Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Legalism and Dental Hygiene

Sprinkled over the next few weeks of the calendar are assorted regularly scheduled maintenance appointments on this jalopy-body I have.  First up comes the dentist and my semiannual cleaning.  This should be only a minor inconvenience and discomfort, and I have an excellent dentist and gentle, thorough hygienist who do an outstanding job in every respect.  Even so, these cleanings have become an object of dread and dismal forebodings.

Despite scrupulous (obsessive-compulsive) compliance with every prescription the dentist has given me for care of my adult teeth, the last five years have brought a spate of issues requiring drilling and novocaine.  Consequently, I have begun approaching these routine visits with high anxiety and low expectations.

When the verdict comes, on the outside I smile politely, nod, and ask the usual questions about what needs to be done, how soon, and how much.  In the secret places of the heart, however, my inner 2 year old is pounding her fist, stomping her foot, and wailing, "But it's not fa-a-a-air!!!!  I did everything you told me to, and the only reason I did was to avoid this very thing.  This should be happening to someone who drinks sugary soda, eats candy all the time, and never flosses!  I demand a recount!"

Clearly, a few bastions of legalism* still need to fall before the gospel.  In many areas of life, my thought-habits reflect my stated beliefs that all comes of God's grace and love.  The pleasant things are much more than I deserve, and the unpleasant things are much less (and moreover intended for good and blessing).  For whatever reason, my attitudes about dental hygiene, the Department of Public Safety, and the IRS retain the old self's expectation that I will sow what I reap and can generally sow well enough to prevent reaping unpleasantness.

At home again, I look in the mirror and see how ugly this reflection is.

In the mirror hanging at the foot of our couch I see my image to the right of the scene, in the scowling, arms-crossed elder brother.  The lost son who stayed home and didn't even know how lost he was.  The son whose pride blinded him to his father's love.

In another mirror I recognize myself in Job's miserable comforters, whose legalism leads them to accuse him of bringing his horrible sufferings on himself through sin.  By the end of the book, God indicts them on charges of folly and failure to speak truth about Him, and only burnt offerings and Job's intercession spare them from reaping the dire consequences their words have unwittingly sown.

Pastor Alistair Begg said in a recent message, "The presence of anxiety is directly related to the absence of humility."  I see my reflection in that, too.

Thanks be to God that there is a remedy for all this in Christ Jesus!  The distance between the elder brother and the grace-embraced ragamuffin or between Job and his friends can be bridged simply by building an altar and climbing up.  Surrender--again, daily, continuously--is the best vantage point to see Jesus and discover my own reflection transforming into his.

Even if dental work is the prescribed beauty treatment.

*On this blog, you may find me using "legalism" in two ways:  first, in the sense of elevating human traditions to the status of universal divine commandments; secondly, to denote the quid pro quo attitude that if I do _________, God will be honor-bound to reward me with __________.  Today I'm using legalism in the latter sense.

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