Seeing Ourselves as Jesus Sees Us

One potentially-troubling aspect of becoming a Christian and “going deep” with your faith is that the more you get to know the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the more you come to understand how everything else in life – absolutely everything – is so very frail, completely contingent and could all vanish in the wink of an eye (James 4:13-17). We rise every morning and go to bed each night with absolutely nothing guaranteed.

Will we wake up the next day? Will our children wake up? Will I still have my job at the end of this quarter? What might show up during my next annual physical? Once I get into my car to go somewhere, will I arrive safely at my destination? Are my kids safe at school today? Is my marriage going to last through this difficult season? The simple truth, borne out in any newspaper you care to pick up, is that life is unpredictable at best, and one of the saddest refrains in the entire human songbook goes something like, “I always thought stuff like this happened to other people.”

Perhaps that sounds a tad morbid, but held up in the light of Scripture, I prefer to see our “but a mist” existence as utterly realistic…and yet exceedingly hopeful. More to the point, a rightly-apprehended understanding of our own mortality and complete dependence upon God to provide the power to get out of bed in the morning is one of the more sturdy planks in any individual’s platform of faith-filled gratitude. We are typically so busy filling up God’s ears with our prayer requests that we neglect to notice the “small” things like A) we still have breath with which to offer a prayer, B) we are living in the wealthiest era that humankind has ever known, and C) we have God’s unshakeable promise that He cares deeply for each and every one of us (Luke 12:4-7).

One of my family’s all-time favorite films is “What About Bob?” starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus. Portraying Bob Wiley, Murray does such a great job of bringing to life a mild-mannered maniac whose clusterbomb of neuroses have almost completely paralyzed him, so much so that he is gripped with fear at the mere prospect of leaving his New York apartment. To make a long story short, Bob flips out when his latest therapist Dr. Marvin (Dreyfus) leaves the city for a family vacation. His initial pleas for help having been rebuffed by Dr. Marvin after a terror-filled bus ride to the psychiatrist’s lakeside resort, Bob completely loses it, breaks down and sobs in front of the entire Marvin family (and most of the rest of the town): “Check it out! Look, I’m in really bad shape! Come on, PLEASE! Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I need! I need! I need!”

While we all laugh at this ridiculous display and the childish manner in which Bob expresses his very obvious need to Dr. Marvin, the truth is that most of us – particularly those of us over the age of 30 – have probably at some point in our lives cried out to God in sheer desperation, our words and posture perhaps not being all that different than Bob’s. This segment in the film is funny precisely because it identifies something universal in the human condition – total desperation – and then gives it a comic twist – Murray’s manic performance – to help us “distance ourselves” somewhat from the seriousness of paralyzing fears and phobias.

As much as I enjoy this film, no matter how many times I see it, it is very sobering for me to realize that Jesus must see all of us as little better than the fictional character of Bob Wiley. In fact I have to think that, to Jesus’ way of thinking, a person like Bob actually has one up on most of the rest of us in that he has come to that point where he at least recognizes his deep, deep need for healing, spiritual or otherwise. Those of us, like me, who greatly prefer to see ourselves as able-bodied, capable, intelligent and ready to take on the world could stand to learn a thing or two from those around us who have quite rightly assessed and responded to their desperate state before God.

In the letter to the church in Laodicea, taken from Revelation 3:17, Jesus says, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” In just one simple sentence, Jesus tears down all of the markers by which we typically judge success and independence this side of Heaven. Yes, we may well have riches, our lives may be lived in comfort, and we may be so secure in our standing with others that we have allowed ourselves to believe that we truly “need nothing.” And yet, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that we are instead as pitiable as a bunch of Bob Wileys, the only difference being that some of us have been given eyes to see that we need to be on our face before Jesus each and every day.

In the past few years, I’ve spent a great deal of time with guys who are typically reluctant to identify themselves as “spiritual Bob Wileys.” And I don’t blame them one bit. In fact, I used to be one of them. Previously, the thought of a childish dependency upon God did not very much appeal to me, and I preferred to try to “be a good person” and simultaneously live life on my own terms. It was only through multiple breakdowns – some of them absolutely horrible – that I finally came to figure out the Great Truth that I was not God, after all, and that my life completely depended on God; apart from His grace I was unable even to draw another breath or borrow one more beat of my heart. Admitting this truth runs contrary to everything in our proud, fallen human condition, and yet living out of that conviction often has the effect of unleashing God’s power to heal and transform.

It’s easier to see our need for God’s preserving intervention in desperate life circumstances; it’s much more difficult to see that need as we are racing down the highway with the wind in our hair and the radio up loud. I’ve lost count of the number of guys I have spoken to, many of them in clearly desperate circumstances, who nevertheless want to maintain that they are still in control of their situation, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. May God grant us all eyes to see that, even on our very best day, Jesus looks down and sees us all exactly as He saw the Laodiceans; filthy, dressed in rags, blind, naked and completely dependent on His upholding the world by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3-4). My prayer for anyone reading this is that you would hear God’s call to depend upon Him without having to suffer through several tragic “wake-up calls,” as I did. Come now, in your strength. The days of desperation will surely be at hand soon enough.

Luke 18:15-17 (ESV)
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

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