Monday, November 23, 2015

Being really awful

One of the things that I find most important about Christianity is that it allows me to admit that I am a really poor excuse for a human being.  Before you leap to my defence (which was your instinct, right?) I should say that you, too, are an awful, awful person.  I'm not exaggerating.  I'm sure that you, like me, have regularly had that experience of knowing exactly the morally right thing to do, and yet doing something else altogether - sometimes without even really knowing why.  Most of the time we brush that off - just a one off, a thing that happened.  But it happens quite often, doesn't it?  And what sort of a person are you - what sort of a person am I - if I deliberately avoid the good?  Those choices don't speak well of our inner being.

It's not just ethics either.  Like me, you have all sorts of opportunities to do good, exciting, fun, significant things with your life.  Like me, I bet you don't do most of them.  Maybe out of laziness, maybe out of fear, maybe just distracted by all the nonsense with which we've filled our lives.  We've got life - actual, real life - and what's more, uniquely, we know we've got it.  What sort of people are we to waste that?

And then there's just that nagging feeling that everything isn't right between you and the universe.  I'm slightly on a limb here, because we don't talk about this stuff as much, but I'm betting that you, like me, know what it means to feel not-at-home even when you are home.  I'm guessing you know what it means to have that discomfort verging on anxiety for no apparent reason.  It's like we don't really know how to be ourselves, when it comes down to it.

We're just really awful human beings.

Now, I think I know how the secular non-Christian ought to answer this.  He or she ought to point out that we are, after all, just very advanced animals, with only a lot of luck and a little bit of achievement separating us from the rest of the beasts.  Nothing means anything, we don't mean anything.  We are, at the end of the day, only pretending to be people anyway.  The only flaw we have - if we have one - is that we perversely hold ourselves to standards of ethical behaviour and existential peace which we don't extend to badgers and wolves.

Most people don't go down this logical but chilling route.  Most people instead choose to stand their ground and assert that in actual fact they are quite good (and if they're feeling generous, they might throw in that hey, you're not so bad either, and don't be so hard on yourself...)

This is frankly ludicrous.

What a relief to admit what would surely be patently obvious to any unbiased witness, if we could only find such a one: that we are utterly bankrupt, failures in almost every respect, turning even our triumphs into burdens we cannot bear.  We are real people gone really wrong, out of step with ourselves and with all of reality.  We are colossally guilty, guilty of the greatest crimes, all of us together and without exception.

What a relief to get it out in the open.

And then -

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Anyone want to throw me out an amen?


  1. Yes. Daniel you have put words to exactly what is happening in my heart this evening - both the sense of alienation/failure/despair and then the reason why whatever happens and however unlikely he seems we just have to cling to Jesus. Thank you.

    1. Glad it was helpful, Rosie. It's not nice to know that we're awful, but I somehow suspect we all know that anyway, and hiding it doesn't make it better...