On The Inside Looking Out
JUNE 2, 2020
It’s strange—for most of my life I felt like an outsider looking in. Maybe you know that same uncomfortable feeling of not being sure that you fit in anywhere, but desperately want to, I mean, somewhere.
I’m a Californian but I live in Florida and have lived here a very long time. I miss home, still, after all these years. Florida is beautiful and there are never-ending adventures here: trails to ride and hike, animals to track, sunrises and sunsets to absorb, waves to ride, lakes to fish. When I drive around, however, at times I feel and know this isn’t home. Even though my wife and I have raised our kids here, even though we have so many incredible friends and my work is here, I’m an outsider, a resident alien. “Dad!” my grown kids say with some exasperation after I’ve said I’m a “westerner” for the billionth time, “You’ve been in Florida forever. You’re a Floridian!” No, I’m an outsider looking in.
I have felt that way about life a lot too, and I know I’m not alone. Ever been chosen last for a team, left off the list, uninvited to the party or key meeting at work, politely welcomed to an event but not passionately wanted? How about when you thought if you did X it would get you acceptance? You did X and it didn’t get you “in.” Does that resonate with you? Or the transition you went through and you wondered if you’d ever feel like you would fit in again anywhere. Remember the time when you felt outright rejection, when the hand grenades of disdain and shame were thrown your way and you were cut deep and nearly bled out? When you lost the last job, or edged out of a group you might have thought, “Where do I fit? Am I always going to feel like I’m on the outside looking it?” Some of us need a support group…Outsiders Anonymous.
Is this condition something that even Christians have to endure?
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatian, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia….” I Peter 1:1
Outsiderism probably has more causes than I’m qualified to diagnose, but I’m sure some people feel it because they are refugees. At times we are forced to run from familiar territory to a new place because war is raging around us and we just know we’ll be killed if we stay put. Relational wars at home can make us run, as can abuse, failure, shame, guilt, lovelessness. Perhaps it’s true that we’re all running from something at some time in our life, and we end up getting away from the war, but now we’re outsiders wherever we end up. We long for home. For not being outsiders anymore.
I think outsiderism is also one of the unintended consequences of consistent atheism that is crammed down our throats by a culture that is by and large staunchly against theism and is particularly anti-Christian. When there is no God who specially designed and made you and loves you, all you are is an isolated individual in a pervasively hostile and indifferent universe. Dostoyevsky in Notes From the Underground unfolds the story of a man who is not ever able to fit into society though he tries really hard. He never feels content with the identities he creates for himself. Isolated, alone and responsible for creating one’s own identity in an unaccepting world seems to me to be a formula for remaining an outsider.
Then Jesus came.
Peter’s fuller discussion of being an alien is crucial:
“…to those who reside as aliens…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.” I Peter 1:1-2
Yes, Christians are aliens in this world, outsiders to the world system allied against God, but look at what the Gospel has done to and for us! God the Father chose us to be His children when others reject us; foreknowledge means a deep knowing and loving, not simply an abstract grasp of facts about us. Knowing and loving us deeply, the Spirit sanctified or set us apart for Himself so that we would be able to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.
To be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus elicits the Old Testament picture of Jews gathered before the temple. After the priest offers animal sacrifices for their sins, he sprinkles blood on them and declares them not guilty for their sins. Why? Because a God-ordained and thus suitable sacrifice has been made for their sins so they do not have to be that sacrifice themselves. Sprinkled with Jesus’ blood means to be cleaned up and forgiven, taken from the outside and brought in. To obey Jesus Christ is another major impact of the Gospel because this means we don’t have to obey our own strong sinful urges and addictions any longer that hurt us, and on the flip side we get to follow the One who sets us free into the life that is good for us, the life we want to live. The law is now put on our hearts.
Grace makes us insiders to God and His family, the church, forever removing the shame of being an outsider looking in. Now, because He chose us, and Christ redeemed us through His blood, we have grace and peace in fullest measure.
The Gospel changes everything, doesn’t it?
It’s strange—more and more, as grace sinks deeper into me I feel like I’m the one on the inside. I find myself looking out, more at peace, not trying to create an identity but to enjoy my identity as the Father’s son. I actually find myself desiring for those out there to come inside and share what it’s like being an insider child of God. When I look over my shoulder, further inside, I see that there’s tons of room in here for them, that they’re wanted, that the Cross was big enough for them too, and they need what I needed, grace and peace in fullest measure.
Next time I go out, I think I’ll invite them in. It’s way better inside.