Blessed Are They Who Declare Spiritual Bankruptcy

Oh, the untouchable Joy
(even here and now)
of those who declare
spiritual bankruptcy;

they are in a position
where Grace and God
can do something!

The reactions of some had me second-guessing this, my own translation of the first Beatitude (from Matthew 5:3).  Was I being a bit extreme, a bit harsh, a bit dramatic?  (As a “1” on the Enneagram, I can digress in times of stress to the unhealthy histrionics and melancholy of a “4.”)

But, then, wait!  Various commentators seemed to justify my position:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
(Eugene Peterson in The Message Bible)

 The words “poor in spirit” no longer convey the sense of spiritual destitution that they were originally meant to bear. Amazingly, they have come to refer to a praiseworthy condition. So, as a corrective, I have paraphrased the verse as… “Blessed are the spiritual zeros — the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’ — when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them.”…  [They] are blessed as a result of the kingdom of God being available to them in their spiritual poverty. (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 100)

 Thus, to be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy.  Before God, we have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favour of heaven…  We do not belong anywhere except alongside the publican in Jesus’ parable, crying out with downcast eyes, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  As Calvin wrote: “He only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.”  (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.39)

unboundIt’s a dynamic at the foundation of the 12-Steps (which we engage in the Zoe-Life Exploration, “Introduction to 12-Step Spirituality”): “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction — that our lives had become unmanageable.” (Step 1 of the “12 Steps”)  It’s at the heart of Lent, as well.

Dear Friends, unless and until we own the limits of our wisdom and strength to master life and living, we will continue to live under the tyranny of what John Baker calls our “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.”  There is help, yes. But, it’s above and beyond us… and only available as we acknowledge and abandon our inordinate addiction to being in control.

Here, to make this point relevant for each and all of us, I appreciate the words and input of Dr. Gerald May, from his book, Addiction and Grace:

I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. We are all addicts in every sense of the word. Moreover, our addictions are our own worst enemies. They enslave us with chains that are of our own making and yet that, paradoxically, are virtually beyond our control. Addiction also makes idolators of us all, because it forces us to worship these objects of attachment, thereby preventing us from truly, freely loving God and one another. (Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, p. 3-4)

It’s a difficult word to hear and accept, I’ll agree. Still, it resonates with the call of Christ: “If any would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.“  (Matthew 16:24)  Still, too, it conveys the invitation of Lent: that they who know what it is to die to self will be in the best position to most fully celebrate Easter and it’s glorious news!

It’s all a way of saying that spiritual formation (or reformation or transformation) isn’t always easy.  It does not always feel good.  But, it sure is worth it.

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