Simon Peter, when he saw [the miracle], fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” Luke 5:8 (MSG)
Wendy and I were talking last week on our drive home from the lake. We were listening to the radio and a guy mentioned that he considered himself such bad person that God couldn’t possibly love or forgive him.
“I think that’s pride,” Wendy said. As I thought about it, I had to agree with her. There is an insidious side to pride. “I’m so terrible that God couldn’t possibly forgive me” is really just the dark side of “I’m so great God will surely accept me.”
We then talked about our own experiences with shame and guilt. On our conversational journey we came to discover that we had similar experiences. We each experienced periods of life when we pushed God away, but it wasn’t about feeling too guilty or too much shame. Our reticence to accept God’s forgiveness came out of the knowledge that to accept God’s gift of grace and forgiveness would incur a debt of gratitude and a call to walk away from the illicit behaviors to which we clung (and enjoyed).
Sometimes we push God away because, like Peter, we just want to be left alone. We don’t want to change.
It's funny to watch certain behavioral traits pass down through generations. If you grew up in my family and found yourself in the bathroom when everyone else was at the table ready to eat, you were labeled "Uncle Garrett" because some old guy a few generations before had a habit of always being on the pot at meal time. When a person in my wife's family behaves in an authoritatively stubborn way, they are said to have inherited the Vander Hart gene.
Sometimes these behavioral patterns that flow through families are silly and the source of lots of ribbing and laughter. Sometimes they are simply annoying and you roll your eyes when they surface. Other times, however, they can be spiritually unhealthy and destructive. One of the themes that sticks out like a sore thumb in our journey through the Book of Kings is the perpetuation of sin and evil across generations. Time after time I read a verse like the one above from today's chapter. "Chip off the ol' block" is not always a good thing.
Today, I'm reminded that I am responsible for my own behavior and following God may require me to take a clearly different path than the well-worn trail that was blazed by earlier generations in my family. Following in Jesus' footsteps is a journey that leads us to change in ways that force to be more like Him, and less like those on the path behind us.
Asa conducted himself well before God, reviving the ways of his ancestor David. He cleaned house: He got rid of the sacred prostitutes and threw out all the idols his predecessors had made. Asa spared nothing and no one; he went so far as to remove Queen Maacah from her position because she had built a shockingly obscene memorial to the whore goddess Asherah. Asa tore it down and burned it up in the Kidron Valley. 1 Kings 15:11-13 (MSG)
There is something about "cleaning house" that brings a fresh start. Cleaning house means purging old and worthless things that take up room, demand time attention and distract me from more important things. I might "rearrange house" so that there is a sense that things are fresh and new, but it is not the same thing as cleaning house. The old and worthless things are still there. They may be tucked away for the moment, out of sight, so I can fool myself to believing that things are clean. But, nothing has really changed.
"Cleaning house" requires uncomfortable decisions. I'm sure Asa's decision to remove grandma from power had tremendous ramifications in his life, his household, in his family, and in his community. She had been holding "position" within the family, the royal household, and therefore, the government, for multiple generations. The removal of something or someone that holds an old, secure position within any kind of system tends to throw that system into conflict and confusion for a while. That's why we avoid it.
"Cleaning house" is a requisite part of the process for anyone who wants to follow Jesus. You don't get far in the journey if you keep accumulating and never purge. A journey requires mobility and you can't move if you're loaded down. "Old things pass away, new things come," God's message tells us. But, there's no room for new things in our backpack if it's still full of our old stuff.