Am I Enough 1
Passage: Genesis 1:26–1:31, Romans 5:6–5:8
There’s a fundamental question that I’ve found myself coming back to again and again as I’ve entered different stages of adulthood. Now sometimes the question will creep up or present itself differently depending on the context. But on the whole it’s the same question. And I’m gonna guess that it’s a question you have pop up as you go through your life as well. And the question is this: am I measuring up?
I began wrestling with this question about six months or so into my first job as a pastor. It was the first time I hadn’t been a full time student. School provides us a way of understanding, a way of knowing if we are measuring up, namely grades. Beyond that many others areas of my life to that point had had some sort of measuring mechanism. I know I don’t talk about this very often, but I played sports as a kid and in high school. And sports kept score for me. And between the two I think I got this idea in my mind that there was a scorecard for everything. And I wanted to be able to measure up in all areas of my life.
Then I left school and was the associate pastor of a church and there really didn’t appear to be a scorecard. There were no competitions, there were no grades, there were no cuts. And pretty soon I began to wonder, am I measuring up? Am I doing a good job?
But the question didn’t stop with work. Soon into my marriage I began wondering am I a good husband? Do we have a good marriage? And then we had kids. And I began wondering am I a good father? And the more complex my life gets the more areas of my life I get to question and wonder am I measuring up?
I think this question is a question many of us ask ourselves over and over again. And the question can lead us to live our lives in certain ways. Some of those ways might be healthy and productive if we become motivated to reach and achieve certain goals. Some of those ways might not be healthy, might not be productive. So I want us to engage this question this morning, or rather examine it. Because Scripture has a couple things to say about our attempts to measure up.
The first thing Scripture has to say comes from the very beginning. Like literally the beginning. When nothing existed but God and God made all that exists. God makes light and separates it from darkness. God makes the sky and separates what is above and what is below. God makes dry land by separating the waters. God makes the sun moon and stars. God makes sea creatures and birds and land animals. And then we see this:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning —the sixth day.
So in all the other acts of creation that I kinda yada yada’ed God looked at what he’d made and said its good. But there are a couple unique features about humanity. The first is God makes us in His image. Nothing else is made in the image of God. There’s something unique, there’s something special about humans in relation to God. And the second thing is this: when God makes us, God says its very good. And here’s our takeaway, before we could do anything, our very existence meant we measured up to God. God delighted in His creative act of making us.
In some respects its not unlike having children. When the baby is born and as a parent you look upon your child and simply and purely delight in the fact the child exists. There’s no question of does the infant measure up, no one is worrying about APGAR scores as a measure of worth and self-worth, it’s just pure joy. I mean could you imagine some new dad going to meet up with his friends and saying “Well Johnny didn’t score as high on the APGAR, he wasn’t quite pink enough, but we’ve got him working with a tutor so we don’t think it will affect his career prospects.”
But there’s another story related to creation that immediately comes into play. The Bible says God made Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden where everything was awesome. And God walked with Adam daily. And everything was gonna be great so long as Adam didn’t eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Which in some ways is a way of saying so long as they didn’t worry about whether they measured up. Because what is knowing good and evil other than making judgments? But Adam and Eve get tricked into eating of that tree and their eyes were opened. And they immediately saw ways they weren’t measuring up, namely they noticed that they were naked.
So let’s fast forward a bit. God, presumably aware that the question of am I measuring up was going to be a thing humans dealt with for a bit, gives Israel the law. And the people Israel are given a mechanism by which they can know whether or not they measure up. It’s in this place, humanity wondering do I measure up and using the Law to know that, where we will linger for a little bit.
At this point I should probably break down this question, am I measuring up, further. Because I think this question is the meeting point of two fundamental questions that comprise what it is to be human. The first is am I good? The second is who is my tribe? You see as humans we are born hardwired for love and relationship. And we quickly learn that if we are good those in our tribe will love and accept us. So we quickly want to know what we need to do to be good and we desparately want to know who our people are. I’m speaking in broad generalizations, but I hope you feel like this resonates with you.
So when deep down I ask myself am I measuring up what I’m asking is am I living up to the things determined worthy by the people I believe are my people. Am I good? Who is my tribe?
For Israel, the Law satisfied both of those questions. We’ll take the second first. Who is my tribe? My tribe is the people to whom God gave the Law, the people to whom God gave Torah. To answer am I good an Israelite only need evaluate her actions relative to Torah. Did I live into, did I live up to Torah?
But this isn’t a unique feature to Judaism. David Zahl talks about religion as the thing that provides a controlling narrative. A unifying story. I’d put that into our terms by saying religion is the thing that answers our two questions: am I good and who is my tribe. And religion does that by defining a tribe around the particularity of how we determine one’s goodness.
Think about the world religions. Judaism. Islam. Buddhism. Hinduism. Etc. On some level they all seek to provide answers to the questions am I good and who is my tribe.
But I’m not here to do comparative religion. Because that’s not what’s most relevant to us. Instead what’s relevant to us is to bring this conversation into present day. Because what’s happened in the last generation is that people have stopped looking to capital R religion/religions to answer these questions. We don’t need Torah or an Imam or the Church to tell us am I good and who is my tribe. But here’s the thing, even as we are rejecting capital R religion we haven’t been able to reject these fundamental questions. The questions still gnaw at us. They still demand answers.
