Hola readers! This is my first post in a while, so I will start by saying this:
It’s been a long while since I’ve posted, or dealt with TBP at all for that matter. In this, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I have gone through a lot of tough decisions recently, and have changed career paths back to law enforcement from full time pastoral ministry. That said, I do not wish to abandon this project I started with Michael, and will be back to posting as regularly as he does (as time allows while I head into Police Academy). And now, my theological ravings will be tainted with law enforcement jargon, innuendos and funny stories. Everybody wins, right?
OK. Here we go.
A child was riding his bike through a dry and barren land, desperately looking for water. He’d been searching for longer than he could remember and had found nothing. Anything resembling refreshment turned out to be a mirage, and illusion driven by severe thirst and dehydration. That’s why he doubted himself as he drew closer to what seemed like the edge of a cliff in this dry desert. From a distance it looked as if there were two types of people coming and going: older men and women dressed in suits and fine clothing, and others children like himself.
But where from, and where to?
As he pulled to a stop he saw a long rope bridge, spanning a large gulf between the dryness where he stood, and a lush paradise across the way. There was no illusion here, this was real. He could vaguely see the outlines of others who’d made it across, splashing in a clear stream, playing and jumping, with trees of shade and refreshment a plenty all around them. It seemed all one had to do was cross the bridge. He decided to approach the entrance of the rather narrow bridge, and saw a sign that read:
“Life lay beyond this bridge: do not tarry, do no stray, yet do not fear;
Though narrow is the way, there is strength in the journey.”
He could do this. He could make it across! After all, the bridge was narrow, but it was crossable. He left his bike and began to walk. His thirst all but drove him to jog along the bridge. His journey began well, and he could see his paradise nearing with every step; but a strange thing began to happen along the way. He started to see the adults, dressed in fine and fancy clothes, balancing on the ropes which supported the bridge, towering over either side of him! The ropes were so much thinner than the bridge itself, so much narrower than the planks which he walked. He wondered to himself why they thought it necessary to balance the ropes rather than walk the bridge. He also noticed that the further he went, the adults who’d thus far been silent on his journey, began to warn him that his steps were too broad. Even on this already narrow bridge, apparently he was not supposed to strut a wide gate. So, he heeded the warnings of these seemingly wise suit-wearers. He brought his feet closer together and kept moving.
“Closer!” Someone shouted. “You are in danger of falling!”
This confused him because he seemed well within the narrow bounds of the bridge, but their urgency created fear in him; a fear of tumbling over the edge into the bottomless abyss below. So with each shout of warning, with each call of judgment, his steps became closer and closer, until someone yelled,
“You can walk better up here!”
And so, he did just that. He hopped up to the rope where the others stood. As he did so, he realized that he was no longer a boy. He had become a man, instantaneously, and he was dressed in as fine a suit as he’d ever seen. As he inched along, his steps much smaller and much more careful than the days he jogged freely down the narrow bridge, he began to notice that he had to push past the other suits…because they had all but stopped moving. And as his movements required more and more effort, pushing and pulling, balancing and skirting around others, he began to lose his will to make it to the refreshing paradise on the other side. Sure, he was thirsty, but he had yet to topple over the edge of the bridge, and that was of the utmost importance. It took all his effort just to balance, there was no use in moving closer and wasting his energy on forward motion. He knew paradise was there, and he’d make it….eventually. But he had to keep his balance…this was the priority. He had to warn others to keep theirs, too, for he’d hate to see them fall into the abyss. It was the loving thing to do….
In the book of Mark we get to see a candid reveal of Jesus’ ministry. It is a book driven by the Greek word ‘euthus’, or ‘immediately’, thus making itself an action book. And in the first three chapters, we get a disturbing look at the stark pharisaical nature of the human heart. We hiss an boo at the pharisees who decide that law is more important than grace; that a man with a withered hand shouldn’t be healed on the sabbath. We scowl at those who tried to hang the very son of God with the law which he had ultimately written before they’d even snubbed their first widow, and yet all we see as we look at the accusing nature of the pharisees, if we are honest with ourselves, is the state of our own hearts. Scripture says that Jesus was grieved at the hardness of the hearts of the pharisees, and rightly so. It grieves us to a certain degree just to read the story.
Obviously, we see this and think ‘I’d better guard my heart against this attitude’. And how exactly do we do this? Yes, we can treat others with grace, realizing that we have been shown grace ourselves, a grace that trumps the laws condemnation. We can remember that we are saved by grace, not the law, and no matter how ‘learned’ we get of the law and how skilled we think we are at mastering its ways, the best of us are still broken, wretched sinners with hearts prone to depravity. But I would submit that the greatest way to head off this attitude of the heart is to examine closely how we, especially those who teach others, view the law itself.
We pride ourselves as Presbyterians on the three uses of the law, rather than the Lutheran emphasis of two. For those unfamiliar with this, an overly simplistic explanation of the law’s usage is as follows: For Lutherans, there is a prevalent belief in the law as used for convicting one of sin, and pointing him to Christ; while Presbyterians believe in a third use: the law as a guideline for Christian living. And that third use, the ‘guideline for Christian living’, is an important one. But as much as we rag our Lutheran brethren for their underuse of the law, we can easily tread into the territory of an overuse of the law, by slapping others in the face with this use rather than gently encouraging each other to follow Christ’s example; not out of a fearful obligation, but out of love. Fearful obligation, when faced with inevitable human failure, turns into frustrating hopelessness: one that says ‘ill never achieve his standard, and this lessens his love for me’. Obedience from a grateful heart results in a confidence that comes from knowing that inspire of inevitable failure, Christ’s blood has secured us, wedding us eternally to himself.
(Hint: I’d rather live in the last one, myself.)
Too often that misguided focus of ‘third use striving’ begins to stink of self-righteousness and false senses of security. This affects how we minister to others (a complete severance from anything resembling the secular) and how we worship (a sense of entitlement from the sacred), and separates our theology from our practice.
What say you about these things? Sound off below.
Soli Deo Gloria,