This past June 2012 marked the passing of another milestone in my life. Now I can enter almost any restaurant and receive a senior discount with the purchase of a meal. O joy! O rapture! How exceptional! I have finally arrived at age fifty-five. And though I have no plans (or desire) on living to the age of one hundred-and-ten, it would appear I have officially joined the ranks of the middle-aged. Chronologically speaking, however, if I only live five more years from this point, then age thirty would have been my technical middle-age. Still, all of the kids on my son’s baseball team (having gazed upon my gray beard) usually ask Cameron, “Is that old guy your Dad?” The matter seems settled from a 14-year-old kid perspective.
Yes, I must confess that I am getting old(er.) But curiously I do not find myself in mid-life crisis. There is no sudden desire in my heart to look or act younger—to bare my chest or adorn myself with copious glittering neck chains—to re-construct my physical appearance for the sake of attracting the opposite gender while soothing a vain ego. I have no delusions of owning a flashy sports car as a Freudian-extension of my manhood; no idyllic fantasy of beautiful young women flopping into my convertible car like hungry fish on a shiny lure. Though it is vanity of which I speak, that particular derivative is not what I struggle against this late in life. My vain nature is much more deeply entrenched and insidious. I prefer to call it my id-life crisis.
Though vanity is often wrapped in outer adornment (where one is most often rewarded by compliments from others as well as the twisted pleasure of gazing upon oneself), its roots are found in the attention-seeking nature of selfish desire. Desire is a particular focus, a catalyst of one’s motives. Not all desire is selfish. Good deeds are often accomplished from an unselfish desire to help others. So it would seem that desire (in and of itself) is not necessarily a bad thing. The obvious nature of vanity is cloaked in the elevation of oneself above the interests of others. It is insidious, seductive, and corrupting by nature. The truth be told, vanity is at the center of sin.
How could reasonable human beings be tempted to do unreasonable things if there was seemingly nothing to be gained from them? If temptation was not alluring, would anyone be drawn to commit sin? It is the obvious question. According to the scriptural account of Genesis, Chapter 3, sin did not exist yet in the world. So how did sin get a foothold in the nature of human beings? Unfortunately, it was invited in through selfish (vain) desire. Once sin entered into us, we were dynamically altered and transformed from the zenith of spiritually pure and innocent existence and plunged into darkness to the lowest depths of sin. As sinners we are dependent upon sin like addicts to heroin. We can’t get our fill of the junk yet loath what it does to us, even as we recognize it’s destructive consequences.
Would Adam and Eve have been tempted to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit if that fruit had been covered in sharp, painful spikes and smelled like a decaying body? In greatest probability the answer would be “No.” Yet in the account of mankind’s fall, as Eve was being tempted by the Serpent, we learn “that the fruit of the tree was good and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6, NIV.) Was the pleasing appearance of the fruit the reason that Adam and Eve sinned? Or was the fruit merely the focus of their vain desire? Keep in mind that Genesis told us God had placed the couple in a magnificent garden filled with all the good fruit they could ever want. It was truly a garden paradise with the exception of one problem, which had little to do with fruit. The trouble began with the exertion of selfish desire over the interests of God, then sin entered the world and human nature.
In my estimation, it would be impossible to fathom the extent of the fall of mankind from God’s grace were it not for the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth in Judea some two thousand years ago. Selfishness seems instinctual in humankind. After all, if you don’t look out for Number One you often end up as Number Two (please forgive the toilet humor.) The point is that self-preservation seems reasonable to a sinner until the Messiah shows up on the radar screen. In his teachings about eternal life, Jesus turns over the notion of self-preservation. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that losing one’s earthly life was preferable to keeping it. And while there are a plethora of scholars who may opine a metaphorical meaning to what Jesus said, I think Jesus meant exactly what he said. After all, he died on the cross making his point and rose from the grave proving it.
You are a sinner and so am I. Our sinful lives may vary by degree—some sin more than others perhaps—but the smallest degree of sin is not a pedigree by God’s accounting. Sin is sin is sin. No one was, or is, exempt from sin in this life, except for Jesus. Sin is so intrinsically invested in our beings that we often do not realize just how sinful we really are. As very small children we learn to lie without benefit of instruction. It was to our advantage to lie when we did not want to go to bed (even though we were very tired), or take something we wanted from a sibling while denying we did so, or break a vase while proclaiming we had no idea what caused the damage when we knew we had thrown it. As children, we needed to be disciplined and taught by others to avoid lying. Even so, no human being has managed to avoid lying all together, except Jesus.
The gospel accounts of the New Testament are four separate records of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. By all accounts, he was an exceptional human being. He was a man filled with desire: to please God (whom he called Father); to heal sickness; to love the unlovable; to set the record straight on faith; to challenge hypocrisy; to teach the truth; to call sinners to repentance; to give hope to the hopeless; to forgive sins; to reveal the miraculous nature of God; to surrender the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and bless those who would willingly receive them. Jesus was a man tempted by Satan to reveal himself as God. Jesus was a human being tempted by religious leaders to lie, commit blasphemy, and speak falsehoods. Jesus was a condemned prisoner tempted by a Roman governor and an angry mob to renounce his claim to deity in order to spare his life. And in spite of many temptations Jesus did not sin. Only God could manage that.
The outward human being called Jesus of Nazareth was incompatible with any notion of vanity. His ego and nature were humble. The inward man called Jesus (his id) rejected any desire to engage in sin. Being both God and man made Jesus an exception among mankind and (to our surprise) an exceptionally kind man. God was not like what others led us to believe. He was lovable. Jesus was the kind of man sinners need(ed) and longed for, for salvation—a man of God, a God as a man—still, a sinful world rejected him. And such a sinful world remains in an id-life crisis, caught up in vain pursuits and selfish desires to its ultimate destruction.
And I need Jesus for no other reason than the very nature of my id-life crisis. Sin is inherent in my nature and aberrant to God. I could not reconcile myself to God, so God did it for me through the person of Jesus. Except for Jesus, the exceptional eternal life that awaits a repentant sinner like me would be impossible. In my sin I am nothing to God. I would be abandoned like a speck of dust on the winds of time, except for Jesus. If sin is the rule, which it certainly is in this dark world, Jesus is the exception. Without God’s offer of salvation, you struggle with sin in vain.
Will you accept Jesus? That would be exceptional!
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)