Not many people know this, but I used to play the double bass.
Now, when I say I used to ‘play’ the double bass, really I mean I used to get lessons on the double bass. These things are very different. But seriously, give a nine year old an instrument twice their height and tell them rather than taking that instrument home to practice that they have to forgo their school breaktime to practice instead and you tell me how successful that will be…?
But that’s not the point.
The point is, I didn’t practice. And when I didn’t practice it meant that the old lessons with Mrs Coleslaw didn’t go very well. Then when I went to high school and took lessons with Mrs Basher, those didn’t go very well either. Both ladies were grumpy and frowny and frankly terrifying. To this day I’m not sure if it is a requirement for double bass teachers to be able to shout at ear-splitting levels and to wither your liver with one look… Their shouting and looking – as terrifying as it was – weren’t the most dreaded response to my inability to match the notes on the score to finger-positioning and lack of practice. The phrase I dreaded most in response to my eyes-down confession of 5 minutes practice a week was “I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”
Even now it sends shudders down my spine and plants anvils in my gut!
Undoubtedly you have your own experience of these kind of traumatic guilt-inducing childhood memories? Or perhaps it was just me. But anyway…
In the last couple of years in listening to Darrell Johnson teaching the gospel of John I have been interested in the concept of ‘zoe’ the Greek word for life of the spiritual kind rather than ‘bios’ as life in the biological kind of way. C.S Lewis also talks about it in ‘Mere Christianity’. I won’t try and explain it all here, but suffice to say that it made me think think along the lines of Jesus saying that he came that we might have ‘life (zoe) in all its fullness’ and that therefore all the things we turn to apart from him (ie sin) steals zoe from us.
For me, this perspective on sin helps me understand that it is not that God is some sort of cosmic spoilt child who, because he didn’t get his way, wreaks havoc in his judgement on our sin. But that rather, God wants us to know and live the life he had always intended for us so sent Jesus to do the whole life-death-resurrection-ascension thing so we can be free from sin and death and hell.
SO… by trusting in Jesus I am sorted and that life (zoe) is mine. Except… I’m not very good at practising. I still muck around with my sin mud pies: holding on to grudges, serving myself over others, discontent and grumbling…
If I am talking to someone who says something similar of themselves, I feel that in that context the way forward is not to preach fear tactics; not to tell the person that those sins make God angry and that he punishes and disciplines them. My tactics would be to point out that those things steal true life from us, that they ruin ‘shalom’ and why would we want anything to do with them? to encourage them that true life and beauty dwells in following the way God says to go. ‘Whoever lays down his life for me and for the gospel will find it!’ God wants so much more for us than that!
Except… Somewhere in all of this I suddenly got the feeling that the trajectory of all this could lead to that same feeling from my childhood neglect of the double bass. I mean, can you imagine…? Standing before the judgement throne of the infinite creator of all things seen and unseen, realising in full the absolute and utter idiocy and ugliness and emptiness of all those things you mucked around with in your earthly life, clinging to and claiming the name of Jesus and the voice of the Almighty booms those dreaded words:
“I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”
I’m sure there are many smarter people out there who can punch holes all over that and who can identify what my issues and misunderstandings are. To clarify – that’s not really how I believe God will react when we finally get to the point of hanging out forever, I’m more just trying to work out why I was reminded of the Mrs Coleslaw and Basher when thinking about this stuff the other day. So please feel free to help!
But it also took me back to some pub theology about right and wrong as verbally-processed from this soapbox. Does our obsession about right/wrong behaviour mean that we miss a bigger picture? Does our measuring of our sinful/righteous responses to life’s circumstances mean that we’re trying to ‘keep a balance’ when life with God (zoe) isn’t anywhere near a set of scales?!?
Eugh… I just don’t know! What do you think?
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15
Just read something this morning that is interesting in regards to this stuff. The author pointed out that in leading someone in prayer to come to know Jesus, we only lead them in repenting of sin and not renouncing sin. This reduces ‘sin’ to our thoughts and actions as opposed to an all-encompassing force which enslaves and destroys… Helpful perhaps?