“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
- James 4:6
My first college major was geology, something that still makes me chuckle. Me? A geologist? Oh man, that’s rich.
The department wasn’t always a friendly environment for people of faith. From time to time, one of my professors subtly mocked Christians and other people of faith in her lectures for believing that God created all things. As a scientist, she was absolutely certain: God is a myth, a silly antiquated notion that no truly serious and scientific person could possibly believe. She scoffed at the mere mention of God. Science, she argued, ruled him out.
One day, we went into the field to study a local stream. The stream ran red, full of iron oxide from the red clay soils of North Carolina. Our professor urged us to hop into the water and collect samples from the river bed. When we inquired about its depth, she replied confidently that it was no deeper than a foot or two - an assertion some quietly doubted. Sensing our hesitation, she decided to lead the way and hopped confidently into the river herself. To our utter shock, she completely disappeared beneath the surface! The river was much, much deeper than she thought!
My response was, shall we say, less than charitable. The ironies were not lost on me, and my internal dialogues went full snark.
“Another stunning evidence that science is never wrong!"
“I hope you’re still as confident about God as you were about this river, O Great Scientist!”
“Like Pharaoh into the Red Sea so has this denier gone into the red waters of North Carolina!”
Well, I just made up the last one. I wasn’t as biblically literate back then. However, I was every bit the smart aleck. I probably thought something like it.
Looking back with the benefit of some maturity and hindsight, I now see another, more perplexing irony: my arrogance, self-righteousness, and cruelty despite my profession of faith in a God who despises all those things. If I was more gifted in geology, I might have recognized the cold spiritual granite in my heart.
The truth is that I didn't love God enough to love that professor. Instead, I used her to feel better about myself. She was an obvious sinner, one in open denial and defiance of God. Her presence in my life was annoying but useful; it made me look righteous by comparison. I laughed at her unexpected immersion because I was convinced that she, unlike me, deserved it.
One of my favorite pastors is fond of saying that there are two great ways to keep God at a distance: irreligion and religion. My professor chose the former. Her rejection was obvious.
The second way to keep God at a distance is more counterintuitive. It is to profess faith, but pridefully - thinking that what we believe about (and do for) God makes us better, holier, and more acceptable than those around us. These two options seem different, but they’re not. At their root, they’re both expressions of self-righteousness, ways we try to justify ourselves. I viewed my professor as different than me when we were actually the same: two great sinners trying to save themselves.
Child of God: If we are going to compare our righteousness against the righteousness of another, let it be Jesus Christ. As the light of our Savior's holiness shines upon us, the shadows of our self-righteousness flee. We realize that all of our foolish games of comparative righteousness are futile. Instead, apprehending our desperate need of grace and forgiveness, we cry out for relief - and find it! Humbled by God's mercy toward such great sinners, we then walk more humbly before others. We no longer see them as different than us; we see them just as we are: great sinners in desperate need of the greater Savior.
You're loved. Don't forget it.
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