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Monday, January 30, 2017

Christianity Taught Me I Don't Matter

A potter forms a clay pot. Image source.
Here's a post from John Piper: What Does It Mean That God Will Glorify Me? And How? This post is not unique, there is nothing in it that shocks me, it's pretty standard Piper ideology. But I'm blogging about it here because there are people- good evangelical Christians- who don't believe me when I say the church taught me I don't matter and that I'm still struggling with the damage that teaching has done to me, that it was one of the main causes of my depression a few years ago.

Here are the receipts.

In his post, Piper is answering a question from a reader about a bible verse where Jesus instructs people to seek glory from God. The reader asks, "How do we balance this with desiring to glorify him? What is the difference (and the link) between me glorifying God and God glorifying me?"

To answer this question, Piper explains that people glorify God in a completely different way than God glorifies people. People glorifying God is about "making God look like what he really is"; God glorifying people is about "making us into what we are definitely not; namely, beautiful and glorious in his image." So from the very first sentence of his answer, Piper says that people are NOT "beautiful and glorious," that God glorifies us by changing us to be more like him (Piper's god is male), by covering up our true identity, whereas we glorify God by clearly showcasing God's true, glorious nature.

This is what I was taught in church. I am naturally, intrinsically awful and worthless. Don't imagine that I'm reading something into Piper's post that isn't there; later in the post, he says, "We aren’t intrinsically beautiful. We are intrinsically abhorrent in our rebellion against God." The only way I can stop being so "abhorrent" is by believing in Jesus, who will then change me to make me more like him. I can't just be myself; no, I need Jesus to cover up my true nature, to make me into something different. To hide who I really am- that's the only way I can be valuable and beautiful. I often heard Christians say we want people to "look at us and just see Jesus." We reflect Jesus. And Piper talks about that same idea in his post, using the words "being conformed to the image of Christ."

(Yes, I have heard Christians claim that this isn't about losing your identity and becoming a mindless drone; instead, God enriches your own natural personality and abilities when you submit your life to God, and this is the only way you can really, truly be the unique person that you are. Yeah okay, this doesn't help, it still teaches that you suck without God.)

Look at this bit:
No one can love God and not want to be conformed to the image of God. But we will always want our glory to be derivative. We will always want our glory to be reflective, not original: reflective of the original.
Reflective, not original. He's saying there's nothing in your intrinsic nature that's good or glorious; the best you can do is reflect God. Also, wait a second, I love God but don't "want to be conformed to the image of God"- at least in the sense that I understood that term as an evangelical. I belong to me and I make my own choices. I don't believe in "I surrender all" or anything along those lines.

And what's even more horrifying is the purpose of all this "being conformed to the image of Christ." See, it's not about you. According to Piper, you are a tool that God uses to display his glory. You don't matter in and of yourself; you are a means to an end. Don't believe me? Here are some quotes from his post:
"Jonathan Edwards makes a very big deal out of the point of the universe being the creation and preparation of a bride for his Son."

"He makes us beautiful and, therefore, our beauty reflects his primary power and grace and beauty as the Creator of our beauty."

"God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride."
Let's take a minute and unpack that last one: "God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride." (The church is sometimes referred to as "the bride of Christ.") First of all, note the misogny- there's an unspoken assumption that it's not okay for a bride to be "ugly," that women John Piper considers "ugly" aren't worthy of marriage, that their husbands deserve better. I know that terms like "beautiful" and "ugly" are being used here metaphorically to represent goodness or something, but the way he phrases this one sentence- "God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride"- is meant to convince readers by appealing to their sense of "oh wouldn't it be just awful for a man if his bride was ugly."

Second, that sentence makes it all about God and his Son, with the bride as nothing more than something for the Son to "have." What she wants doesn't matter- God is only interested in making her good enough for his Son. And that's the Christianity I was taught: I don't matter, I'm only good for whatever Jesus wants to use me for.

This is what they taught me: It's all about God. By myself, I'm worthless, I'm so sinful God is too horrified to even look at me. I need God to cover up who I really am and replace it with Jesus. And God does that to get glory for himself. To please himself. Yes I end up better off, satisfied in God and all that, but that's not the point. My happiness isn't important; it's just a byproduct of the real goal, which is glorifying God. I don't matter. I only have value if God takes over my life and changes me so I'm more like Jesus.

"It's all about God" was the entire foundation of the ideology I used to believe. I believed it was wrong to care about my own needs or pursue my own happiness; that would be "selfish" and wrong. (That's why someone wrote to ask Piper about this in the first place- they read a bible verse where Jesus tells people to seek glory for themselves, and were immediately confused as this contradicts everything they had been taught about "selfishness.") I was supposed to "put God first" all the time, and then God would take care of my needs. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength," and all that. Always, everything, totally devoted to him. By myself I don't matter, I'm just a tool whose purpose is to glorify God. My entire life is just a means to an end.

You can see this anti-human ideology in one post after another on John Piper's website. I used to believe every bit of this. I lived it every day. And I still haven't recovered.

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Related: "The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug

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