The Veiled Nature of Quality

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” – 1 Peter 3:7

Anyone learning a skill or trade, examining a product, or even evaluating a performance is always judging the quality of the applicable subject. Is the fruit ripe? Is the car reliable? Is the contractor doing it right? Is the music enjoyable? It happens an uncountable number of times each day to us all.  Standards vary from person to person as some want the best or nothing while some want the cheapest thing that work.  Most of us however fall into the category of wanting the best value and this constant searching for the best product available to me at any given time has bled into our relationships.

Most of us seek out romantic partners like we seek out our first house. How beautiful is the property (their body)? Will it be easy to maintain (a low-stress relationship)? Does it have all of the amenities I want like granite countertops, hardwood floors, (they make me laugh, they are kind to me) etc.

We have apps like Tinder, websites like Match.com and eHarmony, to help us evaluate the product we seek to fit our lives as we see it. We frequent bars and clubs we like in the hope that we will like some of the people who frequent them as well.  We are obsessed with finding a quality companion on our terms. 

We are approaching it all wrong.

To show you how, let me wander a bit afield for a moment. Most of us that read his blog live in the world capitalism built. The free market has given us the great blessing of access to products and services of an astounding variety and quality at a prices that range from the reasonable to the downright stupendously cheap (It still amazes me we can purchase a tool made out of steel for the less than the cost of horking down a Subway sandwich).  As we are flooded with these options and are faced with the reality that we have more needs (*coughdesirescough*) than we have the wealth to acquire.  This is why most of us search for value when we wish to add to our ever-growing stockpile of stuff.

stuff

This led us to marry value and quality so closely together that something very important is lost to us on a day-to-day basis.  “If something isn’t of a certain quality, it isn’t valuable” we say.  “I am not getting value for my hard-earned dollar if what I am buying is not of a certain quality” we declare.  While, from a monetary standpoint, these are statements of factual practicality they deceive us all from the truth. However, therein lies the rub.

Value quality

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the most common definition is no surprise as it simply validates my previous point.

“The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something; General excellence of standard or level.”

The problem is the vast majority of us give nothing but a passing thought at best to the very next possible definition.

“A distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.”

I suppose in this world of instant communication, frantic pace, and information overload I know we don’t think past the first neuron that fires on any given topic but lets give it a try.  “There is a quality to this wine that I can’t place.” The quality of walnut is the rich, chocolate brown hue of its heartwood.” “This cake has a spongy quality to it.”

cake-is-a-lie

Raise your hand if this either sounded or felt archaic when you read it. Say it out loud and chances are only lovers of history and classic literature or the most erudite among us would likely feel any comfort level with this nuanced phrasing.

I am sure by this point the female readers of this blog are waiting for the other shoe to drop considering the Bible verse I listed above.  I already made it, but let me make a small tweak for clarity.

Your qualities ≠ your value.

This goes for both sexes, and while this verse is speaking to how a husband is to honor his wife it also speaks to the very nature of the relationship between man and woman in God’s design. God designed us to fill various roles in life, or as Lutherans call it, vocations.  Many vocations are ones that can be filled by either man or woman. Certain vocations are given to specific sexes as suits their God-given purposes.  A unique quality of a woman is she can bear children and sustain their lives through nursing.  The idea of a man being the primary supplier of nourishment to an infant is still mostly an odd thought to most people. In the past, such an occurrence could have been a death sentence for a newborn if the mother could not feed the child and no other woman could act as wet-nurse.  A woman is uniquely gifted to give and sustain life on this earth.  It is a gift of magnificent proportions and one for which in my heart of hearts I possess a modicum of envy. Another quality is women are physically weaker than men.  This leaves men’s role as being the heavy lifters in a most literal sense. We are made to work and, since the Fall, to toil.  It is our lot to strain and be ground down under the burden of heavy labor.

As I outlined above, these are not determinations of value but a description of a factual reality. These are qualities which God fashioned into us, but they are not qualities given in a vacuum.  They are given to us by which we may serve others in our unique ways. By the grace of God and the sweat of a man’s brow he feeds his family and aids his neighbor. By the grace of God and under the strain of his burdens he provides shelter for his family and the needy as the Lord shelters his church under his wings. (Psalm 91:4)  By the grace of God and the sweat of a woman’s brow she brings forth life. By the grace of God and the sweat of her brow she nurtures her husband, her children, and all whom she meets.

One last thing.

Paul spoke to men about their wives as weaker vessels because he felt it was important to point out that our strength was not to be used in violence toward the bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.  God did not flex his muscles and call down more than 12 legions of angels to dispense punishment upon the world for his treatment and we should not use the strength we have against one of the most precious of gifts Christ gives to us in this lifetime. (Matthew 26:53). Our God-given strength is to be used in service and sacrifice as Christ served and sacrificed Himself for us.

A wife’s submission to and respect her husband mirrors how the Church is to submit and respect Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). This is why marriage is so sacred to Christians.  The union of a man and a woman into one flesh is a testament to the nature of Christ and us as His bride, the Church.  This is the true relationship of Christ with a Christian. We are members of the body of His Bride. A Bride which is bound by love and redeemed through the holy sacrifice of God himself.

That is the real reason your value is not based on your quality or your qualities. Your value comes through being made by God and married to Christ as a member of his Bride. Without Christ, we only have the the world’s standards to which to compare ourselves.  It is only through Christ’s work that we re-attain the full qualities we were created to bear. See, God doesn’t use Tinder. He didn’t look for the perfect match, He made it. He is already betrothed to His work, His Church, and thus so we also are betrothed to Him as members of that body.

