I once had a lady in my church tell me that she had never experienced a moment of anger since she had been truly filled with the Spirit. Given the fact that she was still a living, breathing, fully functional human being, I chose not to believe her. It’s not that I think she was deliberately lying – I’m sure she believed it, or at least really wanted to believe it. My guess is that every time she felt a twinge of anger, she suppressed it, denied it, or simply called it by another name. Anger did not fit her picture of the Spirit-filled life, so denial became necessary for maintaining the ideal image she had created.
We all draw a picture of what we want to be or think we should be, and something within us wants everyone else to see us that way. In defending the ideal image we have created, we become deniers of all that does not seem to fit. For those of us in the church, that impulse often becomes entwined with the life of faith. We create the persona of the “ideal” Christian, the one who is always strong in the faith, has all the answers, and is somehow above and beyond any struggle. It’s what we want others to see and believe about us. So, when we do wrestle with doubt, questions, weakness, temptations, or difficulties, our response is to deny and bury the reality in order to protect the image.
Denial, however, does not move us forward in the life of faith; safeguarding an image that is not genuine will never advance us in the journey toward Christlikeness. In fact, it does the very opposite: it keeps us in bondage, unable to move beyond the hidden but unresolved. The unwillingness to be honest with God, ourselves, and others on the journey with us, prevents us from experiencing the mercy, grace, and freedom that is ours in Christ.
Scripture is nothing if not honest in recounting the lives of God’s people. Its stories reveal heroes of the faith who are far from the ideal pictures we often create. They were people of faith who struggled, battled their weaknesses, questioned why, wrestled with doubt, didn’t always understand, and sometimes even debated with God. Far from being glossed over and hidden from us, transparency is part of their story. What really matters is that in those honest and open struggles, they remained faithful to God, trusting that He would remain faithful to them. And He was faithful to them. God’s steadfast love and mercy always met them there, right in the middle of their confusion, arguments, and messes.
The life of faith is much bigger than mere mental assent to a set of beliefs. We are called to a life of personal trust, one of relationship that is lived out in the real world, a broken place filled with broken people. And like all those who have walked this road before us, we will struggle at times. We will face battles of doubt and confusion, moments when we don’t understand and don’t have the answers. We will confront weaknesses and temptations. We might even have some debates with God. This is the life of faith, and it’s not always easy or pretty.
We can deny the reality of our struggles, insisting on protecting that perfect image we want others to see. Understand, though, that hiding behind an image will never change the reality. The other option is to get honest with God, ourselves, and one another. When we do, we find that God’s grace meets us there, doing a work within us that moves us forward, shaping us more into the image of Christ. Authentic faith is just that – it’s authentic.
And by the way – that perfect image you’re so determined to defend? No one’s buying it anyway.