I think my favorite installment in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series is the prequel book no one talks about: The Magicians’ Nephew.
There is one particularly unsavory character in the book named Uncle Andrew. He consistently displays a selfish pride that causes him to distance himself from others, view them with contempt, and attempt to use them for his own purposes.
Near the end of the book, when he encounters things he doesn’t have categories for (like talking animals), he spirals down into insanity. Even though Aslan and the other talking animals are speaking to him in plain English, he can’t understand a word. All he hears are growls and roars, and he is terrified.
In the end, he completely loses his ability to speak, and runs off into the woods, frightened and alone. He has essentially become something less than human. The talking animals are more “human” than he is. They have the “image of God” in them, while Uncle Andrew has forfeited it.
I think the story offers us some very insightful reflections on what it means to be human, and the ways we give ourselves over to forces that, in the end, dehumanize us and hold us in bondage.
In this post, I want to identify the three main forces that hold us in bondage as humans, and then look toward a way to becoming more truly and fully human in the way of Jesus.
Hidden Forces That Keep Us In Bondage
“Well, everyone’s got something to prove, something to hide, and something to lose…”
Those were the “off the cuff” words I heard my friend Matt Tebbe say on a coaching call with a few Christian leaders the other day. Those three phrases seem to encapsulate what it means to be broken as a human, don’t they?
- Something to prove
- Something to hide
- Something to lose
When we come toward one another in relationships, these are the things that prevent us from loving one another. These are the things that propel us into using one another and hurting one another, using the weapons of fear, guilt, and shame to prove ourselves, hide our weakness, and keep what we’ve got.
On an even larger scale, it seems to me that these are the things that also cause worldwide conflict. All wars are started and sustained because people have something to prove, or something to hide, or something to lose.
From the most intimate interpersonal relationships to wars that engulf the entire world, these three phrases seem to point to humanity’s greatest enemies. Powerful forces that keep us in bondage, that dehumanize and degrade us whenever we submit to them.
Tempted as We Are, Yet Without Sin
In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus bursts onto the scene in his baptism. It’s a remarkable event that features a physical manifestation of the Spirit of God along with a voice from heaven stamping the authority of God on this young Galilean who had just come up out of the water.
You would think Jesus would want to capitalize on this momentum and begin his ministry immediately, but he doesn’t do that. Instead, he is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).
He spends forty days and nights fasting, and then the tempter comes to Jesus in three ways. The devil is pulling out all the stops, trying every trick in the book. He is throwing his best stuff at Jesus, the stuff that has tripped us up as humans since Adam and Eve.
There are multi-volume books that could be written about these temptations, but briefly, Jesus resists and conquers the three big issues that keep us broken as humans:
- Stones to bread – Jesus resists the impulse to grasp for his needs. He resists the fear of not having enough, of not being supported, of being empty. Confident in his Father’s care for him, Jesus resists this temptation, knowing he has nothing to lose.
- The temple leap – Jesus resists the temptation to manipulate people’s perceptions, to craft an image rather than walk in the light. He says “no” to the desire to appear a certain way. He rests in his identity as the Beloved Son, knowing he has nothing to hide.
- Have the kingdoms – Jesus resists the temptation to control and dominate people, events, and situations. Ironically, no one is more qualified to rule the world than Jesus, but he resists the temptation to grab power, because he has nothing to prove.
Jesus, the Prototype For a New Humanity
What we see in the temptations of Jesus is him beginning to forge a path for us toward being truly human.
- In the wilderness, Jesus resisted these dehumanizing forces.
- On the cross, Jesus conquered them.
- In his resurrection, Jesus empowers us to conquer them in our lives and communities.
“Everyone has something to prove, something to hide, and something to lose.” But Jesus shows us that being truly human means having nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and nothing to lose.
Jesus is the Truly Human One. He is the Prototype for the new humanity. When the Apostle John records Pontius Pilate declaring, “Behold the man!” he wasn’t just conveying a historical fact. He was ironically using a Roman official to proclaim the gospel of the the incarnation to everyone. Behold, the Man. Look at him, the Truly Human One.
The Truly Human One who has nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and nothing to lose. The One who is able to love freely and generously because he isn’t trying to get anything from people. The One who has thrown away the weapons of fear, guilt, and shame and now only uses love to stir and motivate.
Working Out Our Salvation In Community
In his resurrection, Jesus empowers us to become truly human with him, and having nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and nothing to lose means we are free to love one another as Christ loved us.
The “lab” for this work is the church. The Apostle John declares in his first letter that our love for God is revealed in our love for others (and vice versa), so the “proof in the pudding” of our connection to the Truly Human One is the strength and authenticity of our connection with the Truly Human One’s body: the church.
In our church communities, simply paying attention to these areas of temptation can help us become more human with one another. When conflict arises, instead of nervously trying to “fix” it or hide it, what if we simply looked at it with compassion and curiosity?
What if we owned our feelings and desires and began to ask ourselves questions when brokenness or conflict rose up?
- Do I have something to prove here? How can I confess that and surrender it?
- Do I have something to hide here? How can I bring it into the light and trust my community with this?
- Do I have something to lose here? How can I own my fear and trust others with it?
Wouldn’t that be a community that you’d want to belong to?
Since the Truly Human One came to us “full of grace and truth,” we want our churches to be filled with grace and truth, too.
The most gracious way to tell the truth is to make sure the first truth I say is the truth about myself. What do I have to prove, hide, or lose here, and how can I submit that to the community in love, trusting the ultimate outcomes to God?
That’s the beginning of freedom. That’s the starting place for becoming more truly human, like Jesus, our Prototype.
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