Separation

Can anything separate us from the love of God poured out for us through Christ Jesus?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

It does not appear to be so. It is interesting in the above passage that the Apostle Paul finds it necessary to mention that not even life can separate us. Perhaps he has in mind life as in the opposite of death, but I like to think he has in mind “life” as in the daily grind of life, that place where we experience it. Not even what we experience in life, both good and bad, can separate us from God’s love.

Which is an astounding thought. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in many ways I have felt my life to be a complete failure. I have accomplished much, but I also feel I have failed at life in the most significant way possible, according to the only perspective that really matters: I have failed to live a life pleasing to God.

And I have come to this realization in the daily grind of life, where it is experienced. There, I have learned what stuff I am made of. And I have discovered it isn’t pretty. Like the Apostle Paul, I discovered with no small degree of anxiety that “in me, there is no good thing.” But unlike Paul, it has been hard for me to be okay with that. How can anyone be okay with that?

Growing up, I was always told that as long as I did my best, that was good enough. That is a good personal philosophy that produces a great work ethic. But somehow it does not work so well when we turn to the spiritual life. There is something that happens when we compare our lives to Jesus, knowing He is our example, that makes the wheels fall off “at least I am doing my best.” When God opens our heart and we see our motivations for what they really are, doing my best seems to lose all meaning. Doing my best actually becomes part of the problem.

But this I feel is part of the process, and in fact the beginning of the solution. The journey with God — unlike any other task we face — is not one where we work for God but rather God works in us. He is repairing us. And that process is not so much Him quickly fixing whatever keeps us from doing the things that please Him as it is understanding — despite whatever real failure in our lives we encounter, whether in plain sight or hidden from view —we are just as pleasing to Him.

Processing failure, I feel, is a critical part of my journey with God. For there is one thing that can separate me from the love of God, and it is myself: Particularly how I perceive my own failures. Does my failure, in the particular or general sense, change how I feel about myself? Am I still deserving of the very best God has to offer? Is He still extravagantly generous toward me if I feel I have failed to keep up my end of the bargain?

This is where an overactive work ethic, with all its good, can get us into trouble. Excelling in life is good, and God desires us to live fully-functioning lives where we accomplish great things. Because this is how He has made us to function. But if our ability to function becomes the criteria for our right to be accepted and loved, things begin to break down. The way it works in God’s kingdom is that first we are loved and accepted, then we function. In fact, we only function as we were truly designed to function to the extent we know we are loved.

I begin then to realize what God is really working on is not my ability to achieve but my capacity to be loved, even (and especially) in my failure. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. And I suppose in the final analysis, not even myself. For God simply loves me too much to keep me on the shores of failure when, in truth, an entire ocean of His extravagant love awaits me.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

The Christian Soul: Faith

The idea that the Christian life is essentially about relinquishing control may be something you are on board with, but the Bible-believing friend next to you may not be so sure. After all, where is “control” mentioned in the Bible? Did Jesus ever use the word “control”? Technically, no. But Jesus of course had much to say about repentance and uncompromising surrender.

But more importantly, the act of relinquishing control, in the way we are meaning it, goes by a different name in the Bible: It is called faith. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Faith”

The Christian Soul: Principles

I wish to expand on the idea we introduced in our last post concerning the idea of control in the Christian life and outline five principles pertaining to how control — or rather our surrendering of control — determines our success in the Christian life.

But first, let’s connect some dots and briefly discuss how control relates to the other concepts we have discussed in this series. Simply put, control is the opposite of love. You may say hate is, and that is fine. But in the context of relationship, control is more its opposite than anything else. When we seek control in a relationship, we have ceased to love. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Principles”

The Christian Soul: Control

It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful cooperation with this work.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

I came to the Lord in a rather unusual way. I was raised Catholic, and though Catholics are not necessarily known for having (or at least professing) a personal relationship with Jesus, this young Catholic stumbled into one quite unexpectedly. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Control”

The Christian Soul: Love

I run risk at this point in our series on Christian Spirituality of repeating myself. But since it is the New Year — and I have also interrupted our discussion with my most recent piece on divorce — allow me to recap.

The year 2017 (as far as our discussion is concerned) was about tearing down. We closed out 2017 laying waste to the notion of Christian obligation. Before that, we had laid waste to the notion of Christian freedom (that is, that Jesus died that we might do as we please). Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Love”