(read Gal. 2): Suppose you opened a book and read that Satan attacks us warriors like this:
The warrior walks quickly down a narrow dark alleyway. She is wary. She treads lightly. She listens. What’s that? A sound causes her to spin round.
The cat’s eyes glow yellow. The car snarls. The warrior bends down to pet the cat. It purrs. It presses its bony body along her ankles. The warrior feeds the cat her last meal. She straightens and continues. A rattling sound causes her to jump, fists ready. No, it’s only a garbage can lid, disturbed by the retreating cat. The warrior breathes and listens. Nothing.
An enemy in black silently glides toward her, sliding down a rope from above. His face is concealed beneath a black hood with slits for eyes. Slowly, he slides down the rope. He draws closer. He hisses softly under his breath.
The warrior pauses. She senses something. She looks up.
The enemy attacks. He drops onto her. She cries out. He flattens her. He slits her throat. The warrior gurgles. She dies in a pool of her own blood. The End.
What a horrible story. Who wants to read THAT?
We want our warrior to struggle, to be overpowered, but to recover through a miraculous use of one of her gifts. Perhaps her intelligence causes her to grab the garbage can lid and bean the enemy. Maybe her kindness to the stray cat cause the cat to lick her awake, giving her time to dial 911 before passing out. Or maybe her warrior’s sixth sense causes her to leap out of harm’s way in the nick of time. Our hand goes to our mouth as we read of her struggle, but we exhale, breathing loudly, as she makes a narrow escape.
Is the devil the enemy in the above story? Is the devil like the slick stealthy hooded guy who drops down on us while we’re unawares? Jesus said the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. Is the devil too strong for us?
I think that’s the wrong question. Because even conceptualizing ourselves apart from God is where our problems begin. “Apart from Christ we can do nothing,” the Bible says. “With Christ, we can do all things.” It’s everything and nothing. So no, we can’t defeat the devil on our own – because we can’t do anything on our own. So with Christ, how do we battle our biggest enemy – pride? I think that perhaps the way this story really goes is a lot more like the following, and this time the enemy described isn’t the devil but our own pride:
The warrior turns down a dark alley. Spotlights switch on and flood every corner. A huge man lumbers toward the warrior. His every footstep thunders. The huge man leers at the warrior. The enemy gives an evil sneer. The enemy laughs, maniacally. He fumbles toward the warrior with hands like frying pans.
And the warrior drops her weapons, lies down and waits for the enemy to step on her. Then the warrior cries out in horror when she’s flattened like a bug. “Wow! I never saw that coming!”
The attack of pride, I fear, is pretty much that obvious. And we are pretty much that blind and that stubborn. The nuance is that the devil is like the enemy slipping down on us from a rope, but the weapon he uses isn’t a knife but a blindfold. The devil essentially slips near us and blinds us to how ridiculous our pride is.
The attack of pride reminds me of the “stealth” attack by pirates in a production of the Pirates of Penzance I was involved in high school.
“With cat like tread,” our pirates whisper-sang, “upon our prey we steal.” Then all ten of the pirates stomped as hard as they could on the stage deck.
“No sound at all,” they whispered.
BAM! They stomped louder.
“We never speak a word,” they whispered.
SMASH! They stomped again.
It brought the house down. Our pirates were so earnest in their quest for a surprise attack and so oblivious to their utter failure.
It would be nice if pride were a farce rather than the horror it is. It can help us to defeat our pride by conceptualizing it as a farce because, let’s face it, taking ourselves too seriously is one of the hallmarks of pride. But in fact, pride isn’t a farce. It’s tragic.
It ruins our lives.
It steals our joy.
It causes us to hate others.
It causes us to hurt others.
It ruins the lives of those who love us.
It is evil.
The biggest problem with pride is spiritual. There is always a spiritual quality to wrong-doing. Pride causes us to tell ourselves we can live without God and others.
Pride is, in short, a lie.
And like all lies, it distorts us, our reality and our perceptions. It causes us to try to impose our own distorted vision on other people, to try to force them to see our lies as true, to try to make them see us as all that, and them as all nothing. We hold up a set of rules – maybe the ten commandments, maybe ones we’ve made up ourselves – and persuade others and ourselves we can actually keep them, all the way down. And we say that makes us “good”, and therefore that we don’t need help.
Paul invites us here to instead “know” the grace. He implores us to recognize that salvation through a perfect God suffering for our imperfections is the only means to heaven.
We can never be good enough to earn heaven. Instead, Paul invites us to be like him – crucifying our pride – and no longer living the lie. Instead, it is Christ who lives in us. Grace is everything. Christ “died groundlessly” if we could observe the law perfectly.
Hypocrisy is another word for pretending. God invites us to stop pretending. He asks us to throw off the prideful idea of perfection and join the party. The Red Sea will part all over again. God will unhorse us. That’s the true horse and rider He will throw into the sea. And after we stand tall on the gospel of grace alone, God will reveal to us the love we need, long for, were made for, and have always wanted.
Filled to the brim with a supernatural understanding of God’s love, God will show us the way to start obeying the Mosaic law from the inside out. God will say: Why lie, when the truth sets you free? Why cheat on your spouse to recapture the ooey gooies, when God gives you a honeymoon all over again every time you forgive? Why steal, when God changes your heart to want His presence more than any thing?
Know the grace, Paul says. Grace already knows us. That’s why Paul dealt with Peter’s hypocrisy so firmly here. So, too, must we address and root out every time we see ourselves pretending we’re saved by some rule – which is another way of saying every time we imply by word or dead we’re saved by “being good” (even though that’s impossible for humans) instead of by God’s goodness.
The thief approaches in broad daylight, lumbering, fumbling. He wants to knock us flat. Let him. Pride goeth before a fall. Falling hurts, but we stand up humbled – by the love of our God for someone as stubborn and prideful as me.
And that is how I made myself let go of my dream of traditional publishing, started self-publshing in earnest, and discovered how much fun the writing life can be. All over again….
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on December 10, 2014.