Living at Peace with Limited Insight

If whatever remains of the day will allow for it – and we are not physically exhausted – my wife and I often find ourselves hemming and hawing over how exactly to spend those precious few minutes of relaxation time: Do we watch the next carefully-scripted and gorgeously-produced episode of Downton Abbey…or do we instead amuse ourselves by comparing my own considerable collection of neurotic behaviors to those of Adrian Monk, the (fictional) San Francisco Police Department consultant who is almost hopelessly hobbled by a trauma-induced case of OCD?

Now that several seasons of the show are available on DVD at ridiculously low prices, my wife and I have begun to carve out space each week for an episode of this offbeat detective drama. If you have yet to take in even one episode of this television series – and you are of a certain age – perhaps the simplest way to describe Monk is Columbo-Meets-Nervous-Breakdown: Each episode is self-contained, Monk nearly always catches the perpetrator of the crime, and most of the bad guys make the fatal mistake of assuming that Monk’s blatantly-obvious weaknesses make him someone to be safely ignored.

I won’t get into the various ways in which I most readily identify with the character of Monk, but suffice it to say that I can see how having a container of sanitized hand wipes always at the ready makes a good deal of sense. Instead, what has most captivated me about this particular detective drama is the recurring theme of “strength in weakness,” a theme that the Bible seems to take up regularly (Judges 7:2, 2 Corinthians 12:10, etc.).

For example, in one first season episode, two SFPD detectives are examining a car that has gone off the road, killing the person who was driving it. Seems like an open-and-shut case to them; driver went off the road, crashed into this tree, and died. Not much need for any further speculation, and certainly no need to bring in Monk and saddle the department with a bill for his consulting services, right? But from far up on the roadway – Monk does not wish to walk down to the crash site and thereby soil his shoes – the OCD-weakened detective spots a clue that seems to indicate that the wreck has been “staged” or at least tidied up for the police to some degree. How exactly did the victim manage to die in the wreck and then clean off a piece of the car’s windshield? This is probably no “routine accident” at all.

It is in the wake of this embarrassing moment that Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer, played by the always-spot-on Ted Levine, lets loose with a pent-up litany of personal frustration: “How does he do it? Would you please tell me? How does he look at the exact same thing that you and I are looking at and instantly see things that both of us have completely missed? It’s not fair, I tell you, it’s just not fair that this mental cripple is able to look at the exact same crime scene and immediately come up with wildly different conclusions.”

This well-delivered rant has found a place in my soul and stuck.

The walk of Christian faith has always been difficult for me. If I ever encounter someone evangelizing another person with the phrase, “Come to Jesus, and all your problems will be solved,” I cannot be held responsible for how I might subsequently interact with that person, well-meaning or otherwise. So far to the contrary, I have found that submitting one’s life to the Lordship of Christ is the beginning of many problems that previously occupied no real estate in our souls. True, and thanks be to God, our biggest eternal problem has been forever and irrevocably solved, but in so many ways that I can list, newfound faith unfailingly garners the attention of the enemy. Recent converts are better served to be warned that when they do come to Christ, they can expect some of their temporal problems to have puppies…and reveal much.

The problem that has been occupying center-stage in my own walk of faith is not blindness, per se, but instead an increasing awareness of my own blindness. It is in fact a great gift of the Spirit that I am now starting to see my blindness more fully – if that makes sense – as well as the consequences that have played out in my life and the lives of others as a result of that spiritual condition. But a corresponding truth is that I can often be found ranting in a similar vein as that of the good Capt. Stottlemeyer: “Why couldn’t I see this before now? How is it that someone who has never even read the Bible was able to reach in and so quickly point out something that I had completely missed?” Just like the deeply-embarrassed Stottlemeyer at the scene of a car crash, I look down to see my own filthy shoes and wonder why it is someone else had to do my job for me.

The truth, though, is that we believers are far better served to live in that state of perpetual embarrassment than to go on believing all sorts of things about ourselves that everyone else can see are clearly not true. As I write this, I am thinking of several other people – in addition to my wife – who have been given ongoing permission to look at the various car crashes that I call “my life” and render an unbiased, fearless opinion. Do they see something that I do not see, or (more accurately, perhaps) do not wish to see? What is it, and how can I avoid it next time? Where and when did I begin to walk away from Jesus – my only source of Light and Life – to pursue my own agenda?

I can’t pretend that the results of opening myself up to the scrutiny of other strong Christian believers have always been fun. They most assuredly have not. Even though I know full well that I am better served to see Truth than to live in the dark, the light of mid-day often reveals scars and sicknesses that I would rather pretend other people struggle with. In the well-played characters of Stottlemeyer and Monk, though, I find that I now have a workable model for what it might look like to both resent and appreciate the wisdom and insight that I would in no way, shape or form ever be able to come up with on my own.

Praise God for those folks who fearlessly hold up a mirror to our ongoing folly. Amen.

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

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