess and wash my dirty heart clean. I feel that in my bones.
Of course, feeling my depravity in my bones doesn’t mean that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. (More on that later.) But on the other hand, if I don’t feel my own depravity, then the gospel has nothing whatsoever to offer me—even if it is true. For someone who thinks that they’ve never sinned or fallen short of God’s standard, well then even if Jesus did die for the sins of the world and rise again from the dead, that has no bearing or relevance to their life whatsoever. That person doesn’t need a Savior. They have rejected the logic of the gospel on the very first point.
I don’t personally think of hell as a place of physical torture or suffering (more on that can worms in a later post). I do think of it as a real place. A place of self-chosen exile from God. Hell is the place where God is not. And therefore hell is a place devoid of love. And that’s pretty hellish. And sometimes I tremble to think that hell will populated not so much by the crazy-evil types that we typically think of (insert your own evil figure from history) although some of those types will surely be there. But perhaps the more common citizen of hell will be the person who was drowning but just refused to admit it.
- “Excuse me. I see that you’re drowning. Can I offer you a hand?”
- “Drowning? You call this drowning? I’m not drowning. I’m swimming.”
- “Yeah, but you’re sinking.”
- “By choice”
- “But you won’t make it unless you let me help you.”
- “Says you. I’m perfectly fine and I don’t need your help.”
- “Okay, suit yourself. Your will be done.”
Now imagine that conversation stretching on for all of eternity. That’s hell. The stubborn eternal refusal to admit one’s own depravity and need for a divine Savior.
My point here is that the existential angst that I feel over the darkness of my own heart functions as a helpful entryway into the logic and truth of the gospel. Ironically, it’s not some philosophical argument for the existence of God or some fancy archeological argument about the truth of Scriptures but my own sin that helps convince me of the truth of the gospel. And for anyone who doesn’t admit to feeling that in themselves, well, in all honesty, the gospel has nothing to say to you. Not yet anyways.