I’m slow on edicts these days, but here’s one I’m willing to venture: a church should not teach people to lie.
But we do.
There’s something about the way we preach our morals, the way we yank an action-item out of every single verse, the way we (unwittingly, I’ll assume) weigh people down with a myriad of expectations that trains people to forget (or ignore or squash) the realities simmering just under the surface.
When Jesus passed blind Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, have mercy.” I love this prayer. There are plenty days when it’s all the prayer I can muster. Jesus stopped, looked Bartimaeus’ way and asked the plainest question: “What do you want?” Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus to identify what he should want. Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus what desire the Torah would suggest. Jesus did not ask Bartimaeus to conjure an obedient word on virtue, responsibility and human sinfulness. Jesus asked what the poor fellow longed for, and then Jesus waited for the answer.
Bartimaeus’ desire was obvious; he wanted to be able to see. For most of us, however, our want lies buried under so much neglect and rubble that it’s nearly impossible to locate. Few of us know what it is we actually want, what we crave, what would make us truly giddy if it happened our way.
Whenever I ask someone Jesus’ question: what do you want?, I often receive an anticipated litany that you’d find in any respectable Sunday School curriculum. The answers are fine, but they often possess all the verve of a dead fish. I want the real stuff, what makes the heart race and the energy peak and the sorrow sit heavy as lead.
Often, it would be more truthful if we said: I really want my wife to enjoy sex with me again or I want to stop puking in the toilet or I want money so I can fly the family to Italy for the summer or I want the voices to stop. These would all be closer to the truth. If it’s true that what we really want is to land on the Times bestseller list or to be kissed like mad, why don’t we say so?
Whenever we are able to locate that first layer of our wants and desires (no matter how healthy, noble or immature they might be), we’re scratching at the truth – and then we’ve got something to work with. If we follow that longing deeper and deeper, eventually we’ll find something more potent, something more profoundly true. I’m convinced we’ll find something that is very near to God.