Lenten Lessons for Easter
We have good news; and we have bad news. Let’s begin with the bad news: We’ve got problems. The Bible is very clear on this point and declares: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Abraham Needs God
Since the Bible uses the word “sin,” let’s focus on that for a moment. In this fourth chapter of Romans, Paul reminds us of Abraham. As the patriarch of our spiritual heritage, he serves as an example of someone who didn’t earn his righteousness. He couldn’t. He had no idea what he was doing. He had no experience with the kind of faith God was evoking in him. Often, even when he followed God’s instructions, he continued to cause problems. He created all kinds of relational messes within his family, and repeatedly placed his wife (and semi-half-sister) Sarah in awkward, even dangerous positions (see Genesis 12:10-20; 16:1-16; 17:1-27; 20:11-18; 21:8-21).
Yet Paul’s example of Abraham is clear: what we need is not so much about us as it is about God. The solution to our problems is less about what can accomplish and more about what must recognize: we cannot do this on our own.
Certainly that became Abraham’s ongoing lesson. Abraham needed God. Gradually taught, slowly freed from his deep inadequacies, with God’s patient assistance Abraham grows up in his faith.
So must we. Here’s how.
Guilt Needs Grace
One of our best definitions of “sin” in the Bible is simply “missing the mark.” Being just a little off center on the target might not be all that bad. But this off-the-mark-ness is less than what God desires for us. Accepting this bad news about me is not a weakness. It just simply is. By acknowledging my incompleteness, my missing the mark, I begin to open my life to a growing strength.
Abraham slowly learned this: how to get un-stuck. Like him, we are freely offered a biblical strategy for liberation. Accepting the truth about my life is not to provoke guilt, but to instill grace. And God’s grace itself becomes highly liberating. Using Abraham as his model, Paul repeats this message throughout Romans.
Wisdom Needs Humility
Usually sly and subtle, sin sometimes becomes even more dangerous in those of us who think we are beyond it. Often believing we are too smart or too sophisticated or too churchgoing to succumb to the vagaries of some ancient concept, we get fooled into thinking we are foolproof.
This, then, becomes a self-fulling prophecy: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Just when we think we have life figured out; just as we consider ourselves immune from these spiritual downturns, we miss another mark. We sin. We become haughty instead of humble, critical instead of caring, hypocritical instead of real, foolish instead of wise, selfish instead of loving. True biblical wisdom must always be partnered with humility. Otherwise, it cannot be wisdom. For “ALL have sinned …” (Romans 3:23)
Humility Needs Vision
And finally, sometimes we aren’t even aware of how much we are missing, how little we understand, how far we’ve strayed. It’s difficult to know what we don’t know. Too often, our lives drift gradually into unhealthy routines, negative companions, cynical outlooks, and general attitude decay. This can be especially true during a pandemic. How many of us are spending too much time on Netflix? We don’t mean to be hurtful or harmful or neglectful. We might not even be that bad. We just aren’t what we can and should be. We lack a higher vision, we lower our sights, and we stumble instead into the mediocre and miss out on the much better.
Thankfully, like Abraham, we have equal access to a liberating faith, one that doesn’t stifle or deny, but that grows, sees, evolves and sets us free. Even on those days when, like Abraham, when we aren’t sure what we are doing, or might be clueless about the messes we are making, our baddest news can be still be overcome. Our problems never have the last word. We simply must be aware of this available power and of God’s accessible presence. Our deepest wounds and saddest scars can be healed by the transforming nature of God’s grace. True biblical humility learns to see beyond our less-than-ness and envision more clearly a better-than-ness.
Vision Needs Easter
So whether you are weighted down with guilt, or just flitting along unaware of the available goodness slipping past you, we do well to take our bad news seriously. Then, like delicate, emerging blossoms of spring, God’s abundant gift of grace grows within us and around us. This is good news. We, and our world both become more beautiful as a result. And our Lenten journey, envisioning the direction of Easter, becomes all the more necessary – and even more exciting.
With Lenten Hope and Easter Love,