Goodness Not Good Enough

In an oft-quoted poem, frequently cited as written by Nelson Mandela, Marianne Williamson writes, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” If you ask my wife what my greatest fear is, she would likely tell you it is spiders. Although they are not my favorite creatures and I do not enjoy their company especially when they are in my house, my greatest fear is not spiders. As a confession, my greatest fear is likely that I will be inconsequential. And I wonder how many of us, at the core of our being truly resonate with this. And even more so, how many of us are living this fear?

I find it hard to imagine that when I read something as both remarkable and frightening as, “…in the image of God he created them,” that human beings were created for mediocrity. Why would the God of the universe waste his time on creating us to be average? True creation, actual genesis of something is rare indeed so I cannot claim to truly know the motives behind the grand architect’s creative endeavors. Perhaps one of the only successful things I have ever created is a Lego house when I was 10 years old. I can tell you however, I did not pour far too much time and intentionality into the laying of every six-spiked brick to shoot simply for an average Lego house. I set out to create the greatest Lego house that had ever existed! (I like to think I succeeded). My siblings and I actually created an entire 20’x20’ town!

And so I muse that it is the same for God, the God who claims that we are fearfully and wonderfully made the one who has plans for us, a hope and a future, that he desires greatness for us, not mediocrity. Yet, I think as human beings, all to often we desire greatness but we pursue mediocrity. Even worse, we frequently confuse the two.

I remember growing up and watching my friend’s parents come home from work. They would sit at the dinner table relived to be home and removed from the stresses of the day. And yet judging from their countenance, their retirement home was one of release, they were thankful to be finished with another day, another grind. It wasn’t the job that excited them, it was what the job offered: safety, security, money, etc.

There is nothing wrong with the joy and privilege of providing fro ones self and one’s family. I wouldn’t say that. However I am not sure I would say that there is everything right with it. There is goodness in that but is there greatness? We are created with the seed of greatness within us, and yet we reach a point where we equate greatness with comfort. We were not created with the seed of comfort within us.

In one of his many encounters, the Gospel of Mark records Jesus coming upon a man who was clearly well accomplished in his young life. He had acquired great wealth. He was likely respected for his abilities in the workplace and was likely sought after (if not already married) by many young women for his ability to provide for a family and a community. The man tells Jesus that he has led a good life but knows there is something more. He asks, what he must do to inherit, eternal life. He wanted to know what there was more than just what he had. How did he get to the next level, from living a good life to living a life truly of greatness. Jesus’ instructions are simple, give everything he has to the poor and come follow Jesus. The man turns away sad.

It is interesting to me that we never cite the rich young man as a person who truly got it. We don’t read that story as see him as a picture of greatness, someone who really lived a great life. We actually see him as a man who missed out on a great life but how many of us truly strive to live a life like him, not like the life Jesus asked of him? In our brokenness we confuse mediocrity with greatness, we confuse the attributes of a great life and an average life, and as we do so, we watch Jesus strolling into the sunset followed by those who are willing to give up everything for a chance at greatness, and we are left alone and dismayed.

The man Jesus encountered failed to see what was true. Although he had amassed good things, all he really had was a bunch of Legos. Compared to what God is doing, the goodness we accomplish is nothing compared to the greatness he desires. It is greatness that God offers us in participating in his story. We can write our own pursue our own paths, and remain building Lego houses, or we can dare to risk everything we have at the promise of gaining so much more.

I don’t actually think there is a shortness of opportunities for greatness. Jesus is recorded as having many followers over the course of his Journeys. I think instead that there is a shortness of people who are willing to pursue those opportunities, as seen when we read repeatedly of people leaving his presence when they hear what Jesus has to say. And with that Williamson is correct, we fear that we are powerful beyond measure.

We are offered to pursue transforming the story of history, in participating the great narrative that started with the mountainous words, “in the beginning.” But we are lured to believe a lie that goodness is good enough. Like the rich young ruler, we stand on the side of the road and let greatness pass us by, fearing that the potential that we have, the very image of God we were created with, could never possibly be realized. Because of our brokenness, we worry that we can never be great, and yet the God of the universe is beckoning the greatness out of us. He is dissatisfied as a great God who’s image bearers settle for goodness.

So we are left to question, are we really pursuing mediocrity because it is all our potential lends to us? The God of the universe is not the God of comfort or mediocrity. He is the God of greatness. And it is the God that desires us to risk all of the mediocrity around us in pursuit of the greatness that was created within us.

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