I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
– U2, Acrobat
I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.
I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.
It feels like everywhere we look in the world at the moment there is selfishness and evil. Manus Island, the citizenship debacle, Trump, sexual assault. But Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that the line dividing good and evil doesn’t just run through nations; it runs through every human heart. I have good and evil in my heart, both simultaneously. As I notice the way I relate to people, I see that many times I am caring and many times I am fearful and self-protective, and at those latter times I put on the appearance of caring. Most people call it niceness, and most people don’t see the difference, but I know it inside me.
I think if we could all see the contradiction in our hearts, we would despair enough over time that the conviction would slowly take hold that the only way to find real joy and peace in life is to love. And that love might not be reciprocated, and that’s ok. Because when I love someone and it isn’t reciprocated, my natural tendency is to turn away in self-pity or people-pleasing. But when I love in those moments, then I gain joy and my character grows. It’s just that I don’t do that very well.
Love is rare. Real love I mean. Love that still turns towards others when it has been spurned, when it has been rejected or just not noticed. Indifference is perhaps the greatest hurt that love feels.
So what am I to do? As I think of this, I am reminded of the words of St Paul in his letter to the Romans: “What a wretched man I am! I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Sin is a dirty word in our culture, even in the church. It brings up thoughts of judgment and hellfire and brimstone. But think of it like a disease. It’s not your fault you’ve got it – there is no shame – but it is up to you to treat it.
This is one of the reasons I remain a Christ-follower. I have hope for change. Politics won’t do it (aren’t we seeing that at the moment!), an economic system won’t do it, and self-help certainly won’t do it. In the end my heart needs changing. The old prophet Jeremiah was right: the human heart is deceitful above all things. So I trudge forward, one foot in front of the other. And little by little I hope I am learning how to love.