Fig leaves and lollipops

If God is our friend, need we not be open and honest with Him?

At the rime of writing, Siroj Sorajjakool was director of ministerial training at Thailand Mission, Bangkok.

In Thailand a man can wear a Rolex watch, a Cartier belt, Gucci shoes, and an Arrow shirt even though he is far from wealthy. "Crocodile shirt, 45 baht" painted on cardboard pieces is a common sight along the streets of Bangkok. As far as merchants are concerned, there isn't anything unscrupulous about the whole business; after all, these shirts are made from genuine Thai crocodiles.

We are in a great era of imitation— jeans, licenses, passports, watches, shirts, computer programs, and spare parts, to mention a few. In the Adventist circle too we have imitations. We use the label vege. Vege-chicken, vege-bacon, vege-turkey, vege-fish, vege-dance (marching), vege-movies, and so the list runs on. All this is all right, except when we internalize this external imitation into our personal lives. And when we do, we become imitation Christians, vege-Christians.

Vege-Christianity has its roots with Adam and Eve. After eating the forbidden fruit, they realized their nakedness and tried to conceal it with fig leaves. And ever since they yielded to temptation, the human race has not stopped hiding. 1 Even Christians often try to escape from reality or deny it.

For example, we are taught that the joy of Bible reading comes spontaneously to a true Christian. Feeling bored in our devotional life is an indicator that something is wrong with our Christian experience. And so in our desire to qualify as true Christians, we make our selves believe that Bible reading really is our obsession after all.

Why do we attempt to conceal the occasional feeling of boredom? Why the fig leaf?

A college student, requested to pray at the close of sundown vespers, uttered "Thank You, God, that the Sabbath is over." The remark was a slip of the tongue, but in a way it reveals our nakedness, our true feelings.

"I don't feel like praying!" is yet another shocking reality that frequently confronts the Christian. We seldom vocalize such a feeling. For one thing, we understand that self-realization is often derived from self-expression.2 Also, it is unchristian not to feel like praying. We try to live up to the norms, expectations and standards of the church. And that in itself is perfectly commendable. 3 But problems begin when we cover up certain no-no feelings within us, acting as though everything is OK when actually such is not the case.

Why must we pretend that we are something we are not? Do we imagine that God cannot handle frankness and honesty? No wonder we force ourselves to say "Lord, I love talking to You. I enjoy reading Your works. I love attending Your programs."

And on and on we murmur sweet nothings, for fear that He may feel of fended if we said otherwise. Perhaps we think God feels threatened when we are angry at Him and so we say nice things. We present Him with a lollipop.

I wonder whether our prayers are an end in themselves or a means to an end— do we tell God these beautiful things as a calculated attempt to ensure our future destiny? We would do well to examine our hearts.

The truth is God is tough. He is secure, unthreatened by our complaints. He doesn't ask for artificial affirmation. He prefers frankness and honesty to lollipops.

I recall the days I first started dating the lady who is now my wife. On one occasion we got into a big argument. It was my first quarrel with a woman, and I tried every tactic I knew to pacify her. Nothing worked. At last I recalled that in the movies whenever the hero and his lady got into a fight, a simple kiss could turn anger into passion.

Aha\ I thought, and I did kiss her. I quickly learned, however, that life is not a Hollywood production. My sweetheart picked up the argument exactly where we left off before my contrived affection. I learned one simple truth: a relationship is not built on lollipops but absolute honesty.

Above everything else in life, we esteem our relationship with God. Yet how often we overlook or underemphasize one of the most essential ingredients in a relationship—honesty.4 Absolute honesty makes a relationship grow. Even when we are confused about what God does or what He doesn't do. He prefers genuineness to pretension, nakedness to fig leaves. There can't be love without honesty, suggests John Powell: "What ever else love may ask of us, it does not ask us to be doormats or compulsive pleasers or peace-at-any-price persons. The primary gift of love is the offering of one's most honest self through one's most honest self-disclosure." 5

A Born Loser cartoon strip drives home this important truth. Thornapple is on a plane, and the passenger beside him turns to him and asks, "Have you read Tale of Two Cities?" "Sorry," replies Thornapple, "I don't read travelogues. I only read classics." When we don't know what something is, why pretend that we do? What we are not, we are not. Pretending only further aggravates matters.

But honesty, genuine honesty, has its own rewards. As Marian Evans observes: "Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible com fort, of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them; keeping what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness blowing the rest away." 6

Someone once said, "A friend is a person with whom you dare to be yourself." Do we dare to be ourselves in the presence of God? If we cannot be frank and honest with our closest Friend, what is friendship then?

"Honest to God" must be the beginning of our relationship with Him. He who said "Come now, let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18, RSV), wants us to come before Him in our spiritual nakedness.7 A fig leaf is insufficient.

1. In speaking about hiding, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "Man has suddenly fallen from God and is still in flight.... This flight, Adam's hiding from God, we call conscience . . . this flight allows man to feel secure in his hiding place." Creation and Fall: Temptation (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1959), p. 81.

2. John Powell, Will the Real Me Please Stand Up? (Alien, Tex.: Argus Communications, 1985), p. 17.

3. For a "not so perfectly fine" example, see the chapter entitled "Cruel Non-sense" in Kosuke Koyama, 50 Meditations (New York: Orbis, 1979), pp. 47-51.

4. This concept is made explicit by A. L. McGinnis when he begins his chapter "Being a Nice Guy Gets You Nowhere" with the Biblical injunction found in Ephesians 4:26: "Be angry but do not sin" (RSV). See A. L. McGinnis, The Friendship Factor [Minneapolis: Augusburg Pub. House, 1979), p. 128. The importance of honesty in building a relationship has been expressed by various authors. See, for example, John Powell, Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?; Dan Benson, The Total Man (Wheaton, 111.: Living Books, 1988), pp. 151-164; Norman Wright, Communication: Key to Your Marriage (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1974).

5. John Powell, Unconditional Love (Alien, Tex.: Argus Communications, 1978) p. 82.

6. Quoted in McGinnis, The Friendship Factor, p. 36.

7. Speaking about the call to spiritual nakedness, Bonhoeffer says: "God speaks to him Adam, He stops him in his flight. 'Come out of your hiding place, from your self-reproach, your covering, your secrecy, your self-torment. . . .' This call goes directly against the conscience, for the conscience says: 'Adam, you are naked, hide yourself from the Creator, you dare not stand before Him.' God says: 'Adam, stand before Me' " (p. 81).

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At the rime of writing, Siroj Sorajjakool was director of ministerial training at Thailand Mission, Bangkok.

March 1992

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