Most people dread the visit to the doctor for an annual physical examination. Nobody likes to be poked and prodded and stuck with needles. But more than that, the exam is a judgment on how you are doing. You’ve got to answer questions about your lifestyle(still looking for the right “balance”), food and drink intake (too much), and exercise (not enough). You’ve got to check the boxes on all the various things that are wrong with you.
Conceivably, you could answer the doctor’s questions in a way that puts you in a good light. But then there are the evaluations that can’t be nuanced: the scale, your lab work, your cholesterol count, your blood pressure. People avoid the doctor because nobody likes to undergo that kind of judgment. Obviously, this avoidance is unwise. The doctor is there to help you. If there is something wrong with you, then the doctor will help you get better.
Helping you get better is quite the industry in our country. This post concerns a (fairly) new self-help book – a book intended to help you get better. The book is about the Enneagram. The Enneagram is presented as a way of identifying your personality type. The approach claims it has its roots in ancient Christianity and purports to be a helpful diagnostic tool that reveals both your strengths and your weaknesses; that it can help you understand the people you live with or work with; that it flags your stress points and reminds you of your vulnerabilities.
There is a fatal flaw, however, in the Enneagram. That flaw is revealed in the book’s title, which is “The Road Back To You.” The title is communicating the well meaning, broadly accepted thinking that goes something like this:
1) Deep down, you’ve got a divine essence
2) You’ve been separated from your true divine essence by something external: the hectic pace of the world, materialism, childhood wounds, etc.
3) You can reunite with your divine essence by working on your “spirituality”, usually by meditation, inner knowledge, dedicated effort. Once you do this, you will achieve an inner peace and be in harmony with the Divine Essence that unites all creatures. You will have finally found the “Road Back to You.”
In 1 Corinthians St. Paul addresses people who (2000 years ago) had bought into this kind of thinking. They were extremely impressed with their own spirituality. Paul comes to do a kind of annual spiritual physical for the budding congregation and finds terrible vulnerabilities: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife, poor people are not being welcomed into the fellowship, people are getting drunk at the church suppers that doubled as the Lord’s Supper. All the while, the Corinthians are boasting about the spirituality that has put them on the Road Back to You.
The truth of the matter is that the Road Back To Me is not a road I want to be on. Just ask my wife! The Road Back To Me is a road that ends in selfishness, anger, lust, pettiness, and self-pity. And those are my better qualities.
Jesus teaches very clearly that out of our hearts comes that which hurts us and others. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The great teacher, Jesus, is saying this – not me! So much for the Road Back To Me. Any kind of spiritual physical will reveal that there is something wrong with me – and you. Let’s get off that road A.S.A.P.
St. Paul wants the get the Corinthians off that road A.S.A.P. His plan for that wasn’t popular then and isn’t popular now. Who likes to admit that there is something wrong with them? But, Paul offers the only hope there is for people in need. He says, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Jesus Christ and him crucified!
An extremely popular therapeutic self-help book of the 1970’s was called “I’m O.K, You’re O.K.” If I’m O.K. and you’re O.K., then what is the significance of the cross? The cross is significant because our true metaphysical condition calls for a more drastic answer than a Road Back to You.
When Christ was crucified, he was crucified for us all. He represented each one of us and took upon himself all that is wrong with us and the world. Jesus Christ endured the desolation of our sin and shame to become for us the Road Back to God.
“I am the Way”, he said before he was crucified for our sake. Through him, with him and in him we are given so much more than a dead end road back to ourselves.
Elsewhere St. Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Or even more powerfully, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Jesus Christ and him crucified is God’s (only) roadmap. If we belong to him we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. The Road Back To Me only has power and meaning if we understand and embrace the Via Crucis traversed by the Saviour in order to bring us on the True Road Back To God.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.