A New Year, Akeelah, and the Bee-lieve in Yourself Blues

A beautiful morning for a wander. (5833087336)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

– Marianne Williamson

Here we are again; the New Year has inserted itself into the fabric of humanity, and, surprise, humanity’s resolve has returned with vigor. According to the government (or whatever http://www.usa.gov is), our collective top ten resolutions include: lose weight, volunteer to help others, quit smoking, get a better education and a slew of others. There is, of course, nothing wrong with these resolutions. Some may even be honorable. But all of them smell a little like the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theology our culture feeds on.

My wife and I sat down a while ago to a charming (but misled) little movie about an underprivileged girl who had a knack for spelling words. She was a word ninja, or wizard, whichever you prefer.  With Lawrence Fishburne as her brainy and elusive spelling coach, she rose to the top of the competitive spelling bee world to win the National Bee (sorry for the spoiler). Despite the difficulty of getting the idea of Morpheus teaching a little girl etymologies out of my mind, the movie was inspiring, uplifting, and wrong. The particular quote at the beginning of this post motivated little Akeelah to stardom and hard work. The movie’s essential theme was, in light of these words, to unharness the power of self, to propel one’s self to greatness. It agrees nicely with the core of many resolutions made this January 1, 2014. If we look closely, we see this idea permeating our culture extensively from building with Lincoln Logs in kindergarten to getting ahead in corporate offices. This quote mentions “god” just enough to be palatable to most of us, but when looked at closely, it smells more of idolatry than godliness. Notice the subtle shift between “the glory of God” and “our own light.” Subtlety can be a wonderful friend, but too often it is one of the worst enemies of orthodoxy.

God has heard of the power of self, and He thinks it’s garbage. The Bible has this to say about the inherent beauty, power, glory, and wonder of the natural human:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”- Jeremiah 17:9

“…the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”- Genesis 8:21

And as for the famous Romans passages in reference to fallen humanity…

“They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”- Romans 1:29-32

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”- Romans 3:23

And the locus classicus, the piece de resistance…

“’None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no ones does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grace; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”- Romans 3:10-14.

Thanks to the Bible, little Akeelah looks more like a dark, warrior princess than a cute, talented girl. In other words, we have lost what glory we had per our initial union with God in the Garden. There remains no such inherent god-glory in humanity nowadays. We may remain His image in a dim way, but power, wonder, and true godliness are lost to us. See, the “beautiful” and “powerful” will of natural humanity, while potent, is bent, post-fall, on winning spelling bees and crushing competition for the sake of finding worth and value in winning (and seeing others lose). Let’s face it: our resolutions, a lot of the times, center around our own glory, our own happiness, and an attempt at feeling good about ourselves. It’s just that simple. Our own natural selves are bent on our own glory, our own fame, and our own advancement at the expense of anything and everything that might possibly get in our way. The power of self was released at the Garden, and it attempted to overthrow the God of all creation. The same power of self that Akeelah released for her spelling bee rampage is the same power of self which murders people, envies sinners, idolizes things that don’t deserve to be worshipped, lies to friends, destroys marriages, and oppresses large people groups for being different. Total depravity, the utter pollution of the human condition, is alive and kicking, and it is revealed in every corner of our society.

God and His people know that humanity’s true purpose was never meant to glory in ourselves. It follows that only the most worthy thing deserves to be gloried in. Only the most beautiful One, the thing of highest value, is to be made much of. One of the greatest discoveries of time was the discovery that the universe did not revolve around the earth. It’s high time this concept was carried into our culture. The greatest, most worthy, most beautiful object to make much of is the Triune God of the universe made known to the world through Jesus Christ.

It is through Christ that we are forgiven. Through Christ we are redeemed. Through Christ we are justified. Through Christ we are sanctified. Through Christ we are glorified. It is only through Christ that we are saved. And we are saved to make much of Him. He is “the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him,” (Col. 1:15-16). We are saved to proclaim His excellencies and to proclaim His worth. All of earth is already worshipping, and it is time we join in. If we desire to trust in our own worth, it will only result in selfishness, hatred, and resentment. Akeelah’s, and sadly most of humanity’s, motivation is a dead-end to death and destruction, but the motivation of the value and supremacy of Christ to live leads to eternal life, joy, and the purpose for which we were all created: to proclaim with creation, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory,” (Is. 6:3). We are meant to cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing,” (Revelation 5:12). And then, when all is said and done (more beautiful than a never-ending chorus of How Great is Our God), we will still be singing, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

No. Our greatest fear is that we don’t match up, that we have made things horribly wrong. No. We are terrified at the darkness within us, and we are too helpless to do anything about it. That’s why all of us sleep uneasily when our night lights go out. We close our eyes in hopes that bombs will not disintegrate our houses, we will not be robbed and murdered in the dead of night, and that the children in third-world countries will, in fact, have enough food for the next day. But in Christ all things are made new. His “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1:5). Shield your children from this “believe in yourself”, subtle but horrible theology, and let us exhort one another to make much of the only thing worth making much of: The God of One Substance in Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This, after all, should be the all encompassing #1 on our list of things to do this year. The angel in revelation refused to be worshipped. We should too. We should agree with his words, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God,” (Rev. 22:9).

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