I’m OK!

So who makes that claim? It’s so common we hear it all the time. I inadvertently bump hard into a person. I apologize with, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you? And the reply is, I’m OK. But who can really, truthfully say this? Remember, it is said within the context of a cursed world, a fallen humanity, a life that lies in the midst of death and which itself is a continual death. If we pause to take this into account, then we say Ah, then No, I’m not OK, for I am lost in sin! Righteous Adam, supralapsus, could say, I’m OK; for in every way he was. The Creator had made him perfect. He could truthfully say, I am righteous, I am holy, I am good. I’m OK! But man, infralapsus, could not say it. He was not OK. He would have to say, I am dead, I am alienated, I am estranged (Ephesians 2); I am evil (Jeremiah 13:23), I am unprofitable (Romans 3), I am unclean (Job 14:4), I am filthy (Proverbs 30:12), I am darkness (I Thessalonians 5:5). But when man by the power of God’s Spirit and Word of His holy gospel has been brought to experience the great, divine work of regeneration (palingenesia), thus having been born from above, and so made a new creature in Christ Jesus, he can say far more than “possibly I’m OK,” or “probably I’m OK”, or “there’s a 50-50 chance I’m actually OK.” He can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am, namely, born of the Spirit, and so OK.”

But many are not sure of this. The uncertainty seems to be reflected in a book title I noticed the other day, “AM I OK?” At least this appears more thoughtful than the somewhat flippant cliché under review. Usually we think of philosophers as very thoughtful men. Xenophanes was. That’s evident in a statement of his that “there is nothing praiseworthy in…plotting violent revolutions.” Today it is different; revolutionists are getting too much attention and praise. Yet it was Xenophanes who asked himself, Am I OK? He had a skeptical caution and a blind zeal for “truth-seeking.” This is something we as Christians do not do. We are not “ye seekers” searching for that elusive horizon of truth. We have the truth! But this philosopher was a seeker-for-truth. Pretty much, too, in the spirit of Pilate, who asked, What is truth? This was really to insult the Son of God who claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but my Me.” Pilate was no different from the Jewish religious leaders of his day in that he, as they, refused to recognize the identity Jesus claimed for himself. So it was with this interesting philosopher. He was skeptical about ever finding the truth about anything. He said, “There never was nor will be a man who has certainty…; if he does change to say what is right, yet he does not know that it is so. But all are free to guess.” So it is Xenophanesian to ask, Am I OK? But then, forget it! I can never know; not for sure. My guess is I’m as OK as the next person, which is not saying much. Add a million zeroes and you still get zero!

On the other hand, the mature Christian, the model of us all, is no philosopher, yet he is thoughtful in the only true sense of the word because he aims to think according to the revelation of God in the Scripture. His lips do not rattle of clichés, even though he of all people could truthfully say, I’m OK. Instead, what he sings in his heart is,

I am evil, born in sin;

Thou desirest truth within.

Thou alone my Savior art,

Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;

Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,

Wash me whiter than the snow.

For he knows that by nature he is just so corrupt that he is wholly incapable of doing any good and prone to all wickedness. The Christian, then, before he can say, I’m OK, says with Job, I am a burden to myself; if I say I am perfect (i.e. OK), it shall prove me perverse; no, rather, I am vile. With David he says, I am ready to halt; I am frail. With Isaiah, he says, I am a man of unclean lips. With Jeremiah, he says, I am black. With Paul, he says, I am carnal, I am a wretched man, I am chief of sinners! With Peter, he says, I am a sinful man, O Lord!

Keep in mind, however, that this self-abasement (an indispensable part of the Christian character and conduct, Matthew 16:24) is repugnant to “the old man,” and to the “natural man,” as it certainly was to the Pharisee. He said, God, I am not as other men are! Negatively, he was insisting over against all others, I’m OK; I’m not so sure about you. But it was the tax-collector who said, I am the sinner! With that he cried for mercy. His prayer was answered. He went down to his house justified. Only then could he say, I’m OK. For this is the way it is with the mature Christian. After he has a real experience of his ethical, moral, spiritual misery (Revelation 3:17) and his wonderful deliverance from it, then he can sing, I am Thine, O Lord, and I Belong to the King, because, especially now, he realizes he belongs to Jesus. He can sing, “I am weak, but Thou are strong.” He can sing, “I am so glad that our Father in heaven…” He can sing, I am redeemed! Oh, yet! In that sense I’m OK.

There are others who have far more confidence than Xenophanes. They hold to a process of reasoning which begins with “I’m OK,” I exist, to argue on step by logical step, until they can say, “Thou are OK,” Thou dost exist. We might call this the I-Thou Connection. It goes something like this: the “I” is real. I think, therefore I am. I cannot doubt my own existence, since even in that doubt self appears. So, I am! The next step is in reference to the Christian God, the ‘Thou.’ He just might exist. It is up to us to do what we can to find out. In fact, there is so much evidence that He does exist (you see His works in all nature, and you hear His voice in His own Word, the Bible) that you are simply morally responsible for the dire consequences if you do not examine the evidence, heed its message and take that great “space shuttle” step from “I” to “THOU”!

Well, the I-Thou connection is interesting, but for the mature Heidelberg Catechism Christian, it has a wrong starting point. It is, for the Christina mentioned, just the opposite connection; it is the Thou-I. This is so because the truly Reformed Christian begins not with self, but with faith; not with the emplacement of the underlying thought that “I exist,” but with the fundamental, rock-bottom position that “God is!” There is the most final divine subject and predicate. What is the object? It is God, as in “God is God!” This is our starting point. For this we seek and need no proof. We do not say, for the sake of discussion with our non-Christian acquaintances, that possibly God exists, or probably He exists, or He “maybe-could-might” exist. So just for the sake of amicable argument, let’s suppose He does, then let’s look for confirmation and support (of which there seems to be plenty) establishing what we suppose. Then with our supposition confirmed we arrive at faith, hopefully. That means, too, that having found the supportive evidence, then we may take our stand on “In the beginning God!”

But that’s not the way we go about things, including God. His own Word, the Scripture, is self-certifying, and does not need sustaining argument. Neither does faith. We do not stand with humanism (I-Thou, or I-thou) in order to arrive at, or simply to confirm, our Reformed theology. Always, at the back of, or at the forefront of our minds is the Bible together with what we believe the Bible teaches as found in our Three Forms of Unity. On that ground we approach things. We do not think of things, say, within the framework of the concentric circles: cosmos, purpose, man. We think of the universe within the environment and under the control of (the) eternal purpose (of God). Whatsoever comes to pass is within the framework and under the dominance of the Trinitarian predestinating God. Nor need we to try to prove that to the non-Christian. We rather call him to stand with us on the only safe, sure ground where alone true knowledge is possible. To do that, the unbeliever must repent of his sins, turn from his wicked ways, from his own thoughts, which are not God’s thoughts, from his own way, which is not God’s way. He must take his stand on His Word and in that “none other way under heaven whereby we must be saved.” To do anything else, anything less, in this dangerous world is absolutely perilous. Christ is the only way to the New Heaven and the New Earth; and when I get there, it will be with so much relief and so much super abounding joy that I’ll exclaim, Now I’m really OK! Everything finally is!