Mind the Gap
By tompagenet (Tom Page) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tompagenet/303824827/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’
-- Mark 10.17-18
On the way back from mission trips to Poland in 1994 and 1995, our teams had a couple of days’ layover in London each year. There were some debriefing meetings with other Let’s Start Talking teams from Europe and a chance to do a little sight-seeing. And getting around in London inevitably means riding on the Underground. That’s where I first encountered the signs advising me to “Mind the Gap.” When the trains stop at the platforms to disgorge and engorge passengers, there is inevitably a small gap between the opened doors of the train and the platform. Not much of one, just enough that I suppose you could catch a toe or a heel and do a face-plant if you’re not paying attention. So, there are signs and announcements reminding us all to “Mind the Gap.” It is a gentle reminder that the train and the platform are two different things.
In my devotional reading one day this week, I read a section of Psalm 119 and then read all of Psalm 53. I was struck by the contrast between two lines, one in each of these two psalms.
You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.
-- Psalm 119.68
God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
God is good, morally right.
People… well, not so much
Mind the gap.
Perhaps that seems like a “duh” sort of observation to make. Indeed, it would be, if we did not seem to have trouble remembering that so much of the time. Rather than seeking after God and his goodness, we want to be “good” as we define goodness, “good” as we are comfortable defining it. If you’re like me, you always find it quick and easy to see your actions (and therefore yourself) as good. (I’m reminded of Sir Lancelot in the old Broadway musical, Camelot: early on in the play, he sings in the self-appreciating song, “C’est Moi,” that he’s so comparatively pure that “had (he) been made the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still.” A few scenes later he’s betraying his lord the king and committing adultery with the king’s wife. So much for comparative goodness.)
Maybe we’re just letting ourselves off the hook when we think of ourselves as really good people. Then again, maybe we, in fact, are better morally than some people around us.
But here’s the issue in this: Is our thinking about what is “good” and how to do “good” focused on ourselves or on God? There’s a gap there, you know. Mind the gap.
Then again, that “duh” distinction between God and people gives us some insight into the odd response by Jesus to the fellow in the quotation at the top of this post. I always want to say, “Hey, Jesus, give yourself some credit – you are good!” Sometimes I want to say, “Come on, Jesus! Give this guy some credit—he’s asking you about what he should do, after all? We’re about to find out that he’s a good, law-abiding guy.”
Mind the gap, Jesus says to this fellow. You want to measure goodness by your ability to be good and do good. Maybe you are pretty good. But not as good as God. Are you just interested in being as good as you feel like being, or are you committed to pursuing God’s goodness and rightness in all things? Is your “good” focus on you or on God? Mind the gap.
(For what it’s worth, I think that’s what Jesus is doing in part of Matthew 5.21-48, leading up to v. 48: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Are you making your moral choices based solely on what you’ve always heard, or on what you’re feeling at the moment, or…are you taking your cues from the one who defines good, who is good, who does good? Mind the gap.)
Well, Greg, what does this have to do with spiritual growth, the alleged purpose of this blog?
Here’s my point for that purpose: When it comes to determine and do the good, my ability to do that begins with the recognition that I am not God. There is a gap between
what I’ve always been taught,
with how I was raised,
with what my best-informed thinking might be,
with what my best intentions are…
and God and his goodness
and his good desires for me and for others.
Forgetting that gap does not serve me well. Forgetting that does not serve others well. Forgetting that does not serve the purposes of the kingdom well.
Not minding that gap can—and does, often—lead me to spiritual face-plants.
On the other hand, remembering that may help me and in turn help me to help others. Remembering that may not make me good as the One who “is good and does good,” but it will help me to be a better human being.
This next week, when you and I face choices in how we are going to act and speak, here’s my advice for us all: Mind the gap.