Why do we feel so alienated? Why do we feel so alone?
I’ve always felt like I’m the odd one out...like everyone else is on the inside and I’m standing there, tapping on the window pleading in a whiney-sounding voice, “Hey, guys...I’m out here...can I come in, too, pleeeaaase?”
When I was a child I had a terrifying recurring dream, especially when I was fevered. In it I was standing on a dark stage, and I was completely alone. I was aware of the fact that I was alone and had no place to hide. The isolation was horrifying. Five decades later, that dream still impacts me.
Then, when I was a teen, Petula Clark recorded a song entitled, “The In Crowd.” In the song she boasted, “ I’m in with the in crowd. I go where the in crowd goes; I know what the in crowd knows.” Well, needless to say, most of us never really hung out with the “in crowd.” Most of us relate more to tapping on the window, hoping to be let in. But, even if you’re one of those popular people who always found yourself “in,” you know that sense of belonging doesn’t last for very long because there is always another group that’s more in than yours. We weren’t meant to find our identity in the “in crowd” or the cool, loser “out crowd,” or in the “isolated, I-don’t-give-a-rip” crowd. We are meant to find our identity in Christ.
Adam and Eve never experienced this awareness of alienation before the Fall. In fact, wasn’t their sin and subsequent exile from Eden the genesis of our sense that we “just don’t belong”? Ashamed, banished from their true home, we’ve all been wandering ever since...seeking and never really finding that one place where we know we’re loved, welcomed, accepted for who we are: Home. None of us really fit in here because we’re not meant to find our primary identity in family or friends. We’re meant to find our identity in Christ.
Why is there such alienation? Why do we feel so alone? Our problem is that we are sinners. Our sin separates us from each other. Others sin against us and we turn from them in disappointment or disgust. We sin against others and they turn away from us, too. We see their sin and feel self-righteous and wary of relationship with them–as if their sin might contaminate us. We see our sin and feel guilty and self-condemned so we hide, hoping that the “good face” we put on will be enough to fool them and open the door to relationship, to home. And, worst of all, at the bottom of all this separation, we feel alienated from God. “How can God love and welcome me?” is the question that’s at the heart of, “How can you love me? How can I love you?” These questions plague us, so we continue to hide, tap on the window, hope that we’ll be let in and all the while fearing that we will be. We think that we’re different from everyone else when, in fact, we’re all the same. That’s the secret that our enemy keeps trying to hide from us all. We all feel alienated. No one is ever assured that they’re really in the “in crowd,” no matter what Petula Clark says.
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ, the High Priest who became one of us, was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He became part of the “loser” crowd. What this means is that he was tempted to experience sinful self-consciousness, self-protection, self-pity, isolation, comparison and judging. He was tempted to disassociate Himself from the sinners around Him; He was tempted to idolize the love and support of friends; He was tempted to worship the opinions of others rather than the opinion of His Father. He was tempted to love popularity with people more than He loved people. He was tempted to find His identity apart from His Father.
The gospel tells us that because of the incarnation, we are not alone in our temptations. But his identification with us is not the only good news he brings. He has gone before us, yet without sin, so His perfect record is ours: He took up the towel, He laid down His life, He prayed in anguish alone, He was crucified outside the city, He was forsaken by His Father. Remember that in all this, He never sinned. Justification means (in part) that His perfect record is now ours. His servant-love, His self-sacrifice, His faith in the midst of abandonment is now how our record reads before the Father who isn’t fooled by our outward appearances. Amazing grace! When the Father sees us He sees loving, generous, servants who find their identity in Him. We’ve been let in because he was alone (amazing!) and sinless (more amazing!) and that’s our record (shockingly amazing!).
The blessing of justification is that it not only makes us welcome before the Father, it also frees us to love and welcome others. Because everything that we’re vainly trying to hide has already been publically declared about us (we’re so sinful we deserve to die!), we don’t need to fear relationship. We don’t need to hide. Because we’ve been forgiven and declared righteous: welcomed and loved by God, we don’t need to fear rejection either. He was righteous and rejected for us. We can forgive, love and serve because we’ve been forgiven, loved and served. Isn’t that the message of 1 John?
When you step off into eternity and wonder if you’ll be tapping on the window of heaven, hoping to be let in, or if you’ll be on that blacked out stage, standing completely isolated on your own, your Husband, Jesus Christ will come to you, take your arm and say, “She’s (he’s) with me.” Then, when our faith becomes sight we’ll know that we’re part of the only “in crowd” that will ever matter...and all because of what He’s done for us.