On Being Fully Known, Yet Never Rejected
Being forgiven by God and knowing we are not condemned (Romans 8:1-2) frees us to come out of hiding. Being forgiven empowers us to face the uglier parts of our character, because Jesus has already dealt with the shame of those uglier parts. We don’t have to be crushed any more when our flaws are seen and known by God and others. We can be honest in this freedom to pursue growth as incomplete works in progress.
The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, once spoke of the discomfort of being seen. His personal definition of hell was that hell is to be looked at. With our many flaws and secrets, we are unsettled whenever it feels we are beneath the gaze of another. We desire be known and seen on the deepest level. Yet we fear this more than just about anything. Isn’t this why eye contact feels so threatening to us? We have secrets that, if they were discovered by other people, would make us want to run and hide. In those rare occasions when the ‘real us’ becomes exposed, we face a dilemma—Do we fight, self-defend, and shift blame, or do we live transparently before God and others? The forgiveness of God lets us face the worst things about ourselves. It lets us be ‘looked at’ and even scrutinized by God, others, and ourselves, but without crushing us. Jesus was crushed for us. We are no longer condemned! This ought to have a transformative impact on our lives.
People have been running and hiding to cover up their secrets from God, others, and even themselves ever since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve, the first parents of humanity, were the first to run. The rest of us have been running ever since. Our “running” manifests itself in either fight or flight.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God met them in the garden and confronted them. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” God said to Adam. Adam replied, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” As silly as it seems, Adam fights with God! He blames the woman, and also God who gave her to him, for the mess he had made of his own life. He covers up by shifting blame. We are excellent imitators of Adam. How often do we, when confronted or exposed, move so quickly into blame shifting? How often do we pin responsibility for our flaws and sins on a parent, a spouse, an employer, a church, or even God himself! ‘We the perpetrators’ so easily turn ourselves into ‘we the victims.’
We are also told that Adam and Eve, once they were found out for their transgression, ran and “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” When we are exposed, if fighting intimidates us, then we will resort to flighting. We will run from relationships, churches, jobs, and even marriages when the less-than-lovely things about us become known.
Seeing our dilemma, God in his tenderness has provided another way for us to face the threat of being known—the way of Jesus. The gospel creates the environment for us to freely own that we are a) worse off than we ever dared to think, and simultaneously b) more loved than we ever dared to hope. There is a way to be fully seen and known, to be completely ‘beneath the gaze’ that terrified Sartre and that has so often terrified us, and fully loved. There is a resource that provides us with an emotional wealth to be honest about even our darkest secrets: Honest with God, with other people, and with ourselves.
Though he was the only human being in history to have no sin, Jesus died a sinner’s death on the cross. He did this in order to assume upon himself the full and just penalty for our offenses. When Jesus said, “It is finished” before He died, He was saying, in effect, that all of God’s punitive anger toward the sins of His people has been satisfied and buried, once and for all. Many people (including Christians) live in fear that God looks down on them with a frown. Those who trust Jesus can be free from this burden, because God has already dealt with their sin through Jesus. The death we should have died, Jesus died instead so we wouldn’t have to. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1-2). We can rest easy because on the cross, our final judgment day has once and for all been moved from the future to the past.
If Jesus has already been shamed before God and the world because of our sin—and he has—then the deep sting of exposure, the terribly threatening consequence of having the ugliest parts about us known by God and others, has already occurred. It is as if Jesus said from the cross, “Father, let their shame fall on me so that there would be no shame left for them.” God’s forgiveness through Christ supplies us with an internal refuge—an emotional rest from the fear of being seen and known down to the dregs. As far as God is concerned, there is no shame left for us.
If all of our flaws and sins have already been dealt with, and if in fact we have been completely forgiven, then it makes sense to get a new mission in life. Instead of the old mission of reputation management and investing loads of energy into controlling what other people think about us, we can go about the new mission of our chief end—learning what it means to glorify and enjoy God. In this new environment of grace and forgiveness and freedom from shame, it then becomes compelling and even exciting to begin making every effort to do battle against the sin in our lives. When challenged about our weaknesses and character flaws, the fact that we have been forgiven frees us to say a humble ‘thank you’ to those who show us the mirror. We become grateful for, instead of threatened by, those who speak the truth to us in love and who, when we are caught in transgression, seek to restore us with gentle yet direct words of correction. It is a gift to have others there to help us see our blind spots, our flaws, our sins—to show us where we can become more like Christ and experience His forgiveness on even deeper levels. (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 27:6)
Once there was a Puritan who had nothing left but a piece of bread and a glass of water. He looked at the bread and water and said to himself, “What? All of this and Jesus Christ too?” When we understand how much and how freely and gladly God has forgiven us, our sense of having rights and being owed by God fades. We are not entitled to God’s favor. He owes us nothing. Yet through Jesus he freely pardons us from everything we’ve done wrong and makes us heirs of everything that belongs to Jesus (Galatians 3:29)! This fact can free us to look at any circumstance, and when asked the question, “How are you?” respond in our hearts, “Through Christ, I have learned the secret of being content whether living in plenty or in want.”
Thanks be to God.
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