Does it ever feel like no matter how hard you try, you just cannot quite hit the mark you are aiming for? Now and then living out my faith can feel that: I try my best to hit the mark, and I just cannot get there. Sometimes I know where the mark is, and I just cannot hit it. Other times, I am not even sure where the mark is, and I lob my efforts in the direction I believe the mark to be. This condition has a clinical diagnosis. It is called “being human.” Symptoms include, but are not limited to, being a creature trying to be in a relationship with the Creator, being imperfect, being fragile and frail, making mistakes, not always being right, having limited ability to see things clearly, misunderstanding and being misunderstood, and frequently missing the mark.
Scripture repeatedly addresses this “human condition.” From the moment people first missed the mark through the birth of the church, God has been busy reminding us of our condition and our need for a remedy that we are unable to concoct for ourselves. In a garden perfect hands reached out in disobedience and opened our souls to dis-ease. In order bring healing, God had to come among us to lead us to a table where imperfect hands reach out in obedience to receive the doughy and grace-full cure.
In the meantime, we acknowledge our imperfection and our need for God. We acknowledge that our condition means that we “know only in part,” and that we have sinned “and fall short of the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 13:12 and Romans 3:23). The miraculous and wondrous gift we receive as those called by God is that God uses us as we are, in spite of our condition, to bring glory to Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, Paul writes:
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
God is manifest in our weakness. In spite of ourselves God is, and God remains. How can this be?
I believe the answer comes in three words: faith, love, and hope.
Paul goes on to tell the Christians in Corinth that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (5:7). Our human condition is such that, not only can we not cure ourselves, we cannot even lead ourselves. We are fully and completely dependent on God – for faith, for vision, for direction, and for healing. This must be an important realization for Paul to convey to the Corinthians, because this faith, revealed through the glowing Gospel of Jesus Christ, is leading them towards reconciliation.
The church in Corinth is experiencing difficulties. There is tension between the Christians there and the Apostle Paul, their spiritual father. Some of the Christians in Corinth no longer believe that Paul has been teaching the truth. Some who continue to support Paul are at odds with those who are at odds with Paul. The divisions that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians seem deeper and more contentious by the time he sets about writing this next letter. Yet Paul is committed to leading these people back, by faith, to love and reconciliation. He tells them that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old is gone, and everything has been made new.
All of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20a
The faith we receive from God, revealed in Jesus Christ, moves us towards the deliberate (and often delicate and difficult) work of reconciliation – with God and with each other. Yet we do not believe and love in vain. As Paul reminds those same folks in Corinth, they are being prepared “for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (4:17). There is something bigger, better, and more magnificent than we can even begin to imagine. We can experience a taste of it here, when we live fully by the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. Yet we will experience it in fully when “the complete comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10). As the last verse of the old hymn, “We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight,” proclaims:
And when our life of faith is done,
in realms of clearer light
may we behold you as you are,
with full and endless sight.
We are human. That is our condition. We are imperfect, yet we are loved by a perfect God. We disagree, yet our faith compels us to love’s fullest expression: reconciliation. We are afflicted, yet we cling to hope.
This is the life of faith. Looking back on this life, we may see many more missed marks than bull’s-eyes. Ultimately, I believe that the fact we were trying to hit the marks will matter more to God than whether or not we hit them.
I end with a prayer George Grove has offered several times, composed by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.