Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Of course I’m not talking about the fuzzy stuff that builds up in your dryer vent. Lent is that period of humble preparation leading us into the celebration of the Easter, and the new life we have through the resurrection of Christ. Lent is a period of 40 days traditionally marked by fasting. Sundays, however, are not counted as part of the Lenten days of fasting; Sundays are always feast days, and, being the Lord’s Day, are always commemorative of the resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of the New Creation in Him. Every other day during the season of Lent is a day of fasting and self-denial.
Lent is a special time to be reminded that though we may be tempted to think of ourselves as stars who don’t really need God, in truth we are but dust, the residue of the cosmos and the stars within it. Lent is that special time of year to be reminded that we need to humble ourselves in dust and ashes in the face of the temptation to exalt ourselves above the stars like the prideful king mentioned by the prophet Isaiah.
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV
The language of this taunt directed toward the human king of Babylon may faintly echo a more ancient fall—that of Satan himself. As Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14b). The latter, Jesus himself provides the greatest example for us (Philippians 2:1-11).
Exaltation of self also seems to always involve a demotion of God—if only in the minds of those exalting themselves. In some way God becomes less than the revelation of God we find in the Bible. It seems the more significant we become in our own eyes, the less significant and personal God becomes in our minds.
I’ve seen a meme floated around social media to mock theists—those, like me, who believe in an intelligent and personal Creator who cares intimately for creation, especially humans whom he created in His image. The graphic was of a model of the entire universe with a message of incredulity to the effect that theists are silly to believe that a being would have created all of this just to have a personal relationship with them. What may be surprising is that not only atheists have circulated this mean to mock Christians. Even other Christians, who consider themselves non-theistic, have circulated it too. As I mentioned in a couple of articles around Christmas, not everyone who considers themselves to be Christian believes in a personal God—some are pantheists or even self-declared atheists of some sort.
Now the meme is a caricature of the historic Christian faith. Some immature Christians may hold the view that the entirety of the cosmos revolves around them, but there is plenty in the cannon of Scripture, like the book of Job, to show us otherwise. Yet though the God revealed in the Bible is a transcendent, He is also a personal God, who created the universe and reigns sovereign over it. And He does seek a special covenant love relationship with us.
Ironically, Albert Einstein described belief in a personal god like this as “childlike,” preferring instead an impersonal pantheistic view of God—that the universe itself may be divine in some way. Jesus, did, say, nonetheless, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). He would go on to connect this with humility. Faith in the all powerful yet personal God revealed in Jesus Christ and the Bible requires humility.
I have counseled with life-long church members who have shared their struggles in believing in the miracles mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed, for example. They have said they just can’t believe in this virgin birth thing or the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I ask if they believe that God created the universe? At first they usually say yes, but when I probe a little deeper something else becomes evident. I ask, “So you believe that God could create everything that exists out of nothing through the spoken Word, but you can’t believe that God could handle a virgin conception and raising His only begotten Son bodily from the dead?” The truth is when people struggle to believe those things, they also lack faith in a God who is an intelligent and personal Creator. It would be like saying I believe someone could build the Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium, but couldn’t handle making a mousetrap!
Faith in the God revealed in Jesus and in the Scriptures requires humility. If God is powerful enough to create the entire universe, surely He could also handle having a personal relationship with any human being he wants. I’m sure He could even handle becoming human Himself in the person of Jesus, our Lord.
The image of God in humanity is stamped on the entirety of our being, collectively and individually. It is not limited to any particular trait or function. God designed each of us with the capacity to reflect His character into creation and to be in a holy relationship with Him and each other, first to be loved and then to love. We are always loved before we really begin to love God and others. “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Sin has inhibited and distorted our original God-given capacity as image-bearers. That capacity is inhibited and distorted in different ways and to different degrees in all of us. A person’s individual worth is not determined by his or her ability to express that capacity in this fallen world where sin still remains in all and reigns in most. Rather our worth and dignity is inherent in God’s original design for each of us in the garden of Eden and his purpose (telos) for us in the New Creation, where sin will no longer inhibit our capacity, spiritually or physically, to express and fully reflect God’s holy love and righteousness into the world. Ironically perhaps, it also takes humility to recognize our true worth and the priceless worth of each of our neighbors created in the image of God.
Faith requires humility; humility receives love as the love of God is “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). And those who recognize they have been so loved, love as they have been loved.
The crisis in the church today in the Western world is really a crisis of faith. Unbelief is at the root of all that ails us. Faith requires that we become more childlike; faith requires humility.
Father, for the sake of your Son Jesus, by the power of your Holy Spirit, make us more childlike during this season of Lent. Amen.