It is no secret that our culture is saturated in an environment of pretending and ‘fakeness’ – or better, our lives are saturated with these things. There is a constant need to belong, yet a constant feeling of insufficiency. Have you ever noticed how people will speak highly of others to their faces, but degrade them behind their backs? Have you ever noticed how those people are referred to as ‘small minded’ by people who essentially do the same thing? Deep inside there is a gap – something we lost – that tells us: if you were to be judged you would not be enough, you would not measure up.
I think the answer to the riddle is – people degrade others because people are constantly evaluating themselves against the approval of those around them: guys notoriously do this through their conduct, while women typically through their words. If someone is found who is better looking, or has more money, or seems to have their life in order – there may be a twinge of insufficiency inside. Of course generalized, since this changes with maturity, we see something in them that we feel we lack in ourselves and so the immediate response is attraction, but when this causes us to cast doubt in our lives there is the temptation to distance ourselves to maintain an image of self-rightness: that we are ‘good enough’.
When we are hurt emotionally: either an unkind word or even a broken heart, the response is to diminish affection for the other person and create a distance between ourselves. Why? What makes someone go from loving a person to being a complete stranger to them? When we are out-right rejected it is easy to internalize all of those problems – we begin to feel less worthy, less attractive, less lovable. Yet diminishing affection for the other party is a superficial way to protect our pride and ignore why we really feel broken inside and what makes us feel undesirable…
I have had friends who have said things to me like: ‘I’m just a waste of time and space’, or ‘I’m worthless’.
Who told you that?
The question is striking because the answer is rhetorical – we feel insufficient because we have lost something so fundamental to our lives, but nobody had to tell us that. The first time I remember hearing this question, perhaps the first time it is ever mentioned, is in the book of Genesis at the fall of man and their sin of disobedience in touching/eating the fruit. When God came to walk with Adam and Eve, they were hiding and covered themselves with leaves and answered God: “I heard the sound of You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10).
“Who told you that?”
The uniqueness of God’s response gives huge understanding in the intention of His creation, who He is to them, and what His plans were for the human race. I recently spent a significant amount of time studying the story of the monomyth throughout different cultures in history, and since this caught my attention because it sets the Bible apart from ancient myth and makes it really relevant today. Uncommon to ancient myth at the time, this is not a question from an angry God to benign creation, but it is a statement of relationship – in fact, God questions Adam and Eve first without pronouncing judgment – but He never questions the deceptive serpent. This reaction gives fundamental insight into the character of God in dealing with creation – and lays the ground work for the plan of redemption by explaining what sin actually means.
To understand this, we must first understand our position before a Holy God; that He is not the author of holiness; He is holiness. Isaiah recounts being before the alter and hearing the angels call to one another: “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (6:3): in Hebrew the repetition of a trait brings significance to the characteristic. They were calling: HE IS HOLINESS! (Ironically, there is no English word for concept holiness that would apply to God, the word we have is proto-Germanic and it means “to be made holy” which is for us). He does not need, nor is He compelled to need. He does not suffer. He is perfectly content in His will. He is perfectly just in His ways. He is sufficiency. It becomes easy to think of ourselves as though we are at point ‘A’ and He at point ‘B’, which means we talk up to Him and He talks down to us, but this misses everything.
But we are all unclean and our righteousness is as filthy rags… – Isaiah 64:6
What changed before and after man ate from the tree? They were butt-naked before and they were butt-naked after. The only thing the Bible alludes to is that their eyes were ‘open and they knew they were naked’ (Gen. 3:7). Since holiness belongs to God, Adam and Eve had literally been walking in innocence under the covering of His righteousness, and their fault in eating from the fruit was not merely disobedience, but side-stepping His sufficiency for the misguided promise of understanding self-righteousness and seeing God the way the serpent did. They knew at once that there was a problem, that the rightness that comes from anything other than God is not enough – they were insufficient and hid themselves at the presence of sufficiency. The response was to create distance, blame, and diminish.
This is the beauty of grace. It was their disobedience that sent them from the covering of God’s righteousness and into the newly cursed world, but it was also God’s righteousness that calls us back into that same covering of innocence. The fall of man only showed us what was already true, that we are not enough of ourselves. Yet to be given pardon and restored, a price had to be paid – nothing is free, not even forgiveness. In Mark 5 a woman touched Jesus for healing and He felt the power go out from Him: He lost power so that she could have healing. Jesus had to be born in poverty, He had to come in literal filth, because He was God born beyond the veil of God’s holiness, but Himself perfect. God wrapped our filthy garments of sin around His Son in weakness so that He could put the best robe back on us – so that we could be redeemed (Zechariah 3:1-5).
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness – Isaiah 61:10
I have been thinking about sufficiency and my own shortcomings. As soon I fix one area in my life, some other area springs a leak: something breaks, something falls apart, and I get discouraged. I feel insufficient. I don’t feel worthy of a lot of things and so it’s easy for me to separate myself and push away, diminish affections for so many things. Even the world breaks under this pressure every day and I think we miss it because we misunderstand sin by seeing it as something we do, but not that insufficiency is who we are. Who told you that? – we did: condemned by our own nature and own hearts to constantly seek innocence again, a better land, a far country of sufficiency.
The hope isn’t in us, but in the love that gives without demand, forgives without account, and supports us in our weakness without insecurity. This love that cannot be lost assures us of our worth and value because we are secure in it. This is God’s love. This is it. This is the gospel. This is hope. The garden is where it started, the cross is where it changed, and heaven is where it will end. We are being translated, brought back, redeemed.
But now, thus says the Lord, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! – Isaiah 43:1