Living for God’s glory or Living for our own glory
So I woke up to this commentary this morning:
“The Christian church has a bad case of narcissism. And that’s a tragedy because it’s supposed to be in love with God, not with itself. But that is one of the problems with religion. It inevitably creates its own support system and ends up spending so much time and energy on its packaging that it tends to forget what is supposed to be inside.” – John Sloat
I have been thinking on this, especially in light of stewardship season. My end result is to say, I wish it was that easy.
I’ve heard that polling data says that everyone believes congress to be doing a bad job; however most people also believe that their particular representative is the exception and doing good work. That just can’t be true. But it points to an interesting human trait. We extend grace to people we know well (and sometimes so much so that all accountability is gone) and we have little room for anything short of perfection out of people we do not know.
So we love our church, but thing ‘the Church’ are hypocrites and self-serving narcissists.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. Isn’t it always? Our own beloved church is probably – check that, it is – compromising some of God’s radical mission for the sake of our own comfort, needs, and pride. But the Church at large is also not full of horribly self-centered people. If people were that selfish they wouldn’t be giving up their Sundays, freely giving to missions, volunteering in Sunday school classes. Sure some churches are doing it better than others. But really… there are better ways to be narcissistic than gathering to worship God. Maybe we need to love each other a bit more – extend grace outside our own circles a bit more – and then recognize that if we want to start slinging around accountability the place to start is within our own community. Don’t throw criticism around, but lead by example. Show them the Gospel. That is some incarnational theology, and I’ve heard that God is kind of into that.
I tend towards the belief that one loves God by loving others. Peter Rollins, author of Insurrection, says that since God IS love you cannot love God as if God is some external object we chase down and love on. We become one with God as we embrace love, as we love neighbors, and even as we love self. There is some room for self-love and communal-love in the world of loving God.
On the other hand I’m not defending church self-infatuation and institutional selfishness. My favorite theologian of all time is Søren Kierkegaard. Part of his attack upon Christendom is based on these same thoughts. His critique notes that institutions or groups (and the Church as one) necessarily develop a selfishness to perpetuate themselves and often to the detriment of our true mission. This is why he struggled (fought) mightily with the established Church even as he dedicated his life to wrestling with what it meant to follow Jesus.
So I find myself in a tension. A good tension, a faithful tension I believe. It’s a tension that says we are called to love ourselves, to love the place and people we gather with and that this is essential to how we love God. We are also called not to do that to the detriment of how we love neighbor… particularly those neighbors who we least identify with in our daily lives and our churchy gatherings.
This tension sits with me in all that do, but it also reminds me that you cannot make nice easy lines between what is done for my glory and what is done for God’s glory. Because God loves the world. God love me, and God loves you. God glorifies you, and God glorifies me. And when we participate in that we glorify God.
So what is my take away? Live in the tension of it all. There is no such thing as “doing it absolutely right.” So give some grace to everyone and seek the best we can to find that middle ground where we live not for ourselves alone, but for all people (ourselves included).
Grace and Peace to you all,