“I’m a rotten human.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of reading on shame and the countless dangers it poses to our human flourishing, but when a friend of mine recently referred to herself as a ‘rotten human’ I pushed back.
“No, you’re not. You are beloved.” I retorted.
In truth, she wasn’t speaking about herself in a purely negative way. This reminder of her imperfections, was motived out of a heart to see her personal spirituality as a product of the grace that we all need. So, in some ways her words were a noble effort to fight pride.
And that’s what it was. She told me that she wanted to fight against the notion that she has it all figured out or that she is in some way superior to others based on their political or theological opinions.
“Pride is rotten,” she said.
I could agree with that. “Yes,” I said, “Pride is rotten, but you are not rotten. Do you see the difference?”
Maybe that’s just pettiness over semantics, but if you ask me, I think it says something more about the way we see ourselves.
I’m a rotten human is rooted in shame.
I’m a rotten human says that I am inherently flawed.
We are responsible for our choices. I am responsible for my choices. But the moment I begin to believe that I am a rotten human or a failure or an idiot or awful or stupid or fill in the blank, I make it really difficult to see any alternative future. A future where I am not bound the rotten choices we have a tendency to make because we are humans, full of light and dark.
Growing up in church from a very young age you begin to hear that humans are flawed. We are the products of a decision that the first humans made to sin against God, thus, every one of us – you, me, your sweet old grandma – are born with a stain. In Christianity, we call this event “the fall” and what resulted is called “original sin”, the idea that because of the fall we can’t help but be defined by what we’re not.
And it’s a really great shame tactic. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that we are sinful. In many ways that was what was supremely true about us. That we are sinners.
But take heart, God is gracious and good and saves us from that sin. In Jesus we are cleansed of our sinfulness, so long as we accept him as our personal savior. We read in Scripture in Romans that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
And so there God is, gracious, loving, merciful towards us pitiful sinners.
I can bet that many readers will say, yes, but we are sinners. To say that we are not is at best misguided, at worst arrogant.
I will not say that we are not sinful. Of course, you and I are sinful. We sin. I sin. You sin. Yes, I can agree with that, because it’s very much true of my life. And often despite are best efforts we fall into the trap that pursuing a way other than the way of Jesus will satisfy us. I do it everyday. I’m trying to grow and sin less, but we sin.
But there’s a difference in saying that you sin and that you are a sinner. I’m aware that I’m running up against even the words of Paul when he says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
My point isn’t so much to deny that there is a sinful side in us, but to call us to remember that the Bible doesn’t begin with humanity is sinful. It begins in the garden when God sees God’s creation, which includes you and I, and says it is very good.
I’m certainly not the first to come up with this claim. I’m encouraged by voices like Rob Bell and Danielle Shroyer who urge us to begin at the beginning. Genesis 1 is about goodness. Genesis 3 is about sin.
What would it look like for you to begin by saying “I am loved?” We all make choices we aren’t proud of. Some of us even feel trapped in a cycle of making bad choices, but how much harder is it for you and I to make good decisions when we begin with the assumption that we are sinful first and foremost?
I feel much more compelled to do the right things when I believe that I am loved. It is precisely because I believe that I am good, and that this is the way God sees me first, that I am much better equipped to make better choices.
Believing that you are fundamentally a sinner is rooted in shame. Shame is destructive. Shame hides. Shame thrives in the darkness. And hiding in the darkness is a breeding ground for sin to grow. Shame keeps me from telling you about my sin because I’m ashamed that I am a sinner.
However, if I believe that I am loved, that I am good, and that this is the way God sees me even despite my mistakes, I feel less of a need to hide. I don’t need to hide because I know I’m loved. And in the light we find true transformation.
God is just. God despises sin. It is God’s nature to push back against evil, but in such a way to affirm that we are made in the image of God and that image is good.
It is sin that is rotten. Not humans.
So, no, you are not a rotten human. Sometimes the decisions you and I make are rotten, but if there is something that is true about the gospel it is that there is never a moment where you can’t turn it all around.
You are not a rotten human.
God’s first words about you are that you are good.
I pray that you and I would start to speak better about ourselves, because God sees us and sees good.