One of the great griefs of my adulthood has been my conviction that I’m not as good a carpenter as my father. Among his many other virtues, he was a man of his hands. He probably built half the furniture I have in my home, and it’s lovely stuff: solid wood, every joint dovetailed, and built like a tank. Of course, every dimension of every piece is just so. A meticulous man, my father.
However, when I’ve turned my hands to much less demanding work (baseboards, trim work, tile work, and so on), things haven’t gone so well. No matter how carefully I eyeball and measure, I consistently struggle to cut to within an eighth of an inch. That’s not good enough for cabinetry, and it’s barely good enough for carpentry. I have spent many patient hours disguising my incompetence with caulk and paint. At some point, somebody is going to come along and take up the floors I laid in my house in Joliet, and he is going to laugh his head off at me.
The other day, though, I had my measuring tape out to measure something, and I got to looking at it. I noticed that at some point, the rivets attaching the hook at the end of the tape had gotten looser than they should (probably from repeatedly smacking into the case when I retract the tape). The hook is supposed to move a little bit (the width of the hook, so that both outside and inside measurements are zeroed), but in the case of my tape measure, it had reached the point where it could move. . . an eighth of an inch.
The light dawned. When I measured, say, a length of wall, I used inside measure, with the hook pushed up against the opposing wall. However, to mark the cut on the piece of baseboard, I used the outside measure, and in the case of my tape measure, the outside measure was an eighth of an inch longer than inside measure. No wonder I continually cut pieces that didn’t fit! If the standard is flawed, the product will be flawed too.
This is as true in Christianity as it is in carpentry. I thought my standard was accurate, but it wasn’t. In the same way, an awful lot of people think they are using the Bible as their standard, but their reading of the Scripture has introduced so much wiggle room that the text is no longer helpful.
Obviously, potential applications to the bad behavior of other folks are legion. What about us? Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible for a member in good standing of a church of Christ to be living their life according to a flawed standard of their own devising.
We tend to like the rules about the things we’re already doing right. Not a practicing homosexual? Check. No instruments in the church building? Check. Calling it a church building instead of a church? Check (and a bonus citation from the book of 2nd Opinions!).
However, the older I get, the more I tend to suspect that the essence of Christianity is about the things we can never check off our lists, simply because they aren’t checkable. Love God. Love your neighbor. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.
Those aren’t discrete actions. Instead, they are attitudes that are supposed to inform every action. They must be part of every spiritual measurement. If they aren’t, like the Pharisees, we will end up building a life for ourselves that is nothing like the life that God wants to see from us. Even obedience to the smaller commandments (that are genuinely part of God’s expectations) is meaningless unless we get the greater commandments right.
This, I think, is why the walk with God always must be a humble walk. We can’t tune out any part of His word, even the intimidating parts. “Love one another as I have loved you?” Jesus said it, but I will never get it right. Only when I am measuring my life by this daunting but entirely correct standard can I truly appreciate my own need for grace.