He saved us from this world of false value and He gave us a value greater than any the world has ever known.

Salvation and eternal life through Him.

For us.

For free.

The First Hack

“The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.”  – Isaiah 44:13

An apprentice never starts off with what he needs to ply his trade.  He likely has few, if any, tools.  His usable knowledge is almost certainly pitiful.  His hands lack the discipline to be steady.  His muscles are not used to the rigors of his new task. He often second guesses his actions after or even while he is making them. Success is in no way in his those fumbling hands.  He is doing well if he simply manages not to break something.

In short, everything depends on his Master.

My Master made me with his line, pencil, plane, and compass.  He has shaped me into the man I am and I am beautiful.  These are hard words for a man like me to believe.  Mine are hands that fumble. Mine is a mind that errs. Mine is a heart that craves all that is wicked; even when I seek virtue.  Yet they are true. So am I really beautiful?  I am not actually a sick and dying tree?  Or worse, a dead sapling destined for the fire?  Yes and Yes.  I am both.

simul justus

I am both sinner and saint.  Martin Luther called this Simul Justus et Peccator meaning at once justified and a sinner. At its core this phrase seems a paradox, yet in actuality it communicates some of the deepest truths we can comprehend this side of the veil.

The first truth is simple, I am a sinner.  We all are.  This fact under-girds all our lives. We fall short in every way. We are worthless and we are miserable. A pity so few believe it.  I didn’t when I was young. I was raised with strong morals and ethics.  I was taught to do the right thing; to live your life in such a way to where every morning you can look at the man shaving in the mirror and like the man looking back at you.  The problem is, no matter how hard I tried and how well I followed my moral compass I didn’t like who I saw.  For years I tried not to look into the eyes of the man looking back at me in that mirror.  You only need to look at your chin to shave afterall…  When I would muster the courage to gaze into those eyes every few months I would realize a couple of things. One, it had been so long since I had last looked, the eyes looked alien to me. Second, I would be absolutely certain it was not only me, it was the real me.  The me my moral self wished I wasn’t.  The sinner.

Before I faced the me in the mirror I thought my ethics and my desire to be a responsible moral person made me a good person. I was horribly wrong and I thank my God that he pulled me out of this lie.  It is his mercy that softened my heart of stone. His mercy made me realize that pulling myself up by my own bootstraps is possible when making the determination to never give up but it is absolutely impossible when attempting to stand up in the presence of an angry and just God.  His mercy pulled me out of this lie and into the truth of the Son. This leads me to the second truth.  I am justified.

Too bad I didn’t believe it at first.

embarrassed-polar-bear

Oh sure, I believed I was saved. I believed Jesus had died for me. I believed Jesus had risen from the dead for me.  I believed I was a Christian and I was right. I just thought I had to stop being the sinner me.  I had to be the Christian of whom Jesus would be proud.  I had to cut out the sinful influences, I had to purify myself!  Music, literature, visual media, activities, it all had to be given to the Lord for my sanctification, and give it I did… until I couldn’t anymore.  I still remember the pain I expressed through tears to the people in my Sunday school class.  I told them the fruit of the spirit wasn’t present in me.  I felt I had some inkling of God’s goodness, love, and kindness yet I wept for I didn’t know joy and I had no peace. Thinking back, I didn’t know patience either and I think deep down I was questioning his faithfulness.  My classmates and teacher had no answers.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I had become a slave again.

In Romans 6, Paul speaks about how we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves of righteousness.  While Christ had made me a slave of righteousness I believed I had to live up to this gift.  I believed my own actions would make me a better person, a person of whom Christ could be proud. So I unwittingly slapped back on the manacles of my iniquity.  The manacles forged in the idea that what I do made me worthy of anything in the eyes of my God. I sought my justification in my “walk” with the Lord and instead I found I was just turning the millstone that was grinding my soul to dust.   This is because I missed the simple truth that Paul outlines so clearly in Romans.  Sin has no dominion over us because we are not under law, but under grace.  

For years I toiled “for the Lord” in the chains I had slapped on my own wrists. Yet all my toil was really for myself.  I tumbled into a roiling anger directed at my Master until I struck bottom in a morass of my own self-pity and despair.  For 5 years I stayed there, shoving my Master away in all my anger; all the while I would stutter his name in hushed weeping where I begged to be close to Him again.

I have written all of this to reach the most important point.  I thought, “I was a sinner but Christ justified me.”  I regret I did not understand the actual truth.  I am a sinner and Christ justifies me.  I don’t think grammar has ever mattered so much.  This is how I am simul justus et peccator!  I do not bring anything to the table of justification nor of sanctification.  Jesus doesn’t save me and leave me to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  He saves me and he continually makes me into what I was truly meant to be all along.

I was meant for so much more than to be a dead and rotting tree.  With His line, pencil, and compass He laid out His plans for me, but with His plane He continually shapes my figure, He smooths my roughness, and He joins me together in such a way as you can barely see the seams.  He will do this so long as I live and until he returns.  This is why I am beautiful. His work makes me beautiful.  Jesus Christ does it all and I am justified, in spite of the fact I am a sinner.  This truth is the Gospel.  This is His grace.  I am a slave in the house of the Lord for He made me to dwell in His house and He built the house in which I am meant to live with Him.

He is my Carpenter.