Perfectionism beckons me…. I hear its siren call, “If you do it right, you’ll be perfect and finally at peace, you’ll finally feel safe”. This pure appearing monster courts me creatively. Sometimes it descends like a heavy fog through which I cannot see or shrug off; other times it pounces unexpectedly and embeds deep claws; and then there are times it sneaks in subtly, when its whispers softly woo me. It has a million guises and disguises. Sometimes I see it, other times I miss it. Forever it is present, forever it is luring me into law.
As a false god, an idol of self-salvation, perfectionism knows its purpose and moves accordingly, extending no mercy. It bandies about seeking to stroke my ego, plump my pride, and it sings for joy when I bump God off the my inner podium and stand in His place.
Paradoxically, from the podium my view shifts and narrows: discernment turns to judgment, hope gives way to cynicism, joy descends to mere happiness and love shrinks to acceptance or, worse yet, tolerance. With God bumped off, fear demands…no, forces company and threatens to control my mind. In response, I grasp at the law to tame it, I grasp at perfectionism to control fear…and, when I do something right, my ego gets stroked and, on the podium, I balloon. I feel righteous, I feel religious–surely I am worthy.
A vicious cycle begins to spin:
a desire for inner peace/rest/safety leads me to law where I find what is right→
I do what is right to stave off fear and find peace→
pride puffs up and I bump off God, putting trust in my unholy trinity (me, me, me) and feeling oh, so worthy→
no inner peace is known, yet if I persevere in doing right I’m sure it will come in time→
so I go to the law where I find what is right.
I figure the laws of karma* must apply, good will come if I just do good.
Insight from Paul (a self-professed law mongering, perfectionist)
From the podium it sounds like nonsense, is a true mind-bender. It is an invitation, though, an invitation to real peace/rest/safety and a healthy understanding of the law. I know I need to hear it…
[The self-righteous] are impressively energetic regarding God—but they are doing everything exactly backward. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily hawk their wares. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.
The earlier revelation [i.e. Ten Commandments, Old Testament law] was intended simply to get us ready for the Messiah [Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace], who then puts everything right for those who trust him to do it. Moses wrote that anyone who insists on using the law code to live right before God soon discovers it’s not so easy—every detail of life regulated by fine print! But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story— no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah. So what exactly was Moses saying?
The word that saves is right here,
as near as the tongue in your mouth,
as close as the heart in your chest.
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—”Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (found in Romans 10, The Message)
So…God sets us right and then works to get us right with Him. We’re to descend from the podium and lay prostrate before God as we invite Him to our podium and trust Him to do His work of making us more like Him.
Step down, sit down, stay down. In humility before our Savior there is space for the things He brings: peace, hope, love, joy and real discernment. If I hear this right, we need not conjure our own goodness…Goodness is, we need only to receive it and watch it bud and bloom….Whew! My own inner Atlas just shrugged…
Now…if Tiger only knew…
*Buddhist definition of karma: `for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.’
–Atlas photo found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atlas_sculpture_on_collins_street_melbourne.jpg