I Am Nothing
JULY 23, 2015
“Then is God rightly worshiped when we completely disparage ourselves and ascribe all praise and glory and whatever is in us to Him. For when we attribute to God what belongs to Him and keep for ourselves what is ours, then we keep nothing, and that very nothing is ours, but everything is God’s from who we receive it. Therefore such a confession out of a true heart is itself the sacrifice of praise, namely, to confess that everything, whatever we are, is owed to God, and there is absolutely nothing left for ourselves….And on this basis it comes about that anyone, no matter how saintly, must necessarily think and confess in the presence of God concerning himself that he is totally evil and altogether nothing. He must say: ‘“Against Thee only have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4), before Thee I am evil, before Thee I am nothing.’ For if God would remove what is His in us, it is most true that what is left is want, darkness, and evil and thus worthy of damnation. But if we bend only any of those things to ourselves, we are then thieves of God’s benefits and such as take away from His glory” -- Martin Luther First Lectures on the Psalms (Ps. 50:14).
I ran across this quote while researching for my dissertation. It’s a quote that has stuck with me. It’s the kind of quote that haunts me as I go about my day, long after I’ve read past it, long after I’ve closed the book. …before Thee I am nothing… I want to shake this heavy feeling this quote leaves me with. Ick. I don’t want to be nothing. I want to be something. I want to—very much—look into the fiber of my being (down deep into what makes me what and who I am) and find the kernel of something to claim as Ah-ha! Mine! This! This, I have! And even in this looking and searching the depths of my person, I want to find not only something but, specifically, something (anything) good.
But Luther’s words challenge that desire, that hope, that selfish activity. What he says—in short—is that apart from Christ, I’m a have-not. And, to intensify the situation, he goes on to say that anything I do have (apart from Christ) is vile (which is pretty much nothing) and everything good I have is because of Christ. So, I can look and look deeper and deeper within myself and I’ll find nothing (every time and at every turn): absolutely, positively, nothing. I am nothing.
Luther’s words punch me in the gut and slap me across the face. Because, to be honest, I define who and what I am on my works, on things I have. And nothing drives this home more (for me) than being plucked from a place of being known and dropped into a place of being unknown. About 6 months ago, we moved across the country (a good move, based on all the right decisions). After a couple of months in this new house, in this new town, I realized: I have nothing. It was one of those realizations that set your proverbial wheels spinning. Quick, join X! Find a church! Mommy and Me? Sure! Hey, that pregnant woman looks lonely, I’ll friend her! I had left friends (dear, dear friends) who loved me and whom I loved, a church that had me preaching and teaching regularly, a ministry, an environment that was familiar, and a life that was fruitful. And, now, I sat at home—no one calling, no one stopping over, no plans, no events, and nothing to “prep” for. And, as if to add insult to injury, with the removal of all the things I was quite happy to define me, I started to come face to face with the reality that I’m walking black-hole of attention and affirmation, clinging to encouraging words as if my very life depended on it only to find that I was grasping oil.
The law’s voice was deeply embedded in my conscience: justify yourself. And I don’t mean that merely legally, either (though that part is true). I mean it in a way that was more in line with: find a reason for your very existence, Lauren. But that path leads to death, because no one can find the reason for their own existence within themselves.
I was being stripped of everything (good and bad) and that was painful, like having your very skin removed.
But there was still life to be given. While the law was killing me, a bigger word was recreating me. In being reduced to nothing, I was forced outside of myself because there was no health in me. In confessing that we have and are nothing, we are in the right posture to reach out, desperately, for the hem of His garment. For, while we still believe we have something, we won’t reach. But at nothing, desperation sinks in and we reach out for anything. And what our hand often lands on, in that moment, is God Himself, because He’s been there the whole time and we’re just beginning to see it. And He’s something in the presence of your nothing.
But the good news doesn’t end there at the recognition of your state and your need. In this recognition I am given everything. For, while I have not and am nothing apart from Christ, in Christ I have and am altogether something; and not because I’ve done something to deserve it or have earned it, but because He’s declared it to be so. My very existence (now, not just way back when) hinges on this life giving word, this creative word (Gen 1:1). This word is Christ (John 1) and it is this Word proclaimed that is heard (it causes itself to be heard) and in hearing I’ve been given the gift of faith in Christ (the Word) and it is this faith that unites me to Christ in whom I have everything. And by this word, the endless toil of trying to validate and have validated my existence by my works (good and bad), is ceased because the only thing that matters is His (creative) word over me: beloved.
In Christ, by faith in Christ, you have been given Christ Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, by faith in Christ, your I am nothing is forever and permanently trumped by the creative I am of Christ. In Christ, by faith in Christ, you have and are something that can never be lost, never be taken by someone else, no matter where you are and where you go because He is.