I AM THE PROBLEM
“I am only saying that true change, true life-giving change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read, ‘I AM THE PROBLEM’”.*
Honesty, brutal honesty…we are not too great with that. We would rather put up firewalls between ourselves and the actual truth; it is much easier to live that way. We can kid ourselves that all is fine, but J.I. Packer says no, everything is not fine.
We have a problem in the Christian world, and the problem is us.
As Christians we like to think that we are people of God, at least people who know God’s Son on a one-to-one basis. Jesus came to save us, to tear that curtain in the temple that divided us from God. We are “the people” who know their God.
Too often we find ourselves lacking.
We don’t provide much evidence to the world that we truly know our God.
Packer says to know God is to see Jesus as our Savior, to realize the power of His sacrifice on the cross, to meditate on the gift He has given us, to live a life based on His promises, to listen to The Holy Spirit and act on the Holy Spirit and to exercise our faith on a daily basis.
The result: a life of “gaiety, goodness and unfetteredness” [Packer, 25].
Yet what behaviors do we exhibit to the world?
Far too often we get bogged down in past disappointments and present heartbreaks. We hold on to the inevitable negative factors in life; we have a death grip on those negative factors so much that they become the “crosses” that we must bear. We even find ourselves slipping into “bitterness, apathy and gloom” as we can’t let our disappointments go. “We show the world …a sort of dried up stoicism, miles removed from the ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’” which Peter took for granted in 1 Peter, 1:8” [Packer, 25]. That Scripture reads “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”
Instead those around us watch us and say “poor souls; how they are suffering.”
Packer calls this “mock heroics.”
Honesty, brutal honesty…
I would rather not know this about Christians who really know God. The fact that they never spend time thinking about what might have been is a very high bar. Their focus is on what they have gained, not what they have missed. That seems too hard to do. It is much easier to think about what might have been, to mourn what might have been, to regret past acts, to dwell on the past.
Think, truly think about the following words from Paul in Philippians 3, 7-10. Paul calls the things he has lost as rubbish or dung. He has let them go. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for Christ…. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them all rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…. I want to know Christ.”
Maybe Christians should have a like attitude. Let me think about it. I love God because God first loved me. I obey God because I love Him. If I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return and I cannot obey Him. I am not a perfect person; I fall short of obeying God often but His absolute love of me and His grace sustain me in my times of weakness. I can’t make myself love God; my measly efforts at self-discipline have always failed over the years, but I can respond to the Holy Spirit voice of God calling me to a better life. God wants me to do better and He is in the change business. Step by step, I know God is changing me into a more righteous person.
Where is the loss in that?
Yet here is Packer with his honesty, his brutal honesty. “What normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure? Yet this, in effect is what many of us do. It shows how little we have in the way of true knowledge of God” [Packer, 25]. When God calls me to a better life, I lose some habits that keep me from knowing Him. I do sustain some losses, but what about the gains?
Just last night, I was talking to a Christian woman who was lamenting the fact that she spent so much money on a piece of yard art for her home landscape. She paid fifty dollars for an object and then she saw the same object in another location for twenty dollars. My reply to her lament was we all lose money from time to time, but if we kept accurate, life-long records, most of us make up for our losses with all the bargains we encounter. We need not focus on the losses. We probably have more gains over the long haul.
My example is not that serious and of course my rebuke to her meant very little but maybe this serves as a simple way to understand what Packer means by his comments that to know God is not to focus on the “unpleasantness we have had or pleasantness we have not had.” Being a Christian who knows God means all that does not matter to us.
Yet sadly, too often it does.
We just can’t get out of the way.
That is honesty, brutal honesty. We like to talk about loving God, but our selfishness is always there. We really are not interested in serving God; we would rather He serve us. We want peace, we want to be reassured, we want the pleasure of a life well-lived but we can’t “get out of our own skin”. If we could, we would see that the life that God offers us is gain, pure gain.
But we focus on what we have to give up in order to know God, in order to live the best life that we can live here on earth.
That is what the world sees and that is why many people who are not Christians have their doubts that Christians are the people who know their own God.
Maybe it is simple and it all goes back to Don Miller’s admission in the opening quote of this post.
“I AM THE PROBLEM”…
That is honesty, brutal honesty…
*from Don Miller Blue Like Jazz