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Overcoming Division and Opening to God: A Christian Perspective

Jesus tells the story of two guys praying.  One lives according to the law and thanks God that he isn't like the other fellow who lives a pretty dissolute life, cheating people, but who comes to God in prayer, throwing himself on God's mercy. Jesus points out that the one who relies only on God for salvation is the one whom God saves.  On the surface the moral of the story might be, choose to be like the second fellow, not the first. ‘Be humble'.

The problem is, then we find ourselves in the odd position of praying, “God, we thank you that we are not like other people:  we aren’t hypocrites, overly pious, self righteous.  We aren’t like that guy over there.  We know we should always be humble.

‘How,’ I ask myself,  ‘can you be humble when you’re proud of being humble?’

The secret may lie in the opening of the story.  Jesus chooses a particular audience for this story:  “He told this parable to

  1. some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and

  2. regarded others with contempt.”

One keeps the ten commandments, listens to the scripture and sermons; he has kept the law.  Where he is wrong is when he thinks that he has a better relationship with God because of his own good actions.

The other knows he has been bad.  He knows that he has broken the law, and fears he has disappointed God, and asks for God’s mercy.

One feels saved by his own actions and judges the other.  But the other hopes that God will have mercy and save him through God’s own forgiving nature.

Divisions between people separate us from God

As soon as we divide people between good and bad, or the self-righteous and the humble, or between who’s in and who’s out, we are doomed to find God far from us.  The story is about a God who is the only one who can judge the human heart, a God who determines to raise the ungodly to goodness.

The more divisions we make between people, the more I think we fall into a trap.  As soon as we divide people, God becomes more distant from us.

The basic problem of humanity is distance from God. If we realize that only God can close that distance, then we open ourselves to God working in us.  So how do we cope when we feel far from God?

Make memories of the closeness between you and God

“Remember the close occasions.  Remember the profound worship.  Remember the Lord’s table.  Remember your baptism.  Remember the bread and the cup.  Remember your Christian friends.  Remember the old and new songs and you will get through.  It hurts me to think of the young people who do not know a hymn, who do not know a single Scripture verse, and who have never sat next to the strong shoulder of a believing man or woman.  How will they ever make it?   What happens today in worship will be the only food you will have one of these days.  But it will be enough.  It will be enough.” - Fred Craddock in The Cherry Log Sermons

It’s God’s power that is being lifted up here.  We are dependent on God’s mercy.  When this happens and we forget our divisions and stand before God aware only of our need, then we too are raised to goodness by God in mercy, grace, and gratitude.