The Christian ought to live in the ironic posture of supreme humility and supreme confidence at the same time.
Operating within us at a given moment is the knowledge of our complete powerlessness. This is core to the Christian belief, for to be a Christian is to acknowledge that we are fundamentally in need. That’s the only way we can come to Jesus – humbly, knowing that we cannot help ourselves. We live with this kind of humility.
Simultaneously, though, we also live with supreme confidence. Not confidence in ourselves, but rather confidence in God. Confidence in His wisdom, confidence in His love, confidence in His commitment to work all things for our ultimate good and confidence in His power to carry those things out.
These things – humility and confidence – live in tandem within us.
But what happens when our confidence in God begins to wane? What happens when we are no longer so sure that God is at work – and if He is at work that He is working for our good? Surely this is a good question to ask ourselves, because surely we’ve had at least a moment of that feeling in the last year.
We’ve wondered if there really is a plan. If things will get better. If God really is still at work. We have wondered, but has our confidence begun to fade? Here’s one way we might know:
Our confidence in God is fading if we feel a desperate need to engineer our own circumstances.
As a case study, consider this one moment in the life of Peter:
“Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear…” (Matthew 26:51).
I haven’t cut anyone’s ear off, but I know the feeling. The circumstances are closing in and you feel like your options are becoming more and more limited with each passing second. There is a deadline at work that has come up and the hurdle to meet your goal seems too great. There is a test you forgot about at school and now it’s 8 am and you haven’t cracked a book. The relationship is quickly going south and you don’t see any way to salvage it. Or there happens to be a global pandemic that has changed everything about life. The feeling all these instances have in common is that of desperation, and that desperation is fueling a compulsion to engineer our own circumstances.
Desperation is a feeling of hopelessness. Of impending danger. Of despair. And that feeling results in rash or extreme behavior. No time to think; no time to consider; no time to breathe. Only time to act and make sure what we are convinced must happen on our own behalf, or on the behalf of others, actually does happen. And so, like Peter, we feel the walls start to close in on us and look down and see the sword that must be swung.
Jesus, however, does not feel this same sense of impending doom:
Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54).
If we are to follow Jesus, then we must have a growing understanding that the Christian does not operate in the realm of desperation. We do not need to take matters into our own hands, or at least we don’t always need to. Just as our Lord did not.
Jesus, because He knew the reality of eternity, can play the long game. He doesn’t have to make decisions because He feels like He’s boxed in during the moment. Jesus can hold to principle, to morality, and to His own gospel precisely because of His unwavering confidence in the God who is. Not the God who was. And not the God that will be.
These days seem increasingly to be days of desperation for many Christians. We feel our options are limited. And with circumstances closing in, we get that sense of desperation inside of us, and we feel like we absolutely, positively, must act in a certain way, not because it’s the right thing or the moral thing or the thing that’s consistent with the gospel, but because it’s the only thing we can do.
But it is certainly not. Not if eternity matters. Not if eternity is real.
Put away your sword of desperation, Christian. Follow instead the Jesus who heals the ear.