Culture At Large

I'm Good

Ron Vanderwell (Guest Blogger)

“I’m good!”  I proclaim.

I trip over a curb, a friend turns and asks if I need help, and I respond:  “No, I’m good!”

This is ironic, of course, it’s only when I really stumble that it even occurs to me to announce my self-sufficiency to those around me.

Actually, the expression “I’m good” probably means something quite the opposite. It probably means something like “Even though I’m having trouble, I’d still rather handle things on my own.”

I think it would make sense to a lot of people in the bible.  Think of Nicodemus, discreetly finding Christ at night.  He’s uneasy, so he seeks Jesus’ word on becoming acceptable in God’s eyes.  Jesus’ answer: be born again.  Nicodemus considers surrendering a lifetime of religious celebrity; that’s too much to ask.   “No…I’m good,” he tells the Messiah, as he slinks back into his night.

The Rich Young Ruler was a little more candid.   “What must I do to be good,” he asks.   Jesus tells him to give away all his riches.  In a flash he re-adjusts his standards:  “No--I’m good.”

It’d be nice to pretend that God will endorse us as we are:  not perfect, but not bad.   But that involves somehow lowering the bar of God’s standards until we can easily clear it.  We have re-phrase “be perfect as your Father in Heaven in perfect” until it sounds like “try to be pretty good.”

Contrast this with the Philippian jailer, as found in Acts 16.  He’s in trouble.  An earthquake has gutted his stronghold and now his inmates are free to become out-mates. He already hears his death sentence:  his life for theirs. This is not good.  In his panic he turns to Paul and Silas:  “what must I do to be saved?”

Now I find this question a bit curious.  Where I grew up the word “saved” was usually used in a pretty narrow sense involving personal sins and altar calls.  So why--in the middle of what’s probably the worst crisis of his life--is this jailer is calling a quick time-out to discuss Paul and Silas’ theory of the atonement?   What was he saying?

Well, I pretty sure what he wasn’t saying:  “I’m good”.

Something happens when we suddenly discover our complete inability to make things “good”.  That may come in a jailer’s crisis, an adolescent discovery or maybe in mid-life changes, but it always involves a surrender of everything to the One who can actually make things better.

Announcing “I’m good” is probably forgivable when I stumble a little.  It’s just a figure of speech.  But a day is coming when those words will take on a lot more meaning.  On that Day every single stumble I’ve ever made—including the big ones—will be tallied for a final reckoning.  I wonder if I’ll cringe as I realize how long that list really is.   But as everyone’s attention turns to my list, someone will hold up nail-scarred hands reassuringly.

“It’s OK”, he’ll declare.   “He’s good.”

What about you?   When was the last time you tried to hide behind your words when someone really could have helped you?  When was the last time you looked really bad in front of God?  What did it take for you to be good with that?

(Ron Vanderwell is the pastor of The Gathering, a church plant meeting in a movie theater in Sacramento, CA.  He has one wife, 3 sons, 2 dogs and an aging VW Beetle. He writes the blog and can be followed on Twitter at @ronvwell.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, Faith