Wednesday, July 4, 2012
I think I wrote one of my best posts ever a couple of years ago, when I wrote the one titled: Sin and Disappointment. I read it again today, because I felt compelled to write on the topic once more. I wrote then of an innocent sin, and the disappointing of parents’ expectations --- and of shame. Those three things: expectations, sin and shame, necessarily belong together, so as to create a healthy --- and indeed Christian --- mental outlook on life. Sadly, we not only have disconnected them in our culture, we don’t even know what the words mean anymore.
I think part of the problem is that we’ve become stupider. We have the capability now to satisfy our every whim of interest; knowledge is at our fingertips on the web. And if we think something interesting enough to comment about, we tweet, blog, or post to Facebook, and we get almost instant reactions --- others think what we say is interesting. And then we go on to something else, to interest ourselves or project ourselves to others as being “important” enough to notice. But most of our tweets and responses are merely quick reactions, no different than when we jump when we hear a loud bang. They are instantaneous, and without thinking. Now, human reactions are not a bad thing, but truly human reactions should not be the same as any other animal’s reactions. We can think and reason.
As we live our lives, we should be gaining knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom. To do so requires lots of information, but not just willy-nilly facts, but a set of data which we can reason on and connect. We can make sense of our knowledge, and if we gain good knowledge and instill it in our being, “becoming good,” then our human reactions can be good reactions. So, for example, if we see someone hurting we can instinctively seek to help and comfort them, and not to take a picture to post for our “friends.” We need to develop this good knowledge, and most of us get a very good start in making this happen.
Our parents and God taught us as we were growing up; they gave us certain expectations of our behavior, and they defined them as good. And they let us know that if we failed in their expectations of us, they would be sad. And when we failed them, we felt shame because one thing which almost all humans did learn and take to heart early in life is that they don’t want to make their parents sad. And Christians learned that they don’t want to make God sad. And so disappointing them, sinning, caused us shame. And that was a good human reaction, for it gave us resolve to not disappoint or sin again.
But even if we were blessed to have these expectations instilled in us early in life, something we knew so well and intimately can get covered over and forgotten, if we don’t seek to build on it, to grow in our knowledge of what is good. I think with our newfound capabilities to flitter around to satisfy our every interest, we’ve lessened our capability to remain focused on something, or to build additional knowledge, because “we already know that,” and instead seek to know something else. What were once important expectations of our parents or God, deeply held in our hearts, became replaced by expectations of our “friends.” Ever so subtly, our focus changed from not disappointing our parents or God, to not disappointing our friends, or in truth, not disappointing ourselves. Keeping our parents and God happy became secondary to keeping ourselves happy. Good or bad was not judged by what they felt, but what we felt about something. And the dissatisfaction and shame we felt at not living up to their expectations went away. And so when we sinned, we felt no shame, and therefore had no reason to stop sinning --- because we were doing something important to us, and that’s all that mattered.
And what a disappointment that must be to God.
From time to time I’ve thought about my judgment day, when I stand before God. Usually I thought of it as a serious time, and perhaps even a long time, as we look over my life and how I’ve done. And in thinking on it, maybe I ask myself the question: “Will He be disappointed?” Recently, though, I thought that the encounter might be different. Perhaps God is as busy as we seem to be, and so His reaction to our presence might be a flippant “You’re in” or “You’re out,” a split second response. I guess I could accept such a prompt judgment; I certainly couldn’t argue with it.
But then I thought about another possible reaction of His: “You here already?” He made us for a purpose; He set before us something to do with our life; and He has an expectation that we will succeed, but perhaps we might not. But what if He looks at us on Judgment Day and says: “You didn’t fail, and you didn’t succeed either --- because you didn’t even try.” What a disappointment that would be for Him, I expect. He did everything for us, set us up for success, but we chose to ignore all He taught us. We chose to not understand it; we chose to not seek to learn what was His will; we chose to be concerned only with our will. His happiness mattered not, only our own. He would be disappointed, and sadly, we wouldn’t even feel shame.
My words to God often are “I trust in you.” I think those are His words back to us. He won’t disappoint us, but we can disappoint Him. Somehow, that seems like it gives us some power over God, and maybe in our hearts that is what we want. Through His death, Jesus gave us to power to enter into eternal life, His life, to become part of God’s body. Through some distortion of our self-worth, we want Him to become part of OUR life, ratifying our decisions with His blessings. In Genesis it says that God looked down on all He created and said it was good. I think many of us want to look down on all we want to do and say the same thing. When our focus is on our happiness alone, we want to be like gods.
Narcissism. My browser thesaurus offers me definitions of “self-importance, egotism, and self-absorption” --- it’s all about me. Isn’t it strange that we can have a president who is routinely described in the press as being a narcissist, and we think nothing of it? One who is elected to represent us all by definition only cares about himself. And we seem to think that’s okay. And perhaps that’s why nothing he does seems to bother many people: He’s doing what he thinks is right --- doesn’t everybody?
The Church is calling for a New Evangelization, and that seems so needed. So many of us have ignored and forgotten those things which were instilled in us in our youth, and we need to be taught them again. Christopher West, in his book At The Heart of the Gospel says this new evangelization will demand an “unorthodox” orthodoxy, and in some instances must use “a language with which a more pious and refined audience might take issue, so that a much less pious and refined audience might be reached.”
I hope so. I pray so. How do you explain our faith to those who will only look at a twenty word Tweet?