Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Gap Grows Wider

One of the concluding events for my masters degree was an extended oral discussion with three professors. I didn’t have to defend a thesis, but I did have to consider what I had learned and what it meant, and what I was going to do with it.

My seminar work was focused on the history of religion and on literature, and I had read Roman and Greek classics, the early church fathers (I fell in love with the writing of Tertullian, who was something of a heretic), writers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and writers of all periods on the subject of science. I was even able to take a seminar on the Latin American novel, opening up an entirely new world of literature for me.

I told the professors the truth – that I had started the program because I felt I certain gaps in my formal education. And now that I had finished the program, I’d discovered that the gaps had become larger, not smaller.

So it is with the word that seems to be less and less used these days, for fear of offending non-Christians and that mysterious group we call “seekers.”

The word is sin.

The older I become, the more I understand, the greater the gap seems to grow between me, my understanding of sin, and God.

I knew and understood far more about sin in my 20s than I do today. Of course, I was a whole lot smarter about everything in my 20s than I am today.

Today I see the gap; I see how wide it is. I see how short I fall. No matter what I do, I can’t bridge that gap. There are times when I feel the gap like a harsh wind in a cold place, and I think I’ll never be warm again.

Left up to me, I would be stuck in that cold place. Forever.

But this thing called grace wraps itself around me.

In The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges spends some time talking about who and what we Christians think we are and who we really are. We’re much more comfortable seeing ourselves with our own eyes. We look at the decaying culture around us, and we feel pretty good that we’re not as bad as that.

Bridges call that what it is – Christian Pharisaism. We’re like that Pharisee who was so pleased that he wasn’t as sinful as the tax collector. As for the tax collector, he understand how bad he was, and how he needed God’s mercy, even if he didn’t deserve it.

Pharisaism is about performance, and a preoccupation with performance is one of those things I’ve struggled with my entire life. I’ll probably be trying to figure out how best to cooperate with the undertaker when he places my remains in the coffin.

Preoccupation with performance is the twin of self-righteousness. It also keeps the focus where I like the focus to be – on me.

Somehow, I don’t think God is real impressed. He knows my heart. And he wants me to have the heart of that tax collector.

Even as I see the gap grow larger, the bridge across it becomes longer.


Over at Informing the Reforming, Tim Challies is leading a discussion of The Discipline of Grace. To see how people are discussing the chapter entitled “Christian Pharisaism,” please visit Tim’s site.

This post is also submitted to Bonnie Gray's rejuvenated blogging jam, with today's theme being "What I Know Now." To see more posts submitted, please visit Faith. Barista.

7 comments:

Patricia said...

I used to always blame the enemy for reminding me of past sins, but I've come to realize that when a past sin pops into my thoughts and picks at me, it just might be the Holy's Spirit's correction when I'm drifting toward pharisaism. The moment I recognize it for what it is, grace pours in, in ever increasing abundance...and I'm humbled and grateful.

Molly Huggins said...

"There are times when I feel the gap like a harsh wind in a cold place, and I think I’ll never be warm again."

Yes! Very much so. And grace, oh grace. It took me long years to have the heart of a tax collector and longer still to admit it out loud. Because being the tax collector means you have to be honest with yourself about your sin, and that to me is the biggest struggle of all.

Thanks for this.

David Rupert said...

patricia's comment really resonated. The further those sins are on the timeline, the bigger they appear in the rear view mirror. Guilt is a powerful weapon that the Enemy has. In reality, the farther I get from those wrongs, the closer I get to God -- and that should change my substance

Diana said...

Yea and amen to this. And thank you.

SimplyDarlene said...

Maybe one of your next books should be non-fiction.

Thanks for this book review.

Blessings.

Genevieve Thul said...

"Today I see the gap; I see how wide it is. I see how short I fall. No matter what I do, I can’t bridge that gap. There are times when I feel the gap like a harsh wind in a cold place, and I think I’ll never be warm again.

Left up to me, I would be stuck in that cold place. Forever.

But this thing called grace wraps itself around me."

This is beautiful, Glynn. You said, in just a few shorts phrases, what it took me pages to write to myself today. If you're interested in reading my letter, which is more along the lines of a story, click on over to my post, "one Right choice": http://www.turquoisegates.com/2012/08/one-right-choice-letter-to-my-younger.html

Thanks for this beautiful post. I agree wholeheartedly: the older I get, the more aware of the gap I become. And all the more aware and grateful for Grace.

Bonnie Gray said...

I agree with SimplyDarlene... I love how you get to the heart of the "gap" in so many things that are hard to convey. And you do it so efficiently and with quite a lot of humanity and wit. So missed being around here, Glynn. (sigh) It feels good to be here. Thanks!