These are the words of self-help guru Stuart Smalley, a Saturday Night Live character played by Al Franken (yes, the Minnesota senator).
Though Smalley’s daily affirmations were merely a playful gibe at those offered from real twelve-step groups, the message rings true for many. If we’re good, smart, and likeable, that ought to be enough.
But how good is good enough for heaven?
The bigger they come…
Humans alone were created in God’s image. But because of Adam’s sin, our reflection of His image is severely tarnished. As Ken Samples writes, “Christianity explains the unique enigma of man as a paradox of ‘greatness’ and ‘wretchedness’ (great because man is created in God’s image, but wretched because humans are fallen).”
It may be easy to look outside of ourselves for examples of the greatness and wretchedness of man (especially if individuals think too little or too much of themselves). But these opposing forces are at work within each of us.
…The harder they fall
Okay, I admit it. I’ve zipped down the 10 freeway singing along to some Christian power ballad only to stop mid-verse to chew out the driver that just cut me off. LA traffic is a beast. But still, slip-ups like this remind me how much I need Jesus in my life. Even on my best days, I fall short of God’s standard and need His forgiveness.
Whether it’s through pride (Ps. 10:4), lust (Matt. 5:28), resentment (Job 5:2), grumbling (Prov. 27:15), or our dark thoughts (Matt. 15:19), at some point we all succumb to behavior that (even in a seemingly insignificant way) reflects our wretchedness. If left unchecked, these commonplace gaffes can shove their way so deep into our identity that they take on a persona of their own.
Your will or mine?
In C. S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, the main character finds himself transported to a sort of spiritual Grand Central Station where spirits (citizens in heaven) are sent to help the ghosts repent and enter heaven.
The nameless main character watches as, one after one, the ghosts make their choices.
For the ghost who struggles with lust, his beast comes in the form of a sinister lizard perched on his shoulder. The spirit repeatedly asks for the ghost’s permission to kill the creature. The ghost pleads, “I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now.” But finally, he allows the spirit to kill the lizard. The reptile then transforms into a great stallion, and the horse and its master gallop into the “rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.”
The ghost struggling with self-pity is depicted as two phantoms (a dwarf and a Tragedian). As the self-pity grows, so too does the Tragedian. The spirit urges the dwarf to let go of that “great, ugly doll,” but the dwarf refuses. Eventually he is no larger than the chain that binds him to the beast. Soon they both disappear altogether.
On the surface, their weaknesses are minor, but for some of the ghosts their flaws prove too precious to let go of, even if it means staying in “the grey town” (hell). As the main character’s guide puts it, “There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery.” He adds that, in the end, there are only two kinds of people: “those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says…‘Thy will be done.’”
The Big Choice
What do we cling to that needs to be let go? It’s probably a little of this and a little of that. Whatever makes us “less than” we ought to be, needs to be undone. Tiny missteps can pull us farther and farther down the wrong road, till pretty soon we begin to disappear.
Thankfully God provided a way out of this human predicament. Philosopher/theologian Ken Samples puts it this way, “Knowing we would never meet His holy standard, [God] came to Earth in the person of Jesus Christ to make up the shortfall for us. Jesus fully measured up to moral perfection, and thus He was uniquely qualified to make full atonement for human sin through His death on the cross.”
We may not be good enough, smart enough, or liked enough, but Christ’s redemptive work on the cross more than makes up for our shortcomings. That’s all the affirmation I need!
Check out these resources for more on the human condition and God’s response to it.
Click here for a 9-minute synopsis of The Great Divorce.