I remember hearing a story about a lady who got caught trying to drive through a blinding snowstorm. She didn’t want to pull off the road and get buried, but the snow was too thick to have any clue where she was going. Miracle of miracles, she came up behind a snow plow. Now, not only could she continue going forward, she could drive on a freshly plowed road! She followed him as he went straight, as he turned, and as he went straight again, and turned again. After doing this for about half an hour, the snow plow stopped, and the driver got out, and made his way back to the lady’s car. She rolled down her window a crack, not enough to let much snow in, but enough to hear him shout, “Hey Lady! Why are you following me around the mall parking lot?”
There’s a story to make you eager for some winter weather. But it’s also a pretty good reflection of many of our lives, as we try to figure out where we’re going and how to get there.
It was this morning, as I was taking a second stab at Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s famous book The Cost of Discipleship, that I stumbled across some thoughts about our status as sinner-saints. Bonhoeffer was addressing the proponents of “cheap grace” who wholly embrace our fate as sinners (“Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Jesus Christ all the more boldly.”) In railing against this philosophy, he insisted that Jesus has not called us to despair of our sinful nature, nor to embrace it, but to accept that, though we are lost, our guide is not. We are not called out of failure and into success. We are called out of aimlessness and onto the narrow road. It’s just that the narrow road happens to lead through a lot of wilderness, and we don’t always know which way it’s going to turn.
I think if we could get a better picture of this, as a metaphor of our Christian Life, we could stop wasting so much time spinning our discipleship wheels in the mud. What a relief to be able to admit the fact that we were born sinners, and we’ll die sinners, without having to be ruled by our sinful nature. Our lives aren’t wrapped up simply in trying not to sin, they can be wrapped up in following Christ. Unfortunately, like many issues of the faith, I believe 95% of us are off-track, either to one side or the other.
On the one side, there are many Christians who have given up on ever being a “saint”, and are resigned to wandering around in the dark until they die and go to heaven. “As long as I know where I’ll end up,” they sigh, “I can cope with the confusion and heartache in the meantime.” These people may sin boldly, or they may make half-hearted attempts at morality, but they are not following Christ, and they are certainly not on the path of discipleship.
On the other side, you’ve got the holy-folk who have managed to develop a sort of hyper-certainly about their faith. Sure, they’ll introduce Jesus as their guide, as their “Way, Truth, and Life,” but they’ve got something better: a map. Why would you need a sherpa to help you climb Mt. Everest, when you’ve got a map that tells you where you are, where you’re going, and exactly how to get there? Why rely on anyone, when you can earn the bragging rights for having done it by yourself?
I’ve got good news for the first group, and bad news for the second. The good news is that Jesus really is there to guide us through the snow-storm, and he’s not going to take us in circles. There is real good to be done, real progress to be made, and a Great Commission to be lived out. We are not doomed to wander around in the wilderness of original sin… we are called to leave all our luggage behind, and follow Christ. And it’s not just the destination that’s glorious, it’s the road as well.
The bad news for the second group, is that no accurate map exists. Of course, this is ultimately good news as well, if it points them to Jesus. But it’s not fun to hear at first. Because Christianity has spent thousands of years filling atlases with its maps, and bookstores with its field-guides and travel tales and catalogs for all the gear you’ll need to buy. It’s bad news at first to hear that none of these authors or cartographers really know what they’re talking about, unless they’re introducing you to Jesus, the guide, and telling you how to recognize his footsteps and hear his voice.
This is tough for me, partially because I’m a total map geek. And partially because I do like to figure stuff out on my own. But if these are my vices, I have at least one virtue I can brag about:
Despite being a guy, I don’t mind stopping to ask for directions.