When I arrived at college, I became aware of a concept called yellow pencils, meaning we were expected to conform to certain standards, even to look, act and talk alike. But one of the interesting things about humanity is each of us is different. That’s saying a lot as there are almost eight billion of us on this planet. Our fingerprints, voices, DNA – every one of us is unique. We students obviously weren’t the same and some even seemed to take delight in their non-conformity. God must appreciate our individuality as he designed us that way. His expectation has never been for us to be yellow pencils.
It stands to reason then, that he wouldn’t expect all Christians to be the same either. Perhaps, as a friend once said, Jesus shows a different aspect of himself in each of us. He is so complex and multi-faceted, he could let each of us reflect a unique part of him so when we are together and unified as a body, we collectively reflect Jesus.
We talk about celebrating our differences but sometimes we still hang onto the yellow pencil effect, I guess because it can feel safer. But we really do need to appreciate not just our uniqueness, but the unique reflections of Jesus in each other.
“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden” (Johann Wolfgang von Geothe).
This has always been one of my favorite quotations. I found it when I was a teenager and had romantic notions about what it meant. I still like it but now I see it from a different perspective. Jesus is the only one who truly thinks and feels with us and because of his Spirit, the inhabited garden of earth is full of brothers and sisters in Christ and angel helpers.
Sometimes I think I should stop reading devotionals, but then I might not have so much to write about. I’m constantly surprised, although maybe I shouldn’t be, at the statements some authors make about God, with seemingly no thought as to how they portray God. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt but can’t help commenting.
I recently read an article about putting Jesus first. Overall, it was good and had valid points, until I got to the part where the author said, “Jesus demands and deserves to be the first love in our lives.” He certainly deserves first place, but does he demand it? That doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know is a loving shepherd who leads me beside still waters, makes me lie down in green pastures and restores my soul. When I’m tired and stressed, he leads me into his rest; his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
And yes, the great command is to love God, but not before he loves us, and not because he demands it of us. A human lover who demands to be loved is usually considered somewhat mental. And God isn’t like us. Rather than demanding love, he loves us into loving him. He loves us into being first in our hearts and minds, the center of our lives and the focal point of all our hopes and dreams. With that kind of love, we can’t help putting him first in our attentions and affections.
We human beings have a lot of strange ideas about God, including:
He wants to be praised and adored (big ego);
He becomes quite put out when people don’t obey him;
He has temper tantrums, bringing death and destruction to those who wrong him;
He watches everyone and everything, tallying offenses and keeping track of who obeys;
He rarely gets involved in human matters, lets most prayers go unanswered and doesn’t seem to be bothered by human suffering;
He’s a bit fickle and can change his mind for no apparent reason.
If these traits seem familiar, just think back to stories of ancient Greek and Roman gods. We still suffer under their delusions and superstitions. But God isn’t like this. We need to be on guard against these old ideas that still contaminate our view of him and his love, mercy and grace. We even need to be careful when reading the Bible, that we don’t interpret it through mythological lenses. Let only Jesus reveal the Father, not old stories and half-truths.
We all deal with problems differently. Some internalize, some vocalize, some throw things. Some shrug their shoulders and say, whatever. I rarely use that term as I’ve realized it’s not healthy for me. It feels like a cop-out and doesn’t make me feel better. If it’s directed at a person, it can be dismissive. Whatever; just go away and don’t bother me.
In a book of interview transcripts published by Grace Communion International, Trinitarian Conversations, Volume 1: Interviews with Twelve Theologians (You’re Included), Gerrit Dawson referred to this statement from a sermon by John Calvin: “This world is filled with troubles and the devils assault us at every moment, but what of it? Christ Jesus reigns in heaven and sends me his power now. This world is full of temptations and often I am weak, but what of it? Christ is in heaven and he is strong and he is strong on my behalf.”
Dawson commented: “I think when we realize that we can replace the ‘whatever’ (what people like to say to detach from something they don’t like that happens to them) or even the crushingness of life with the ‘what of it? No matter what is thrown my way, Christ reigns and he holds me, then I know at the deepest levels all is well and all will be well.’”
This is a good reminder to turn to Jesus instead of detaching or checking out of life. Saying what of it in difficult circumstances helps me remain unfazed as I stay in the loving embrace of Jesus.