A few days ago, I saw a video shared on Facebook about the way in which God pursues relationship with us. On one level, it was just another faintly cheesy God-thinks-you’re-worth-it video that could easily be dismissed as yet more Christian schmaltz. But the voiceover included one phrase that resonated deeply with something embedded deep in my understanding and experience.
In seeking to account for our fallen human state, as demonstrated by our endless capacity for misunderstanding, rivalry and one-upmanship, this video spoke of our sense of lack and incompleteness.
This is something I find to be true not because it says so in the Bible, but because I know it in my own life.
We can all think of extreme manifestations of this lack and our attempts to fill it: the alcoholic who tries to quell the unbearable awfulness of reality through drink; the drug addict who seeks to numb her existential pain by injecting mind-altering toxins into her blood stream; the compulsive porn user who retreats from the complexity and pain of real-world relationships into the comforting virtual arms of a non-existent lover.
These are arguably all cases of our prevailing sense of lack and incompleteness driving us to seek comfort in some easily attainable temporal refuge.
I believe that.
I believe that there is something in the human condition that very often leaves a gaping hole in our souls that we desperately try to fill in all kinds of ways. Some try to fill it with career success; others think if they earn enough money, the hole will be filled; some relentlessly seek after approval to make up for their ruined self-image; others pursue sex or relationships or drugs or alcohol as a way to make up for the void at the centre of their being. Some run themselves ragged on the hamster wheel of church activity and Christian ministry, all in an effort to silence the inner voice that constantly says, “You’re not enough”.
I know, because I’ve done it. In various ways and for many, many years.
What strikes me about these various efforts to fill our existential hole – money, alcohol, performance, drugs, sex, religion – is that they are all attempts to apply an external solution to what is ultimately an internal problem. This isn’t hard to understand: if the problem is our sense of lack and incompleteness, it stands to reason that the answer cannot be some external activity in which we engage.
I conclude that these various attempts to use external means to resolve an internal problem are about as much use as applying a sticking plaster (a.k.a. a Band-Aid) to treat a broken limb or a heart attack.
So far, so obvious, you may say. But here’s where I want to get to: when it comes to dealing with our sense of lack and incompleteness, religion is often just as useless and counterproductive as drowning our sorrows in drink or seeking oblivion in drugs. Useless, because it doesn’t resolve the underlying issues; and counterproductive, because it can actually trick us into believing that the cancer is healed, when really it’s still alive and well and eating away at us.
You see, much of religion really just has us going through external motions while failing to acknowledge and get to grips with the deep truth inside of us. And this is not confined to “traditional” forms of religion; it’s just as true of evangelical Christianity.
It doesn’t matter how passionately in love with Jesus you appear to be; it doesn’t matter how loudly you claim to fervently believe all the necessary doctrines; at the end of day, if your profound sense of lack and incompleteness has not been dealt with, all you’re doing is injecting yourself with a Jesus drug. You may as well try heroin.
Quite honestly, I’m sick and tired of religion that sees crippling, debilitating wounds and can only offer a Band-Aid in response.
When we’re deeply wounded inside (as the majority of us are, if we’re honest), we need a response that reaches those deep places inside. What I’ve found for myself is this: these wounds require the kind of brutal honesty that refuses to gloss over our own sinfulness, shame and inadequacy. They require a response devoid of the kind of pretence and platitudes that seem to be the only thing that much of evangelical Christianity has to offer.
Put simply, if your Christianity offers the kind of trite package that says, “If you believe and affirm doctrines X, Y and Z, your sins will magically disappear, and all your problems with them”, I’m not interested. I don’t care how well argued your exegesis is; if your Jesus cannot get down in the dirt with me and reckon with the spit and mud of my pain and corruption, he isn’t the real deal. And you can keep him.
Am I saying that the Christian religion offers no viable solution to our profound inner lack? No, not at all. What I’m saying is that much of Christianity as currently understood and practiced in the western world offers no viable solution. The best it can do is keep us going, maintain us in a self-induced haze of unreality and numb the pain enough for us to keep living day to day under the illusion that this is as good as it gets.
To try to unpack just what kind of faith journey and religious practice can effectively and healthily treat our sense of lack and incompleteness would take more space than one short blog post allows. But I’m pretty convinced at this point that it involves much more than outward assent to a set of doctrines and participation in largely empty corporate rituals – which is, frankly, all that much of the western church has to offer.
I’m beginning to see that what some call contemplative spirituality, which places the emphasis on cultivating inner silence in order to connect with God as he is present in our deepest selves, is the only true path to inner healing and wholeness. Perhaps this is why Jesus spent so much time alone in prayer.
Our wounds are deep inside. It seems to me, then, that any form of spirituality that refuses to go deep into our hearts and reckon with both the light and the darkness that resides there is Band-Aid religion at best and dangerous deception at worst.
[ Image: BK ]