Tuesday, February 4, 2014

You're a worm, I'm a worm

A rather animated woman marched towards me after the service. Judging by the pointed finger and stern look, I assumed I was about to experience something less than pleasant.

Without so much as an introduction, she blurted, "That idea that God would send someone to Hell forever just because they died in their sin is old doctrine. You should be ashamed of yourself for preaching that old nonsense. God is love. He LOVES us [she actually screamed the word 'love]. You should be telling people to accept themselves as beautiful and wonderful, not making them feel guilty for sin."

Now I do regularly preach about sin (what it is, how Jesus saves us from it, how we can battle temptation,etc), but oddly enough I hadn't even mentioned sin that day. Or Hell. Or judgment. My sermon was about Jesus' feeding of the five thousand which demonstrates both Jesus' sovereignty as well as his love towards humanity.

What this woman was responding to was my closing prayer, where I acknowledged to the Lord that we were sinners who deserved Hell, and thanked the Father for loving us enough to send Christ to save us and change us.

Instead of arguing with the woman, I decided to ask some questions:

Josh: 'Why do you think people's most important need is to accept themselves?'

Angry lady: 'because people feel broken and miserable. They have no self-esteem and need to be built up.'

Josh: 'Why don't people have self-esteem?'

Angry lady: 'because the world tells them they have no value.'

Josh: 'OK, who is the 'world'? Isn't that other people?'

Angry lady: 'Yes'

Josh: "Considering this is the universal assessment of all humanity, have you ever considered the possibility that they are right? Are you open to the possibility that there is something fundamentally flawed with all of us, and that this inner sense of unworthiness we all have is based in fact, not error?"

People are desperate to convince themselves they are OK. Self-help books fly off the bookstore shelves. Counselors routinely tell their paying clients to "believe in themselves". Liberal pastors tell us that sin isn't offending a holy God, but rather committing "psychological self-abuse" by not valuing ourselves.

Yet no matter how hard people try, the feeling of unworthiness cannot be shaken off. Down deep inside, people know something is wrong. Yet people come up with all sorts of solutions to dull this feeling. Some believe the answer is by losing weight, getting a higher paying job, having a family, or going to a counselor. Others believe we need to pretend its all a myth, much like the abused child who shuts his eyes and tries to 'believe' the bad man away.

But Scripture has a different answer. In the Old Testament, God revealed a very important message to the people of Israel. He said, "fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel, I will help you" (Isaiah 41:14).

Did the sovereign God of the universe just call us worms?


Yes, he did call us worms, and it's a truth we need to understand. The whole point of this verse is to remind humanity that there is something wrong. Down deep inside, something is broken and dysfunctional. We are not the lofty and important creatures we think we are. Instead, we are just worms. Pathetic. Useless. Unable to do anything to rise above our station or become something different.

But it is because we are broken that God has determined to help us by sending Christ to save us from our misery.

Let that last line sink in. It is because we are broken that God has determined to help us

Jesus would later tell us that "it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick" (Mark 2:17). God's love is so amazing that even though we are broken and unworthy, he has chosen to pour his love on us through Christ. But here's the catch. If you don't want to be treated, you die because of your disease. Those who believe we should never mention sin and instead 'value ourselves' are much like the cancer-ridden man who denies treatment. Despite what all the medical tests clearly demonstrate, he tells himself nothing is wrong and all is well. The hospital stands ready to fix and to heal, but the patient is unwilling. Not only unwilling to be treated, but unwilling to even admit there is a problem. That scenario ends only one way.

Scripture gives us another alternative. God tells us "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Joh 1:9). Stop trying to mask the problem. Enough with the silly self-help techniques. God has promised to lift you out of the dirt and make you a son and daughter of the king of Kings.

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