My mother told me about a book she read some years ago about being a “good enough” parent. She said that, amidst the conflicting advice and all the well-meaning instructions about childcare, this book emphasised only being “good enough.” No one can be the perfect parent, and people can wear themselves out trying to be, and miss all the joy of motherhood (or fatherhood) – so all they should do is try to be the best they can, and not worry about being perfect.
I am not a parent, but it strikes me that this idea works for all of us. I know that I try to be the perfect Christian, such a perfect and righteous person that no one sees my faults. That is part of the reason that my church family has yet to learn about my mental illness – I don’t really want them to know that I am not perfect, that I am flawed, that I am not this model of perfection. I disguise my faults and fail to admit my weaknesses, for fear of the judgement of others and of myself. The only place I am really honest, in a Christian context, is this blog.
I know that this is false, really, because all of us are sinners, every single person has faults. I cannot imagine what faults the big Christian writers and speakers have – but I know that they must have them, because we all are human, and to be human is to be flawed. I don’t believe in original sin in the way that St Augustine talked about it, where crying in babies was seen as proof that we are all sinners, and those children who died unbaptised were going to hell, but I do believe that all humans are born with a sin nature. All of us incline toward sin – whether small or large. I may not have ever murdered someone, but I have hurt others, I have failed to act in love, I have sinned. Part of the Gospel is the realisation that all of us have sinned – and I have to remind myself that even the people I know in church who seem perfect have themselves sinned, and sin is in their lives day to day in the same way it is in mine.
I met an evangelical atheist the other day, who talked about the various sins that have been committed in the name of Christianity – the crusades, anti-Semitism, and so on. Another Christian I was with made the point that those works are not what Christianity is supposed to be, therefore the people who committed them were not true Christians. I remember from my own days as an atheist that this is called the No True Scotsman fallacy – and I disagree with it now, too. All of us, no matter how faithful, sin – none of us are innocent, and just because we believe in Christ, just because we are saved, it does not mean that we are now perfect. Like the old saying says, we are not perfect, just forgiven. I am sure that a lot of the people in, say, the Crusades, believed sincerely that they were doing the will of God – that they were wrong does not mean that they were not Christian, nor acting in accordance with their beliefs about God.
I believe that we would make more of an impact on the world if all of us named our faults, if we admitted being sinners, rather than presenting a façade of respectability on the world. So many have done that for so many years that people expect a Christian to be perfect, to be moral, not to sin, when the reality is that all of us do. It leads to disappointment when another preacher is found with a prostitute, when another church leader has been cooking the books, and so on.
All of this is a bit of a digression, but my intent is to say that all of us make mistakes. We do not mean to – but we do. I, in common with a lot of others, tend to look at people in my church and think that they have no faults, that they do not sin, and compare myself unfavourably with this idealised picture of them. Perhaps more than others, my mental illness throws into sharp relief my sinfulness, because I know and cannot escape the fact that when I am ill I am a pain in the neck, I am faulty and I do things wrong. I hurt people, and I cannot escape that fact. I am acutely aware of my own sinfulness – self righteousness is not an option for me. Perhaps that is a good thing – the Bible is hardly complimentary of the self righteous, and constantly tells us that every last one of us is sinful and in need of redemption.
I know that I am not good – but the promise of the Gospel is for sinners, not for saints. Trying to be perfect is a laudable aim, but it is not realistic. While I am alive in this body I will sin – and while I would never say that we should not try to do good and not to sin, it does mean that when we do fall, we are no different to anyone else. We need only to be “good enough” – not to be saved, because we are saved through the work of Christ and not through our own goodness, but neither should we beat ourselves up because we fail to measure up to a standard of perfection no human can reach.
Mental illness, and particularly depression in me, makes me realise how bad a person I can be, how I fail to measure up. It also makes me thankful that I serve a God who does not expect me to earn my way to heaven, because I am acutely aware that I could never manage that. In some ways being mentally ill makes me more appreciative of the truth of the Gospel, because I understand the reality of sin in a clear and present way.
I will never be good enough to deserve salvation – but I can try to be a good enough Christian, and when I fail, I need to know that others do, too. Don’t compare yourselves to others – because it is easy to think that others have their lives down pat, that they have no problems, that they are good while you are not. The Bible clearly states that every last one of us is faulty, that we all fail to do good – but it also promises us that Jesus paid the price for every sin, and came to us in our sinfulness rather than when we were “righteous.” I am a “good enough” Christian – I fail, but I need to remember that so do we all, “normal” or ill. What matters is that I believe, and that Christ saves those who believe.
- Apology to the “sinner” and to the “church” (joshduke.wordpress.com)
- Accepted by God? You didn’t do that! (gracedigest.com)
- Perfect Righteousness (iaminhim.wordpress.com)