Although many years have passed and she’s now a grown woman, the memory of the child frowning with insistent determination remains vivid. Nearing her second birthday, she was developing a sense of autonomy, causing her to react to her mother’s attempts to help her by screwing up her reddened face and shrieking, “I do it!” Typical of a toddler, she’d punctuate her personal declaration of independence by kicking and swatting, pretty much forcing her mother to back off and allow her to accomplish the task without adult intervention.
So many adults behave that way toward God, seeking salvation, spiritual well-being and purpose through human effort. Prayers, meditation, good deeds and/or spiritual exercises promise that they can achieve God’s presence, favor, karma or blessing through their own efforts. Human potential…isn’t that the article of faith? When all is said and done, God is really an extension of them, so their rituals release that which is divine in them.
They may couch their human potential faith in Biblical terminology, even acknowledging that (in a certain sense) God is outside them, but even then they believe that He somehow depends on their actions.They recount having “made a decision for Christ,” proudly displaying the date carefully written in their Bibles as iron-clad proof of their conversions. They talk about their spiritual gifts of “speaking in tongues” and “discerning demonic spirits,” pointing to subjective experiences of “words” from God.
Or they may draw more on Eastern Mysticism, employing yoga, breathing techniques, or Tai Chi to release whatever “spiritual entity” that dwells within them. Attempts at altruism may be their chosen vehicle, or religious practices like prayer beads. They “pray through” labyrinths (that chalk one on Boston Commons creeps me out), mediate while coloring intricate mandalas in “adult coloring books,” pray “breath prayers” or have erotic dates with Jesus.
And if they’re not Charismatic, they dazzle you with their firm grasp on eschatology or how many Bible verses they’ve memorized. They attend every church activity without fail, and “serve” on several committees. Even daily Bible reading, done with the attitude that getting through a certain amount of chapters per day, can be perverted into a way to merit God’s applause.
But God simply isn’t impressed with our attempts to reach Him. From His perspective, human potential is, frankly, putrid to Him.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. ~~Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
The phrase, “filthy rags” means menstrual cloths–eww! Not a very flattering image of human efforts to actuate God’s power, is it? This ugly verse, however, is only one of many to expose humanity’s helplessness to redeem itself. I’ve chosen to use it here because its graphic imagery shocks me (and hopefully shocks you) into realizing that He despises our attempts to earn His regard.
God cannot accept human offerings (unless they come with humble acknowledgment that even those offerings originally come from Him) because He will not share His glory. He declares that we cannot do it. That we are intrinsically helpless…completely dependent on the Lord.Yet, wondrously, that very helplessness opens the way for Him to reach us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. ~~Romans 5:6 (ESV)
He calls us to lay aside our repugnant endeavors to attain His favor, blessing or power, realizing that He does it! His work on the Cross finished everything, and His Resurrection from the dead gives us power that comes only from Him. We can kick and scream like tyrannical babies all we want, and He may abandon us to our delusions of autonomy. But the true Christian finds peace in surrendering to the Lord’s soothing reassurance: “It is finished.”