Everything which God is to use, he first reduces to nothing.
Anyone who has read the Bible knows that Kierkegaard is on to something. A quick survey of the Old and New Testaments provide a substantial list of examples:
- Abraham and Sarah – the parents old enough to be great-great grandparents.
- Joseph – the prisoner become politician.
- Moses – the spokesperson who couldn’t speak.
- David – the youngest brother and shepherd, who turns into a soldier.
Fast-forward to the New Testament and we find even more:
- Peter – who abandons Jesus, only to proclaim him publicly just weeks later.
- Paul – the church persecutor who is “blinded by the light” and becomes a church-planter.
Very few would dispute that God has a history of using the most unlikely of suspects. Perhaps that is because of the humility resulting from their respective situations. Maybe it is because by using such people God’s action is more clearly recognized as just that: God’s action.
I tend to think that God has chosen this as his modus operandi because, by reducing us to nothing, he returns us to our default setting. God doesn’t seem to be one who is interested in remodeling, so much as rebuilding. He doesn’t come into our hearts hoping he can add on an extra bedroom and half-bath, a comfy place for him over in the corner of our affections. He wants to rebuild the entire structure, and the easiest way to do that is to tear down the old edifice.
This isn’t how we prefer to look at ourselves. We would like to think we are more of a “fixer-upper” than a building fit only to be condemned. Couldn’t God just come in and splash a fresh coat of paint on the walls, create more of an open floor plan, and maybe update the appliances? (I swear every HGTV show I watch, the couple thinks the appliances need updating, but I digress.) Instead, he wants to rebuild us from the ground up.
What we fail to understand is that our problem is more than simply cosmetic. There are cracks in the foundation, the carpentry is shoddy, and the wiring isn’t up to code. No aesthetic improvements are going to remedy the structural problems of who we are. That is precisely why God must reduce us to nothing.
We can only accept this if we are willing to acknowledge that all of the structural problems are the result of our attempts to build apart from God. We thought that it was possible to exist, and maybe even thrive, apart from the life-giving power of God’s presence. The irony is that by trying to exist and build a life apart from God, we put ourselves on the fast-track back to the nothingness from which God has called us. Andrew Root puts it this way when discussing humanity:
They have come from nothingness and to nothingness they shall return if they should dare unlatch themselves from God who comes to them “out of nothingness,” if they should dare deny that God is their minister and that they received God’s ministering act of possibility out of nothingness.
Our two options are nothingness, and nothingness. It doesn’t sound like much of a choice, except for the fact that one nothingness is an end, and the other a means to an end. One is our final destination apart from God, the other is a step in the journey with God. I cannot help but wonder, if we must at some point experience nothingness, wouldn’t it be best to do so in the company of the God who has already demonstrated his ability to call us forth out of that nothingness? Would it not be preferable to walk with the God who offers us possibility in the midst of impossibility?
The thing that strikes me about all of this, especially as a minister, is how bad I am at recognizing this work of God in others. I can realize that I myself am nothing, and hope that God creates possibilities out of the nothingness. Yet, when I see nothingness in others I see it differently. If I know that the possibilities to advance the kingdom come not by my own strength but by God’s, why do I still insist on assessing others’ ability to contribute based on their own strength, rather than their willingness to embrace their nothingness in allowing God to work through them? Paul saw this in the church in Corinth when he wrote to them:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31 ESV)
It is impossible to miss the chorus in Paul’s statement: “God chose.” When it comes to evaluating coworkers and the possibility of what they might contribute to the kingdom, maybe it is time I think less about their strengths, and more about whether God might be choosing this person because their only boast is in him.
Justin Simmons has served as minister for the Glenmora Church of Christ in central Louisiana since 2011. Previously he studied at the University of South Carolina (BA, MA), and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University (MDiv). He is blessed to call Melissa his wife, and has three wonderful step-children. He enjoys reading about history and practical theology, listening to Gregorian chants, and passionately following Braves baseball and Gamecock sports.