My old friend and mentor, Wes Pinkham, who was also one of the best professors to ever grace a lectern, used to say, “remember, you are the journey you don’t have to take.” Generally speaking, we westerners favor a more linear sort of logic, so when we hear, “You are the journey you don’t have to take”, it tends to sound like Yoda-speak or what the Dude would call, “some kind of eastern thing.” My initial reaction to Wess’ statement was like the cashier at the Taco joint who says to me, “I just don’t have a button for that on my screen.” Now if we put Wess’ quote in formula form it would read, A=B and not C, where A = you, B = journey and C = something external to you.
I recently shared Wess’ quote with a friend and I could tell from his reaction that he really wanted to like it but something in the quote had obviously troubled him. I suspect that what made my friend uneasy was its implicit rejection of a widely held viewpoint, what Wess refers to as, “do in order to be” (i.e., I do X in order to be Y). The problem, according to Wess, with the ‘do in order to be’ formula is that it represents a categorical rejection of God’s gift and his promise. God says, “You are my child and I am your Father” but we typically say, “You must first act like your Father’s child before you can rightly call him, ‘my father’.” Wess would insist that this is simply backwards and wrongheaded, for with God the indicative always precedes the imperative and when this order is reversed, the results are disasterous.
Contrary to Wess’ saying, some would contend that our relationship with God begins with our obedience to his imperative, such as the command to believe God’s Word. Wess would argue that faith or belief is always a response to the already accomplished and already given gift (grace) of God. Thus, there is no ‘saving faith’ only faith in the God who saves. The writer of Hebrews seems to concur with Wess when he writes, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Is there really any question which comes first, imperative commandment or indicative sonship? The Hebrew’s quote tells us that God instructs and disciplines those who he has already accepted as his actual children and not some orphans who are auditioning for the part. This is what Karl Barth referred to as the “cannot earn quality” of grace.
Wess’s A=B and not C formula reminds me of a scene from the Disney animation classic, The Lion King. In the story, Simba’s father Mufasa is killed by his brother Scar. Scar then deceives Simba into believing that he was responsible for his father’s death and Simba ran away in shame into exile. Years later, one night Simba had a vision – he saw his reflection in a pool of water and superimposed on his image was the image of his father Mufasa. Mufasa spoke to Simba in thre vision and said, “You have forgotten who you are. You are my son and now that you have become who you are, you must take your place in the circle of life!” Notice that Mufasa did not say to Simba, “You must become my son” but rather, “You are my son (indicative) now take your place (imperative)!” This is a great illustration of how the God deals with us as his children. The Father has given us an identity by conferring on us an unshakable, unconditional relationship, “my child”, “my people”, “my bride.” It is only from the security bound up in the indicative “you are” that God speaks his relational imperatives, “therefore you should . . . you must.” The right sequence, indicative followed by imperative, is critical!
Like Simba, when we forget who we are and we forget who our Father is, we end up going on a quest to “find ourselves.” One of the ways that we search for our elusive “self” is by shopping – there are religious shoppers, career shoppers, pleasure shoppers, relationship shoppers etc. My experience with American religion aka, churchscape, is that it encourages spiritual consumerism, shopping for the best deal we can find on religious goods and religious experiences. Sadly, the spiritual consumer eventually falls prey to the religious marketers who are peddeling some form of the ‘do in order to be’ gospel. But this Easter Sunday, we need to remind one another why Jesus Christ has come, why he was killed and why his resurrection is such a BFD!
Jesus Christ was made to suffer because he dared to live from his God-given identity. As with Christ so it is with us today – “religious authority” and “political authority” would try and define by insisting that they alone are qualified to tell us who we “really are.” The religious and the political leaders of Jesus’ day said, “You are the Messiah only if we say you are the Messiah!” These men were scandalized by Christ’s radical formula, A=B and not C (Jesus = Messiah and not what you think he should do!). On the cross it looked like these men would have the last word, for there is usually no rebuttal to death. As it turned out, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
The promise of the risen Christ to us today is, “I have come to rescue you from the tyranny of ‘do in order to be.’ I want you to know what it is to live from the security of my Father’s love and acceptance. I want you to have the confidence of living from the indicative promise, “you are my child, and I am your Father.” This is the gospel, that in Christ we are now God’s actual children, not orphans auditioning for the part; we are the ‘household of God’ we do not build, we are his Body we do not create and we are the church we do not go to! Wess was right,”you are the journey you don’t have to take, for there is nowhere to go . . . just someone to be“!