Children learn the use of comparatives and superlatives quite young, even though they may not know them as parts of speech. Something might be big, but another might be bigger. A comparison will have to be done to discern which is biggest. Big, bigger, biggest. Adjective, comparative, superlative.
For years we participated in a group that had a slogan boldly proclaimed at conferences and in literature.
“Giving the world a ‘new’ approach to life!”
The word “new” was always in quotes, as I remember. That’s because it didn’t really mean new. It meant “better.” At least that’s what we all were to think. People even quoted the slogan incorrectly, saying “Giving the world a better approach to life.” To be fair, I think the official idea was that the approach was not new, but ancient, since it came from the Bible. But the folks in the program—and the world outside—got the message that the way of this group was better.
And it wasn’t just a slogan. It was the theme of the whole ministry. Comparisons to the way of the world or even the rest of the church were constant. Everyone else was doing life wrong. Only the ones in the group were right. Story after story was told about how the ways of others failed and caused heartache. Story after story was told about how the way of the group was successful and wonderful. Money, marital happiness, family harmony, business success, and even national superiority could be attributed to the “better” way.
Now, if you are bold enough to suggest that your way is better, you should prepare for the challenge to be accepted. In other words, if you tell someone you have a better product or way of living, the burden is on you to prove it. The word “better” begs for comparison. That means analysis, observation, scrutiny, and testing. And you should remember that you started the comparisons.
In order to sell a better mousetrap, you have to establish that the old mousetraps have failings. Then you have to show that your mousetrap does not have those failings. And the makers of the others have the right to put your product to the test to see if you really do have something better. Any failing they find will probably be loudly hailed as proof that your mousetrap isn’t really all that much better.
So that brings me back to the Duggars. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the whole situation, particularly for the girls who were victims, I really am neither surprised nor troubled by the media attention given to their recent exposure. Yes, I think it is more than I want to read about or hear about. Yes, I think some people are taking advantage of their vulnerability. Yes, I think Jesus still loves each one of them. But none of us should be surprised at this widespread discussion.
When you challenge the whole world, don’t be surprised when the whole world responds!
The Duggars, faithful to the same group with the same slogan I once participated in, were willing to hold themselves as models for a “better” way of life, and they should be willing to pay the price of inquiry and analysis by those with whom they compared themselves. Bill Gothard, the teacher himself, experienced the same phenomenon. He proclaimed a “better” way, but failed to prove the comparison under examination—even in his own life.
The church is undergoing scrutiny by the eyes of a world no longer intimidated. The flaws of “superior” spirituality are becoming more evident. We have covered our sins and have failed to remove the log from our own eye. We have excused leaders and teachers and supported systems that deny the truth of our own inadequacies.
When spirituality is centered on behavior or performance, we provide for the world and our own people nothing more than a different list of rules than they have. Our list is better, we say. Follow our guidelines and you will avoid the errors and sins that have plagued you. The only problem is that our product does not compare all that well. Our list is just another list.
The Christian faith was never about a list. It was and is about a Person. According to the mystery, the Lord God loved us so much that He took on Himself humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus, the love of God personified, offered life to those who would come to Him. Those who will admit their need, their inadequacy and failure, can find forgiveness, life, and joy in Him.
Christians are not better people than the rest of the world. Jesus is better. Our hope is not in our good, but in His good. Our forgiveness is not based on our love, but on His love. Our success is not based on our performance, but on His performance. Christians are forgiven, righteous, and hopeful—because of Jesus alone.
What Christians offer to the world is not a better list, but a Savior. The heart of our message depends on our willingness to confess our need. The flesh in us is still pulled to everything the world struggles against. But our hope is not in us or our ways. Our hope is in Jesus.