We Each Have Two Pockets
It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it;
there lies the secret of the ages.
William Carlos Williams
Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: “For my sake the world was created,” and in his left: “I am dust and ashes.”
Did you know that in the Bible, there is a quote from a Greek pagan poet? Paul, in the book of Acts, cites the poet Aratus (271-213 BC) from his book of poetry Phaenomena to make a point about God. Aratus penned the words that we find in Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Paul slyly used these words to drive home the argument to his Greek listeners that God could be found, and not in something fashioned out of gold or silver. Aratus had something to say and it was profound, even though he perhaps didn’t fully realize the implications as he wrote those words almost three hundred years earlier. Aratus is not a well-known poet today, and yet, the Bible has made his words literally eternal! God has sometimes used the pagan or non-Christian to murmur the profound. God can use anyone at any time to offer his truth, even when they might not even know it.
Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, wrote something insightful and important, which is quoted at the beginning of this chapter. These words above are profound and central to this book. In my work as a pastor and counselor, I have the tremendous privilege of hearing the secrets of people’s lives. You should hear the stuff I get to hear—wives unloading dark pasts that have never been uttered, young men in tears struggling deeply with their futures and desires, couples speaking in stark honesty about the grueling disconnectedness of their love for one another. Because of the ethic of confidentiality that is inherent in caring for these people, these individuals finally feel they have the freedom to unburden their lives, and I sometimes am the auspicious recipient to their private thoughts.
What Buber talks about in this quotation is exactly where I find people struggling the most. They perhaps know in their minds that “for the sake of the world they were created,” but it has yet to seep down practically in their lives and because of this, words such as these are distant to them. Think about that phrase for a minute—for the sake of the world you were created—that is a truth that the Bible time and time again tries to explain to us.
However, Buber in this quote, only got it part right. If we are to be entirely correct and biblical, we would need to add to his words—“for the sake of being in relationship with God, you were created.” The Creator of the universe, THE I AM, Elohim, Yahweh, Jesus, also created you to be in relationship with him. He deeply desires to be close to you. This is first and foremost. God created you for one purpose, he wanted to have a relationship with you. Just as much as he desired for you to have a relationship with him, he equally desires to have a relationship with you. This was the whole of creation, the purpose of the creation story the story boiled down to its core—God desired to be in a relationship with us. Granted, many of us know about this. We heard it in Sunday school or from some pastor one Sunday morning, but this is the point—we may know about it, but we might not know it for ourselves and experience this truth down into our bones. We can maybe sing the words Jesus, loves me, this I know, but the words are voiced, but not truly believed.
Most people I meet who are struggling, know Buber’s concluding words the best—“I am dust and ashes.” Too many, especially those who call themselves Christians, know very little in terms of experience of who they were created to be. They base their worth on something else rather than their relationship with God. They base it on their work, or on a relationship, or on a tradition, or something oddly different. This is where a lot of my work as a pastor and therapist tends to lean—getting individuals to see who they are in Jesus’ eyes. The human person in their fallen state has such black-and-white thinking. We are either great or we are nothing. We either think too highly of ourselves or too little. There is usually no middle ground with us; and for some of us, we tend to move toward seeing ourselves too poorly. As one example, the medieval theologian John Calvin wrote some important and good things, but teaching that we are "but a rottenness and a worm" (Calvin 39) was not one of them. How often I see people gravitate toward this type of thinking about themselves, and the ramifications are terribly damaging. There is balance in the Christian life, and too often we lean too much in one direction or the other. The Bible is clear—while it is true that we are sinners, we can also be saints.