This is the final post in the series on Faith and Doubt.
Nobody wants to be, well, a nobody. We want our lives to count for something.
Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life
, we need some sense that the world bears our mark and is a better place as a result. Otherwise, maybe we would be better off never having been born.
At some very primal level we believe that our very existence has to be justified.
Despite all the talk we hear about the intrinsic value of every person and all that we might say about the inherent dignity of every human being, we all recoil at the prospect of becoming insignificant.
You might expect me at this point to say that we should free ourselves of this desire for justification. That it reveals low self-esteem or even self-loathing.
Not at all!
Our lives must be justified or we really are insignificant. If our lives are not justified, in the end it will all have been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
This very human desire for justification is not our most basic problem. Instead, it is our response to this genuine need that leads us again and again to emptiness and heartache.
We routinely assume that life is all about justifying our own existence. And this is the very essence of soul-crushing doubt.
The only doubt that can separate us from God is our refusal to depend upon God to supply our most basic need. Only God’s love for us can justify our existence and help to live simply for the delight of it.
I will say more about this in a moment. First, let’s look at doubt and the path of self-justification.
The most corrosive form of doubt is not an intellectual uncertainty. It is a habitual posture toward life.
In our actions we can assume that we are utterly on our own when it comes to meeting our most basic need. God is impotent or irrelevant or even in the way.
In this posture, significance comes only from the world’s approval and applause and that will come only from our own achievements. We are committed to building a sort of an existential resume.
And so many of us pursue material comfort, fame, status, power, or career success.
Some commit themselves to shaping happy, successful children or developing heroic spiritual disciplines or flawless moral characters.
Still others champion causes or excel at sports or devote themselves to finding cures for various diseases.
Strictly speaking, none of these things is evil in themselves. It’s just that they won’t do for us what we’re asking them to do. They will not justify our existence.
They may seem to do so for a period of time. But that’s just the problem; each of these solutions to the problem of justifying our existence is fleeting. The title of one of John Ortberg
’s books says it all: When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box.
Nothing we achieve or accumulate in this life gives us eternal significance. You can’t take it with you. You have to let all your trophies and bank accounts and good hair days go someday. And our desire for justification is a desire for something eternal.
Pursuing a sense of significance from things that pass away leaves us always anxious that tomorrow we will be nobody. This explains the paradox that great wealth often makes people less generous. If money makes our lives significant, it becomes very difficult to let it go.
Christians are dedicated to a very different posture toward life. Before I say one word more about that posture, please notice that I said that we are dedicated to it. We often assume sloppy posture, and we sometimes forget that our posture is not what saves us.
However, when we get the Christian posture right it looks something like this.
Our existence is already justified. The achievement of Jesus Christ on the Cross is our achievement now. He gave his very life for us. That’s how valuable, how significant we are.
As we enter each day, we are no longer oppressed by the nagging anxiety that we have to prove our worth on this planet. Instead, we can delight in doing the good that we’ve been given to do each day.
Let me illustrate. Do you remember bringing little things that you made in school to your parents? You brought your mother or father a picture or a craft just to show them what you did. You delighted in doing it and you were certain that Mom or Dad would delight in your delight.
There was no question of getting a parental report card for your work. Your mom or dad weren’t going to write a critical review for the family newsletter. They were likely to say something like this, “That’s wonderful! Tell me about it!”
I hope you had such an experience. At least once. I’m aware that today many children are pushed toward success by their parents. A simple delight in a child’s delight has given way anxious pride in accomplishments. But that ‘s not what I mean at all. After all, pride in accomplishment is the flip side of disappointment in failure.
A parent can give a child the gift of delight in their delight.
And that is just what the Father does for us. When we accept what Jesus has done for us, we do not bring to God what we have achieved in order to win his approval. We bring what we have done in delight, the delight of doing it for the one who has done everything for us.