The Humanizing Effect of Grace or What We Call Trash, He Makes Treasure

I am amazed at how willing I am to categorize people and then to dehumanize them as a result.  What happens in my heart is much like the despicable national regimes who have justified genocide after “sorting” the life worthy people from ones deemed sub-human, incomplete, unsatisfactory.  It of course makes my own value tenuous as well, as I fear being identified by a more sinister sorting hat as either trash or treasure.

Initially flawed in its presupposition, the standard of “normal” or “health” as both a tangible and fixed reality, places all variance into a “reject” pile, itself  an iron clad identity.  But this is not the biblical picture of humanity in it all of its complexity and fluid states of emotional being.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. Eccles. 3:1-8

We are not meant to be “fine” all the time.  We were made emotional creatures, who can feel rage and exuberant joy, who can feel life sucking sadness and wide eyed peace.  Yet even with these categories, I continue to want them to be tidy, defined and orderly.  Be sad, sure, but for a quick minute and not in a way that makes others feel uncomfortable.  Be angry, ok, but don’t say anything irrational or that isn’t universally agreed upon.  Just be angry in a happy, agreeable way, that doesn’t require me to think about what it must be like to be you.  Mostly, spend 98% of the time in agreeable, positive emotions because the negative ones are imposing, unpleasant and like Joy in Inside Out initially believed, destructive.

God is a creator of life, restorer of life, sustainer of life.  Therefore, we assume, His people should also be builders not wreckers, givers not takers, lovers not haters.  And this is partially true.  But only partially.  Sunshine is required for life to grow and flourish, but so is rain.  Any good gardener knows that cutting or pruning plants is what helps them to grow in a healthy and full manner.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? Luke 24:26

Suffering is the only way by which muscles are built, strength is attained, endurance is produced, significant things are accomplished.  The ugly emotions are an important part of both our humanity and our process of becoming more like Jesus than we were yesterday.

So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Matt. 7:17-19

But what about the nastiness of what is exposed in us?  This is the part where I struggle.  Our negative emotions drive out our mouths words of judgment and pride, words that reveal our heart’s deep commitment to self above all others, words that can define us as mean, self-delusional, liars, and gossips.  This behavior makes me seem unsafe, unreliable, untrustworthy, un-Good.  It places me in the camp of BAD.  People who are “bad” are justifiably disqualified from participation, from reward, from respect, and from affection.  They are dangerous, even if just emotionally so, but often professionally and relationally too.  And once categorized, it is nearly impossible to be placed unconditionally back in the “good” category, the trustworthy, the desirable.  This is why we fear labels related to mental illness, because they feel like one way tickets to elimination of hope and guiltless joy.  The bad trees are thrown into the fire.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,  do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:17-18

And so here is the Good News.  No one is good, not even one.  Any good fruit, kind words, edifying attitudes, selfless acts are produced by the only One who could ever be called Good.  And even when it is not my natural state, it is His and He has made me His.  I therefore should not be so quick to throw others into the fire or forget that I too have been spared from this well deserved discard.  Oh that the shame of what is true about my rotten fruit would be covered and smothered by what is truer about His delicious, nourishing tree into which I have been grafted.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  Eph. 2:4-7