Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Breaking Free to a Better Life


In John 3, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a religious leader, comes to Jesus by night. He comes by night, no doubt, because he doesn’t want to risk his reputation, position, and standing with his group who has a very negative view of Jesus. Such is the power of the group (family, church, denomination, political party, social group, country, etc.) to tell us who we are and keep us in the dark.

Night is also symbolical of where Nicodemus is at this stage in his life journey. He is in the dark – blind to the truth of God. However, and this is the really important thing, he senses a need to know beyond what the other Pharisees are saying. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be taking this risk to talk to Jesus. Unlike so many of his colleagues, who see in Jesus only a threat to their power and place, Nicodemus sees in Jesus a man who radiates something special. A person who is authentic and compassionate, honest and courageous, and who seems to really know God.

Now, let’s be clear on this. We are all like Nicodemus. We are all in the dark to some degree. There are shades and degrees in our experience of darkness and light. We are not all in the same place. We are all blind in some area of our lives. I’m sure I am. Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what I am blind to, for if I could, then I wouldn’t be blind to it would I?  

In the final book of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis there is a scene where a group of dwarfs are huddled together in a tight little knot thinking they are in a pitch black, smelly hole of a stable. In reality, however, they are out in the midst of an endless, grassy green countryside with sun shining and blue sky overhead. Aslan, the Christ figure, is present with them, but they are not able to see him. When Aslan offers them the finest food, they think they are eating spoiled meat scraps and sour turnips. When Aslan offers them the choicest wine, they mistake it for ditch water. Lucy, the youngest and most tenderhearted of the Narnian children, feels compassion for them. She tries to reason with them, but to no avail. Finally, frustrated, she cries out, “It isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs. Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers.”  

Why are the Dwarfs so blind? Why can’t they see? The one constant refrain on the lips of the dwarfs is: The dwarfs are for the dwarfs. They lived by that mantra. They could not see beyond their group. It was all about the dwarfs.

One of the main reasons we cannot see is because we get stuck in the limiting, confining views of our ego and our group, and are therefore blind to our own and our group’s faults, biases, prejudices, and self-interests. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs. Christians are for Christians. Southern Baptists are for Southern Baptists. (Recently, the Kentucky Baptist Convention voted to de-fellowship all churches who support the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It’s hard to believe a Christian group can be so fearful, insecure, and threatened by another Christian group, which provides a vivid example of just how exclusive, narrow, and blind groups can be). Americans are for Americans. Our self-idolatry and group idolatry, which we often mistake as loyalty or faithfulness, keeps us stuck in the darkness and prevents us from seeing the beauty, wonder, mystery, and immensity of God, and from experiencing the truth that could really set us free.

For the first part of my life and ministry I was as blind as these dwarfs. I carried my New Scofield Reference Bible into my first college Bible class, and was determined the liberal professor who taught it wasn’t going to change me. My mind was made up. I had the truth and all the answers. I was arrogant, but couldn’t see my arrogance. But I was loyal to my group of dispensational, premillennial, biblical inerrantists. Then, during a later stage in my life journey I had some experiences that opened up a crack for the light to get in (I will share these experiences in a later article sometime) and I encountered a fresh wind of the Spirit that set me free from my ego attachment and my group idolatry.

Until a person is willing to concede that he or she could be wrong, and is ready to listen to voices and seek truth beyond one’s particular group, that person will remain trapped in the darkness of one’s group biases and rigidity, blind to the beauty, bounty, and bigness of God.

But once a crack opens and a ray of honesty and openness breaks through, once the fire of the inclusive Spirit of Christ is ignited in one’s heart, one is “born again” – and again and again and again, because there is no end to the possibilities of new life.