Monday, April 05, 2010

Unveiled Faces

(I just wrote and published this blog on the website of the Society for Christian Psychology)

I recently attended a unique mens retreat in which space was provided for the men present to be broken and transparent before God and other men. The result was deep change and healing for many present. As I reflect on the dynamics of the retreat, it occurred to me that a significant factor in being transformed by God into the image of Christ is the level of broken transparency we bring to relationships in general, but particularly with God.

The level of transparent reality we bring into relationship with God and others greatly affects how intimate we are capable of being and subsequently, how much transformation we experience. True intimacy in relationships depends on the trust and safety of exposed hearts, and these hearts are changed as they commune together with God through Christ. There is something healing about exposing your heart to another safe person.

The problem is that we are often "veiled" in our relationships through defense mechanisms, false selves, and sinful habits of hiding and manipulating. If our inner world is veiled to ourselves (through a lack of self-awareness) and others, we are incapable of deep relationships. Out of a sense of self-protection, we often work and maneuver ourselves to maintain distance and control in our relationships. When we make a choice to stop this pattern though, there is great potential for intimacy and healing. We can "un-veil" ourselves before God and others through confession, transparency and authenticity. Such authenticity requires taking risks in our relationships, risks in laying down our false selves in the presence of others. When our inner world is un-veiled to ourselves and others in the presence of God, there is great potential for transformation, healing and growth in Christ-likeness to occur.

As tempting as it is for those who are troubled and hurting (and those of us who counsel them) to make transformation the goal of transparent relating, it is not. Transformation is not the reason we are transparent and authentic - intimacy is - intimacy with God and others. When transformation becomes the goal, our transparency can become manipulation, an attempt to barter with God. A false self that presents itself as authentic can work to earn love. When intimacy is our goal however, transformation is a side effect that is left completely in the hands of our sovereign and good God. God has designed us for relationship, and the more of "us" that is unveiled in the context of safe relationship with him and others, the promise we have from Scripture is that we shall be changed. But this change rarely occurs in the way and at the rate we desire, so it is necessary to stress that deeper relationship is the goal of transparent relating.

Perhaps it is helpful to differentiate between brokenness and transparency for the sake of clarity. Transparency can be defined simply as the absence of pretense or deceit, an honest acknowledgment of what is in the heart and mind, without any judgment as to the goodness or badness of what is revealed. Brokenness (in a biblical sense) adds to transparency a repentant sorrow for what is in the heart and mind along with a desperate desire for Jesus to grant healing and forgiveness. Broken, transparent intimacy is at the heart of biblical discipleship (e.g., "blessed are the poor in spirit," and "blessed are the pure in heart" (Matt. 5:3, 8). This is developed in two key texts, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 and Hebrews 10:19-25.

"But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the
Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with
unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the
same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who
is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:16-18 ESV)

The ESV Study Bible note on 2 Cor 3:16 is helpful here - "Just as Moses was able to enter into God's presence without a veil (Ex. 34:34) so too when one turns to the Lord in faith, the veil of separation from God and incomprehension of him brought about by a hardened heart is removed" (emphasis mine). The more we turn to the Lord in faith, the more we are un-veiled. In Christ, we can come before God and one another without the veils of our false selves and all our sinful attempts to find life without God. These veils have been removed with Christ's death and resurrection for us.

At Jesus' death, the curtain or veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), opening the holiest presence of God to all people who trust in Christ's sacrifice. Once the most dangerous place for sinners, the holy presence of God is now the safest place for the broken and the sinful because of the new and living way of Christ. The implications of this are staggering for us.

"So, friends, we can now-without hesitation-walk right up to God, into "the Holy
Place." Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our
priest before God. The "curtain" into God's presence is his body. So let's do
it-full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a
firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's
see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding
worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see
the big Day approaching. (Heb 10:19-25 The Message)

Through the sacrifice of Christ, we are enabled to come before him without timidity or pretense. Indeed, we are called to come before Him with boldness, transparency and unveiled confession, knowing that we shall be completely accepted, loved and forgiven. We can be "confident that we're presentable inside and out," which takes the pressure off us to perform or pretend. As we do this with brothers and sisters in Christ we shall be changed as we together behold His glory - for this is why we were made.

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