You Know How Buildings Look Ugly While Under Construction? That’s the Church

under constructionWhen I was going to UC Irvine, the joke was that ‘UCI’ stood for “Under Construction Indefinitely.” There was always some new building being put up, or some old building being remodeled; our student center was torn down after my first quarter there and completed the quarter after I graduated (figures.) In any case, there were a number of structures that looked horribly ugly when they were being built, had cumbersome scaffolding, and the construction process was loud, noisy, and a public nuisance. You’d walk by and just curl your lip at the eyesore. After a few years of work, though, when they were finally unveiled, the buildings were beautiful.

Dutch Statesment, theology, and all-around genius-type, Abraham Kuyper says that’s how we ought to think of the church on earth:

Finally, if someone asks whether the building known as the visible church would be the completion of the spiritual temple building, such that the visible church on earth should be identified with the kingdom of God, I would counter with this question: does the prolonged tragedy of the church on earth tolerate for a moment the fueling of this delusion?

No, my friends, it is an entirely different bond that binds together church and kingdom of God. I prefer to indicate this for you in terms of an analogy. You know that in our cities we often see a stack of wood on an open lot. Bricks are piled up, joists are brought in, people walk around with measuring tools and plumbs; on that lot a wooden frame is raised, tied together with poles and boards and cross-beams, looking more misshapen than elegant. That scaffolding, as people call it, appears to be constantly rising higher, its dimensions constantly corresponding to the outline of the building. But that wooden frame is not the actual enclosure, that scaffolding lashed together is not the wall of the house. For look, when after many days the cornice is brought in and the gables are anchored in place, then that scaffolding is torn down, that frame is dismantled, and the house that was skillfully constructed out of sight now sparkles in the grandeur of its lines and shimmers in the beauty of its form before the eyes of everyone.

By now you understand what I am saying, my friends! That scaffolding is the church on earth— as she appears at present to the eye: defective and misshapen. It must remain for a time, for who can build without scaffolding? But one day, when the cornice is brought in and the last stone is set, then that scaffolding will be removed, then that church on earth will fall away, and then that glorious temple will shimmer in its eternal beauty— a temple that hitherto had not existed, but that the builders had been building while supported by that Church.

–Abraham Kuyper, Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution (Kindle Locations 531-545). Christian’s Library Press. Kindle Edition.

Something to remember when you show up at church this morning, look at the people of God, and think, “Really, this is it? The Kingdom of God on earth looks like these people?” Well, yeah, that’s it…with a lot more work. Thankfully we have the promise of Christ that he will bring that good work unto completion, and that when we see it, we’ll marvel at her glory.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Unbearable Burden of Uniqueness

Life can be lonely and painful at times. It’s even worse when you’re ‘unique’. Paul David Tripp explains the way feeling like that special snowflake can go bad and keep our relationships perennially casual; impotent as sources of comfort and change:

Another reason we keep things casual is that we buy the lie that we are unique and struggle in ways that no one else does. We get tricked by people’s public personas and forget that behind closed doors they live real lives just like us. We forget that life for everyone is fraught with disappointment and difficulty, suffering and struggle, trials and temptation. No one is from a perfect family, no one has a perfect job, no one has perfect relationships, and no one does the right thing all the time. Yet we are reluctant to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, let alone to others. We don’t want to face what our struggles reveal about the true condition of our hearts. —Instruments in The Redeemer’s Hands, pg. 164

unique2While it’s true that your story is specifically your story, it’s also true that it’s a human story, an Adam and Eve story. Your hopes, fears, scars, emotional paralysis, history of hurt, sin, betrayals, judgments, anxieties, and pains have quirks and twists peculiar to you, but they also participate in the general character of life east of Eden. You are not fundamentally alone in your experiences and it is only very human narcissism that tells us that our burdens are essentially unshareable, and our woes unredeemable.

The Pride of Unique Despair

I remember when this point flooded my mind with light in college. It was a particularly angsty time for me; school, girls, church, and the looming question “What am I going to do with my life?” I think that’s a given for most 20-year-old guys. In any case, I had just met my future, life-long friend, Kierkegaard and was reading through The Sickness Unto Death–probably my favorite of the pseudonymous works–and he was tracing the labyrinthine ways sin can distort our understanding of ourselves. In a particularly eye-opening section, he points out that pride can take many forms, even the devious negative pride of thinking you’re beyond God’s help. It’s not that you’re so great you don’t need it, it’s that you’re so miserable you can’t receive it. It’s the narcissism of thinking that no one understands–not even God. I had been trapped in a form of pride so subtle it took a long-dead Dane using abstruse, post-Hegelian language to expose my folly–to prise open my eyes and reveal the dark comfort I took in being uniquely pained, beyond God’s comfort and the understanding of my fellow man. Oh, to be twenty again (shudders).

Contrary to my youthful, turmoil-filled estimation, the basic theological and practical reality is that, in fact, people do understand. Maybe not each particular person knows your particular pain–the multifarious permutations of human tragedy and depravity are endless. Still, someone does. Someone else has wept as you’ve wept, struggled as you’ve struggled, and failed as spectacularly, maybe even more so, as you. The good news is that you’re not unique. You don’t have to grieve alone or heal alone.  

Jesus, the High Priest and Our Brother

The author of Hebrews points out two ways this is particularly true for the Christian:

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering…Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to  to make a sacrifice of atonement for all the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

(2:10, 14-18)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15)

1. Jesus has gone through it alongside of us. In the Incarnation, the Son became our brother, our high priest, by taking on flesh and enduring all that we’ve endured, except without sin. (And even then, that doesn’t mean he didn’t know the weight of temptation–in order to resist it, he had to bear it’s full weight.) Jesus knows our pain. Jesus knows our suffering. He knows our struggles. He took it on by becoming our brother, being human alongside of us, tasting the full range of human experiences and loss, even to the point of death, so that he could overcome it. Bottom-line is the Son of God knows what it’s like. He understands. You’re not alone. What’s more, he went through it all to fix it. Whatever shame, guilt, or fear you have, Jesus took it to the cross and rose again, leaving your sins in the tomb never to be seen again.

2. Jesus gave us brothers and sisters. Jesus became our brother in order to “bring many sons to glory.” He didn’t just save you from your sin and misery, but a company, a whole world-wide family of fallen, feeble, being-redeemed people for you to walk alongside of in the church. Your local church is full of ‘unique’ people just like you. People with deep scars that Jesus is healing, broken hearts that Jesus is mending, histories of slavery that Jesus is redeeming, and lonely silences that Jesus is speaking into. It’s kind of like I told one of my students the other day, “Everybody here has a story just like yours. It’s just the details that are different.” And the miracle of grace is that God wants to use those stories, all the broken twists and turns, to speak grace into the lives of his children by His Spirit.

Break the Silence

Coming back Tripp’s quote, the point is you have every reason to break the silence. Don’t believe the narcissistic lie that you’re alone in your pain and sin–you’re not. Take courage, humble yourself, and transform a merely casual relationship into a truly personal one by reaching out to somebody. Let someone in on your anger issue. Talk to someone about the family trauma that’s tearing you up inside. Share your work troubles. Finally admit to the absolute terror you experience whenever you think about your future. Invite someone to know where you’re really at. It’s only when we confess what’s truly going on in our hearts and lives that someone can speak a word of grace and comfort and the healing can truly begin.

The long and the short of it is you don’t have to carry the unbearable burden of uniqueness. The Gospel means that you can be saved just like everyone else.

Soli Deo Gloria