The examined life (part 3)

When my son was small, he would sometimes sit on the kitchen counter and watch me cook. I don’t really know what was going on in his little head.

toy-cooking-set-this-is-how-you-become-greatBut when my parents came to visit, my father took him to Toys R Us, promising to buy him whatever he wanted. They went up and down the aisles. The one thing my son latched onto was a toy cooking set. Dad hesitated, then showed him the other more usual options. How about a toy car or truck? A football maybe? The boy obediently looked at everything. But no — all he wanted was the cooking set. And to his credit, Dad bought it for him.

Children like to play pretend. And when they do so, they’re not worried about whether they’re getting it right. They just imitate what they see.

In previous posts, we looked at Paul’s command to the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are “in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5). That can be intimidating language to the more anxious among us, particularly those who have been told over and over how they are failing to measure up in some way. We want to know what the test involves so we can prepare ourselves for it.

But I don’t think Paul meant for us to do some kind of extensive or anxious navel-gazing. As I suggested earlier, I think his message was: Look to the crucified Jesus, believe that Jesus is in you, then act accordingly.

Paul’s persistent theme of power in weakness is a difficult one to swallow. We want power in power. We want to study for the test so we can ace it. We want a clear set of practical steps to follow so we can master each one and come out on top.

And to be sure, Paul insists that the Christian life is a disciplined one. Think of all the Olympians training for this year’s Summer Games. Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians, given their lax moral behavior, that they should have that kind of self-discipline (1 Cor 9:24-27).

But there’s a difference between the single-minded striving for a gold medal and performance anxiety. Paul is not telling the Corinthians to work hard or end up as losers. When he asks, “Don’t you understand that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5, CEB), the implication is “Surely you already know this, and know it well!”

Under the grace of God, who has given us his Spirit, there should be an element of freedom and even “play” in our imitation of Christ. When we worry about failing the test, our typical response is to look for ways to increase our power and mastery. And ironically, that’s exactly backwards from Paul’s theme of power in weakness.

As one who suffered mightily for the gospel of a crucified Savior, Paul found freedom in accepting the fact of his weakness. We can too, if we spend more time looking to Jesus than staring at our navels.