Wrestling with Angels
Our Divine Distortion
When I found a brand new lap-top for half price on eBay, I told my friend and musical colleague Spencer about my bargain of a find. He was worried: "Usually when something's too good to be true …"
"I know," I replied impatiently, "but the seller has a 100 percent approval rating."
"Be careful," warned Spencer.
"Of course," I assured him, annoyed. I wasn't born yesterday.
I sent the seller $1,300 and discovered in very short, sickening order that I had fallen prey to a classic scam. A fraudster had hacked someone's eBay identity in order to relieve easy marks like me of our money.
I felt an absolute fool—and didn't want to tell Spencer. The next time I saw his number on my caller ID, I didn't answer. I could just imagine his "I told you so."
Soon, I was avoiding Spencer completely. And I started to resent him. Why did he have to be so judgmental? Why couldn't he be on my side? Why was I ever friends with that jerk?
Eventually, we had to fly together to perform at a concert. "Whatever happened with that computer thing?" he asked an hour into the flight. Cornered, I finally confessed my foolishness, dreading the inevitable response. But as soon as I told Spencer about my mistake, a strange thing happened. The enemy I had turned him into evaporated. Spencer turned into Spencer again, my teasing but deeply empathetic buddy.
As embarrassed as I was by my eBay error, I felt even dumber about the way I had allowed my shame to distort my perception of a best friend. If my hand had not been forced, I would have remained estranged from him indefinitely.
I've always considered myself perceptive, but the longer I live, the more I discover my susceptibility to misinterpretation. This is true of the way I view my friends, truer of the way I see my enemies, and perhaps truest of the way I perceive God.
I was raised to understand that sin's gravest consequence is the way it forces God to perceive me: God is holy, I'm not, and there's no way he can even look at me until I have the covering of Christ's blood. In my teens, I clipped a poem out of a youth magazine in which the poet asks—and answers—a pressing question: "How can a righteous God look at me, a sinner, and see a precious child? Simple: The Son gets in his eyes."
But what about how I look at God? I've often been oblivious to one of the most insidious byproducts of the Fall: Sin affects my perception of God. Or, to turn a phrase from that poem, the sin gets in my eyes.
Before Adam and Eve had fallen for the first lie, they basked in God's company. But after a few bites of forbidden fruit, they no longer looked forward to seeing their Maker. When he came calling, they hid.
Had God changed? No. Adam and Eve's brokenness altered their perception of God, not his character. Ever since, we humans have been letting our shame poison our understanding of God. He becomes an ogre, or a bookkeeper, or maybe just a disinterested, detached monarch.
Many of us unconsciously relate to God our Father as a Godfather—there's a lot he can do for us when he likes us, but don't get on his bad side. So we avoid him. And the longer we refuse to take his calls, the worse the distortion becomes.
But here is some good news: Jesus is the antidote to our misperceptions. When we speak of the Incarnation, we acknowledge that Jesus is "God con carne"—God with meat on. Our questions about God's character—Is he really about mercy, justice, and a love that just won't quit?—are answered in the person of Jesus.
Wrestling with Angels
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- The Trouble with Cussing Christians
- So, Who Hallows God's Name?
- God Did It
- Taste the Soup