The Seduction of Merit (9 of 9)

When a star athlete signs a record breaking contract, you can bet dollars to donuts, that for the next couple of seasons, if not longer, that this athlete will turn in a sub-par performance – history has demonstrated this time and again. There’s an additional psychological burden in play here – a cheering fan base can quickly become a jeering mob if a player receiving an above average compensation, turns in an average performance.

In this way the shifting weight of expectations can tip the scales out of balance – where the reward for doing something well enjoys a short lived accolade . . . disappearing into a disenchanted “What have you done lately?” Success, when caught in this type of performance loop, begins to resemble the Sisyphus Stone – you arrive at the top after having given everything you have to get there . . . only to realize that you’re not allowed to stay.

But this is only the most conspicuous permutation of the performance paradigm, a paradigm that, in truth, is subtly infused into every relationship we’re in. We come into this world seeking affirmation, only to discover that affirmation is the coin of the relational realm. Extending and withholding affirmation is often the subtext of how we conduct our relationships – more than we’d like to admit. Earning favor is what we assume is expected of us . . . because it’s exactly what we expect of others.

So it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how this can become a perverse distortion of our own sense of worth and significance – to allow our own value to be measured in terms of what we deserve and what we can merit. And then because that’s not insidious enough – we measure everyone else’s value by creating our own criterion for how they are to merit our approval, respect, and love . . . and in so doing we end up sabotaging every relationship we’re in.

165493383It’s a very seductive notion to believe we have the right to determine someone else’s value, as if a person’s innate value was something that could be negotiated on our own terms. Now, this isn’t something we consciously do, but it is a dynamic at work subverting relationships, all the same . . . as it is one of the most egregious vestiges of the fall. When our relationship with God was lost, we lost the ability to know ourselves as valuable — because that value is completely predicated on being made in His image . . . so everything since has been our vain attempt to make what is broken work as it was intended.

This is what makes the gospel such good news – that in being reconciled to God we can begin to remember what our real significance is, and how that significance can’t be merited, but is immutably established by God . . . which means that any attempt to determine someone else’s value apart from this is in direct conflict with God’s assessment. In this way, the admonition of Jesus for us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34), and the syllogism of 1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” – gives us no room for imposing our own system of merit . . . and in the presence of such love — why would we?

What he offers, we could never earn . . .

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