The question am I a good parent is nearly as old as time. We’ve asked it as long as we’ve had kids. But instead of going to Proverbs to learn what we can about being a good parent, about measuring our parenting up against the Bible, we now go to Dr. Spok or Babywise. Or we judge our parenting by the results they produce, namely we judge our value and worth as parents based on what our children accomplish. How they do in school. How they do in sports. What college they get into. And if our value and worth as parents is determined based on how our kids turn out, we’re far more likely to get more involved in every aspect of their lives. So we’re filming every soccer game, helping them and by helping I mean doing for them every school project, and nagging our kids and everyone who comes into contact with our kids about every aspect of their lives.
And instead of having one way of determining our tribe we have hundreds. My tribe can be health food nuts. It can be people who do CrossFit. It can be people who love Apple products. It can be determined by sports team affiliation. It can be who we voted for or whom we didn’t vote for.
And for each tribe there are different rules for what makes one good. There are different standards, different ways of measuring up. If you’re a foodie you can’t have a twinkie. Ever. If you do CrossFit you talk about what protein shake or health supplements you take. If you have Apple people friends in your life and you had an iPhone and then buy a Samsung phone, get ready. You don’t know the crime you’ve just committed.
But here’s the deal, with many of these things there isn’t a codified set of behaviors that make one good. It’s all unspoken. And so what happens isn’t so much we wonder if we are good, it’s we wonder if we’re good enough. And that change from good to good enough has meant all the difference for those of us living in 2019.
From what I can tell two things have changed equally to our detriment. The move from good to good enough has taken something that could theoretically be defined to something that’s inexhaustible. According to the Law good to righteous was determinable. But good enough is without definition. Which makes it a beast that is never satisfied. The second thing is that the move from goodness and tribe determined by religion to goodness and tribe determined by myriad other things meant our quest for goodness went from a weekly thing to a daily or hourly thing.
And so we arrive at a place where we are all constantly reminded that we aren’t good enough. We aren’t measuring up. Because we wanna be healthy eaters but sometimes you just need a Twinkie. Or we wanna be good parents but our kids aren’t perfect. (Narrator: because they’re kids) Or we wanna feel like our jobs have meaning and purpose while also able to pay the mortgage and save and feel comfortable about retirement prospects and be generous and NOVA says you can’t do all those things so we feel like we’re failing somewhere. Or we wanna let our kids do all the activities they want to do while also having family time and making time for church and making time for our marriage and sleeping and there never seems to be enough time.
And no matter how good our lives are, no matter how rich our lives are, no matter all the areas where we feel blessed, our failures, the places where we aren’t enough are so apparent to us, are front and center to us.
And despite our hustling, despite our work, despite our toil on some level we are confronted with the fact that we are both enough.
Which brings me to the most famous piece of correspondence in the Bible. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. And in this letter he gives the most systematic approach to Israel, the Law, and Jesus we find in Scripture. He talks about how God gave Israel the Law as a way of showing Israel that they couldn’t keep it. They couldn’t measure up. They weren’t enough. In Romans and throughout his letters Paul argues that the purpose of the Law was precisely to reveal how much we can’t measure up.
We don’t see the Torah, we don’t see Leviticus as the standard by which we measure our goodness or righteousness anymore. But we have our own Laws. We have our own standards of goodness and righteousness. And what I think we come to discover, often painfully, is that we can’t live up to them. We can’t be all that we think we ought to be and certainly not what others think we ought to be. We can’t be enough. But friends can I tell you enoughness wasn’t the thing we should have ever been after? Enoughness will never make us feel safe, make us feel secure. Enoughness will never be, well, enough. Instead we look for something else, something Paul turns to in his letter to the Romans:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul’s whole argument is this: we can’t be enough. We aren’t good. And precisely in that moment of pain Christ meets us. Christ dies for those of us that can’t measure up. Christ meets us in our not-goodness. Christ loves us even in our failure.
There’s a story that David Zhal tells in his book Seculosity. I’ll warn you, it’s about a suicide attempt. But it speaks to the hopelessness of trying to live up to the standard of enoughness and the way grace can rescue us from that.
In her memoir Cherry, Mary Karr recounts [this] instance. When she was fourteen years old, while her parents were out of the house, a miserable Mary tried to do herself in by swallowing a handful of pills. She was unsuccessful and wound up sick. When her mother and father returned home, they tenderly nursed her, without suspecting the suicide attempt. They attributed the vomiting to food poisoning.
After a while, her father asked her if there was any food she could stomach. Al she thought she could eat would be a plum. But plums were out of season, and so she went to bed.
The next morning, her father came into her room with a bushel of plums, having driven through the night from Texas to Arkansas to get them for her. Mary remembers:
But it’s when you sink you teeth into the plum that you make a promise. The skin is still warm from riding in the sun in Daddy’s truck, and the nectar runs down your chin.
And you snap out of it. Or are snapped out of it. Never again will you lay a hand against yourself, not so long there are plums to eat and somebody—anybody—who gives enough of a [let’s say darn] to haul them off to you…That’s how you acquire the resolution for survival that the coming years are about to demand. You don’t earn it. It’s given.
Many of us will never know the pain and despair that young Mary knew. I don’t want to draw a false equivalency. But what I do know is that many of us spend an insane amount of time and energy and worry and anxiety wondering if we are enough. If we measure up. If we’re good. What the Gospel tells us is that our answers, our enoughness, our goodness, our measuring up is not earned. We couldn’t do it. But our goodness, our enoughness, our measuring up is given to us. By the God who came to us in Jesus Christ. The God who created us and delights in us. The God who died for us to prove His love. In Him we are enough. He declares us loved. And he wants us to see salvation in ever point in our lives where we still strive and struggle and perhaps fail to be enough. Because the answer isn’t being enough. The answer is grace. Grace. God’s grace.