What's the ugliest[The following is something I've thought for years now. This specific post was triggered by a blog posting I read the other day which I can no longer find, in which the person wrote "I have killed thousands", meaning in their mind, out of anger, hatred, etc. If someone wrote or knows the post I am talking about, can you please send me the link so I can attribute it here?]
part of your body?
What's the ugliest
part of your body?
Some say your nose.
Some say your toes.
I think it's your mind.
- Frank Zappa
I believe I know why sin causes us to feel such a division from God, when He does not want us to turn away. It is because God is inside our heads. In Christianity we are reminded over and over that God knows what we think and that motivations count.
To my knowledge no other religion posits this. Some religions deal in psychological and experiential terms - if you practice to get your mental state just right you will escape samsara and attain nirvana. Some seem almost purely works based - if you pray five times a day and do everything "just right" and perform pilgrimages and so forth and so on, then heaven is assured.
I think as a religion Christianity suffers from some of those aspects as well, brought on by ignoring the word of our Saviour and thinking that if we can just come up with the perfect doctrine and do the right things (and worse, punish and ostracise those that don't), then we will be right with God. Even as we're constantly reminded that Christ is about grace, not works, and certainly not about being able to fix ourselves.
But there is an important difference in following Jesus, and that is that God knows what you are thinking. Mere works don't get you off the hook because no matter how good your effort you were still committing sin, even if just in your own head. And God knows that. And we know that, and we know that He knows. And in our shame it causes us to turn away from God. And that is the real sin.
Weirdly enough, I think this aspect of our faith gives rise to a bit of paranoia, especially among "immature" Christians (like me); because if God knows our thoughts and feelings, our mind and our hearts, then He knows just how bad we are. And how can we ever face Him knowing that He knows that?
But of course the Good News is He does know our thoughts and feelings, our mind and our hearts, and He still loves us. It is only when we realize that we can do nothing but confess to Him our inner sins as well as our outer acts, ask for His forgiveness and turn back to Him that we are on the right path. We cannot try and fix ourselves before we allow ourselves to commune with God. That is like wanting to get in shape first before going to the gym. We all know how that works - we end up doing nothing, and feeling worse about our ever fatter selves. Similarly, if we keep trying to get in spiritual shape before talking to God, we simply fall farther and farther into sin.
In an article about six-word short stories (that's right - six words), one of the "very short stories" was this:
Lie detector eyeglasses perfected: Civilization collapses.
- Richard Powers
Similarly, my friend Aaron and I once had a conversation in which we posited what would happen if there were a device invented that allowed us all to know what we were each thinking, all the time. We decided that at a minimum it would be the end of all marriages, and probably most friendships, and certainly all jobs. "Civilization collapses", indeed. We all keep secrets in our heads. We all think things best kept buried. Even in our most intimate relationships with those we love the most, there are things left unsaid, and rightly so.
But to God nothing is unsaid. By thinking it, we say it to Him. We are exposed, naked, and it makes us want to hide. But we can't hide. So what to do? I think this questions needs more than the typical pat answer of "Open ourselves to God". Because we don't know how to do that. We don't have that type of openess with anyone else in our lives, so how can we just suddenly "do it"? We've never been "shields down", or at least not since we were maybe two years old. Everything we've learned - everything - has taught us to keep a certain part reserved to ourselves. And hence my point that I actually think there is an aspect of paranoia involved - to suddenly find out that our defenses are not just down - to God those defenses themselves are yet another way to sin, to hold out on Him and not be intimate with Him. This is the Fall I am talking about, if you haven't figured that out.
As I work through this myself, I have come to the conclusion that as with so many other things, the only thing we can do is pray for help. Ask God to help us be open to Him. Recognize when we are holding out on Him and seek His forgiveness. Fall backwards into His arms and trust He'll catch us and love us. Scary. But if you don't believe God will catch you and love you regardless of your sinful nature, why are you a Christian?
Here's the even scarier part...I believe that another point in the Gospel is that once we begin having that kind of relationship with God, Christ calls us to have it with each other, too. For it is only by being truly open and honest and unguarded that we can experience true community, true love. It can be scary enough with a spouse. But what about with everyone else? Again, I think the answer is to ask God to send the Holy Spirit to free us from ourselves. We certainly can't do it alone.