“The Pharisee within usurps my true self whenever I prefer appearances to reality, whenever I am afraid of God, whenever I surrender control of my soul to rules rather than risk living in union with Jesus, when I choose to look good and not be good; when I prefer appearances to reality. – Brennan Manning
“Having it all together” is a phrase of sought illusion in our society. This quagmire of falsehood causes a myriad of people to live in the dissatisfaction of what they are trying to be or do, instead of the reality of who they are. As a golfer, I am always amazed at the illusion in perception of other golfers. Find me a golfer who has sunk a single putt for birdie, and I’ll show you someone who conceptualizes themselves as someone who should be hitting par or better on every hole (or at least on most holes). Eying life in what you should be doing, according to having life all together, leads to an inability to find contentment in the situations life brings. One ends up staying on the edge of performing or achieving, never being able to be okay with who you really are. The worst part is that on the path of appearance, you lose the ability to enjoy the moment of your life that truly exists. You lose access to the grace of being, under the demands of attaining; thus replacing a sense of wonder with the weight of entitlement.
A few years ago, I was amidst a struggle with my community of faith. I had an imbalance of desire to even be around other believers. I became frustrated with the ideas of how “great” my life was because I was a Christian. In my struggle I found “super-Christianity” or showing everyone how much of a follower of Christ I was, became the pursued goal instead of purely knowing Christ. The super-Christ followers had lost their salt. They were tasteless, dutiful, uninspired followers of the public perception of their integrity (a.k.a. their witness) instead of flavorful followers of the Jesus who knew they were worthless sinners who were daily constrained to communion with the Messiah. Their message was “true Christians have it all together.” The methodology of do the right things, listen to the right music and abstain from anything that might even come close to hinting at an atmosphere that would compromise their ever precious integrity. It was put forth that if you weren’t overjoyed to surrender to the rules of right living in the church, you weren’t really ready to pursue Jesus. Does this sound familiar? Sadly for many, the answer is yes. It is a stark opposition to the Jesus Christ who spoke of Samaritans helping Jewish strangers, defending the woman caught in adultery, making the hated tax collector, Matthew, one of his cherished inner 12, eating with Zacchaeus and healing on the Sabbath. Jesus was not abstinent of the realities of life for the sake of having it all together, why am I trying to emulate an illusion of who He was, and make an illusion of who I am? Even now I have to laugh at the “ready to pursue Christ” idea; as if God makes us prepare or change our own hearts to be ready for his not-so-omnipotent reaction to our desires – instead of his truth in finding us in our sin, and redeeming us from our inability to achieve righteousness. The reality was that legalistic confusion has taught me that it was better to walk the talk, than to know it deeply and experience God changing my heart from the inside out. Being changed by the intimate knowledge of the Father is not embodied in ideas like: “Even if you don’t feel like it, do the tasks of God. He will honor your intention and diligence.” What a lie we have come to believe that God is pleased by heartless service or a detached sense of duty, which “helps God out” in his mission to reveal Himself to humanity. Along the way, I came to realize that I was incapable of pulling off the illusion of faith, accomplishing the daydream of manipulating God’s will or reveling in the deception that God existed to glorify me in my life, in response to my efforts to show how much I followed Him. The reality is that my surrender to God, my resting in the security of his power and love, is the catalyst of my preservation and the beginning of my knowing who He truly is and who I truly am. When I know who I am in Christ, my reality takes on different parameters of response to Him, myself and to others.
The idea of the Pharisee is that of dispassionately ruling on the Law for the sake of the Law. The Jewish Casuistic Law in the time of Christ had over 700 guidelines which Pharisees studied, interpreted and enforced. This is the gentle distinction of following the Rabbi instead of the Pharisee. The Rabbi is the teacher who engages the philosophy of heart and action. The Rabbi relates truth and understanding. As we come to understand the Great Rabbi, Jesus, we hear the words of his reality, speaking over our own Pharisaical demands of self. We hear that the condition of our hearts is the purpose behind his incarnation. He did not come to bring a new sect of “Jesus-following Pharisees,” who legalize the tenets of faith into a new casuistic code to be followed or stoned under. Jesus came to release us from the burdens of achievement under the Law of Righteousness and open our hearts to the Law of Love. Love your God, love your neighbor; in this the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled. This may seem like an over-simplification of the truth, but it is poignant and real. As John Piper said, “There is no reality more breath-taking than Jesus Christ. He is not safe, but He is stunning.” The reality of Christ’s love is life-changing. When we know Him and his love, we respond by loving Him and others.
Allowing ourselves to relinquish the illusion of having it all together, permits us to realize that we are in dyer need of something far greater than ourselves. This begins in our hearts and extends to our communities when we realize that He is the focus of our hearts. We understand what goodness exists in resting in Him. When we pull back, trying to look good for his sake or our own, we lose our connection to the constant reservoir of goodness in embracing union with Him. When we experience the reality of whom we are in Him and who He is, we lose the need to be insecure about ourselves in light of the security in the reality of Him. Allowing Him to take his proper place as the Sovereign God of the universe, presents our true definition of reality – that He is truly in control and has made us to live in the truth of who he has made us to be: His children. In reveling in the Lordship of the God Most High, Thomas Merton expressed the wonder of knowing the finiteness of man in light of the infinite nature of God, when he said, “Thank God, thank God I am like other men, that I am only a man among others. It is a glorious thing to be a member of the human race.” It truly is a glorious thing to be a child resting in the provision of the Heavenly Father. May we all rest in the reality of the Rabbi, and joyfully revel in the grace of his love. May we know our reality defined in our union with Christ, the omnipotent glory of the Father and the burning of the Spirit which allows us to rest in the security of his power and love.