Total Depravity

Some of these thoughts were a continuation of my post on Saturday (Welcome Back Ted Haggard) and some of them were spurred on from reflections on that post.

Rich Mullins, the famous Christian songwriter/singer, was known to say, in reference to the story of Balaam in Numbers 22, “God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and God’s been speaking through asses ever since.” I find some quite profound and quite comforting about this statement. First, we often elevate pastors/priests/rabbis to the level of deity, perceiving them to be flawless, without fault, of having attained Jesus’ call to be perfect. Mullins reminds us that we are all asses, that none of us are worthy of God. Nevertheless, God continues to use us as messengers of the good news.  But Mullins’ statement is also comforting. To know that God does still use us even in our sinfulness, pride, and misplaced faith.

This quote and reflections upon Ted Haggard reminded me of a class I attended this summer while visiting Denver Seminary. It was a theology class taught by Dr. Don Payne. During the class, we discussed our theoretical and working models of topics in theology. I wish I could recall the terminology he utilized in the class but I guess you’ll have to make do with my own. Let’s differentiate between theoretical and working models by looking at an example from class that day. Theoretically, we profess that God is an all-loving Father. And yet, in reality, in practice, our working model of this idea, seems to be far different. When we sin, we expect God to backhand us, to send us to timeout, or to punish. We see God doing things besides embracing us with a hug. Or a kiss. (You may be thinking that by punishing us, God is actually loving us. All analogies break down at some point.) Applying this to the idea of total depravity, we see a discrepancy between theory and practice once again. I don’t know of anybody who would deny total depravity or the idea that we are all sinners or that none of us are perfect. Our working models of total depravity seem disconnected from this concept. We hold people to a high moral code, expecting them to abide by it at all times. One slip up, and there goes everything you have worked for up to that point. Christians seem so slow to give second chances . . . maybe they should realize that their own lives are sustained on the grace of second chances. I’m not suggesting that we don’t hold people accountable or that we should never expect good things to be done to people. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be surprised when people do sin, when people do miss the mark, when people fall short of the glory of God. If there is any sort of constant thread sewn throughout the bible, it’s that God’s people are not perfect. The biblical story is about people that fail. It’s full of asses that seem to do the most idiotic things at the worst times. But when we ourselves pause, we see that we are no different. That the imbeciles of the bible still exist today in you and in me.

But then again, maybe it’s not our working model that’s flawed. Maybe it’s our theologies.

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