Jesus Did Not Come to Make you Nice

“And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty
will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 19:23)

Do you need Jesus?

I mean that seriously.  Do you need Him for your salvation, or is having Jesus in your life a “Value Added Product”?  Many of us were already pretty nice by the world’s standards, how has Jesus changed you?

Today I wanted to share an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is… Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them.  You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and the self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are “rich” in this sense to enter the Kingdom…

If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easy to you – beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.

But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels, nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends  – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.

“Niceness” – wholesome, integrated personality – is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic and political mean in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we may try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.

SDG

I am Thenardier

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
(Rom 3:23)

This is my last installment on the Les Miserables theme, and my last shameless promotion for the Cherokee Community Theater’s Production.  Our opening week was met with tremendous success, and we hope to have a second weekend that’s even better.  The review have been great, the energy is high, and the tickets are going quickly.  If you haven’t already made your reservations, hurry – if you think there’ll be “One Day More”, you just might miss it.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to consider a couple in the show who just might be everyone’ favorite characters, the Thenardiers.  Not quite the antagonists of the story that Javert is, the Thenardiers are like a catalyst for the show, they come in at critical moments and create a volatility that propels the story onward.  They are despicable, opportunistic, criminal, and raunchy, but they also bring much needed comic relief to an already heavy show.

When we first meet Mssr. Thenardier in Hugo’s novel, he is profiteering off the dead and wounded at the Battle of Waterloo.  Moving quickly before the carrion birds arrive, or more troops come his way, he picks the pockets and mouths for gold and silver – and makes himself quite a fortune in doing so.

The Thenardiers operate an inn, which is merely another opportunity for him to “rook the guests and cook the books.”  Madame Thenardier is no better than her husband.  Hugo describes her as a monstrosity of a woman:

tall, blond, red, fat, angular, square, enormous, and agile; she belonged, as we have said, to the race of those colossal wild women, who contort themselves a
t fairs with paving-stones hanging from their hair… Everything trembled at the sound of her voice, window panes, furniture, and people. She had a beard. She swore splendidly; she boasted of being able to crack a nut with one blow of her fist. This Thenardier female was like the product of a wench engrafted on a fishwife. When one heard her speak, one said, “That is a gendarme”; when one saw her drink, one said, “That is a carter”; when one saw her handle Cosette, one said, “That is the hangman.” One of her teeth projected when her face was in repose.

In the story, they have five children: two girls, Azelma and Eponine, whom they spoil to no end, and three boys, Gavroch, who as soon as he is able is sent out to live on the streets, and two other boys, who are unnamed, and rented out to another woman whose children died.  The Thenardiers are also the custodians of Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, who essentially serves as slave labor for these horrid people.

Throughout the story, Thenardier’s world keeps crashing into the life of Valjean; attempted robbery, extortion, and murder. There are not admirable qualities in the Thenardier’s.  At the end of the book, we find Thenardier and his daughter Azelma heading to America, where they become slave-traders.  Truly a reprehensible character.

And yet, there is something revealing about the Thenardiers.  Lost people do lost things, and the Thenardiers are a vivid, graphic demonstration of that truth.  They believe God is dead.  They look to the heavens and only the moon looks down.  For them it is a dog eat dog world, you take anything that’s not nailed down.  Only the strongest, the fittest, the most cunning will survive.  Rarely do you see such an honest portrayal of the logical conclusion to a worldview that does not begin and end with a sovereign and loving God.  If you believe that we have emerged from a primordial ooze, there’s nothing to keep you from acting like it.

Rather than point my finger at the Thenardiers and cry out “sinner,” however, I think it is more important to let the Thenardiers point their finger at me and show me the state of my soul.  I am no better than they.  When left to my own devices, I am a greedy, grabby, self-indulgent, naval-gazing opportunist who thinks my way is the best way and just wishes that God would see the brilliance in my own plans and get in line.  I am a rebel from God’s way, living of the remains of the wasteland of my own making, rather than enjoying the abundant treasures that are at His right hand.  I am a wretch.

I want to be a Valjean, noble, sacrificing, the unsung hero.  I’d settle for Javert, the legalistic, militant conservative.  Heck, I’d take an ABC Student who dies on the barricade for the cause of freedom.  But no, I am Thenardier.  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

I guess I should correct myself.  That’s who I was.  But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!  I have found grace.  I have been saved, redeemed, transformed.  I have died, and continue to die to sin, that I may live for Christ.  I have laid down the crown I stole for myself, and claimed Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I was the Thenardier, dead in my trespasses and sins, but I have been made alive together with Christ.  I was once captive to sin and death, but I have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  This is the grace of God at work in my life.  This is the good news that I must share.

I love theater because it compels us to think.  It holds a mirror before us, and shows us the nature of our hearts.  And hopefully, in stories like this, it will show us our need for grace, for mercy, and for the saving love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

SDG

les mis add