A Mystery to Ourselves
Posted December 14, 2021
Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish statesman, economist and philosopher, argued that human people and human society are unalterably complex. According to Burke, if you try to re-engineer humanity and human society based on the simplistic schema of your own reason, you will unintentionally cause significant harm. For me, this is a cautionary insight that I take very seriously. Of course, for me as a follower of Jesus Christ, I can name what Burke describes in one simple phrase: “humans are sinful.”
Admitting our sinfulness is quite shocking to our sense of integrity and self-awareness. Most of us feel like we are basically good people, doing the best we can and fulfilling our duties in life as we understand them. Then a moment comes in life when we are blindsided by news that we have harmed another person or participated in harmful activity. We are taken up short and we react with shame, guilt, defensiveness or evasion. It is disturbing to be “a mystery to ourselves” (Romans 7:15). Yet this is the case. Our humanity unfolds across our lifetime.
The good news is that God’s love and mercy turn these ‘blindsided” moments into times when we can grow in grace and Godliness. I am so grateful for all the many times in my life when I have been called out by trusting mentors, colleagues and church members for acts that were insensitive, crude or harmful. When the comments are accurate, a mirror is held up and I get a better view of my limitations and growing edges which I can then bring to God in confession and prayer.
“Now we see in a mirror, dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our knowledge and insight about the world is partial and incomplete until we see ourselves and the world revealed for what they are in God’s piercing light and truth. God’s truth comes best through neighbors and friends who love us, but it also comes unbidden and through all the rubs of life in an unredeemed society. Our spiritual growth depends on receiving friction as moments that invite us to grow toward God.
As we approach Christmas, I am always in awe of God’s commitment to humanity. God loves humanity so much that God joins us in our limited and vulnerable condition. God makes a clear statement, “Humanity is meant to be united with God and this unity is possible even within our frailty.” Working from that gift from God, I can have hope and faith that I will grow into the humanity God planned for me and that God redeems in me over time. I am not yet fully human, but with God’s help, that day may come.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
(215) 247-7466 ext. 101
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel (he/him) was educated at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was ordained Priest in 1995 in Danville, Pennsylvania where he worked as a Hospital Chaplain and a Head Start teacher. Pastoral positions followed at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, Illinois, St. Paul and the Redeemer in Chicago, and then Rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. After following his wife, the Rev. Dr. Alison Boden, to her new position in Princeton, New Jersey, he was called to be the Executive Director of the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County. The largest food pantry and the gateway agency for Homelessness Prevention services in Mercer County, the Crisis Ministry also runs a Welfare to Work program and an innovative free farmers market. Jarrett became Rector of St. Martin’s in February 2011. He formerly served as the co-chair of Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER). Jarrett serves as Dean of the Wissahickon Deanery and is an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He is an Adjunct Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary where he co-teaches a regular class on Faith Based Community Organizing, Theology and Practice. Jarrett has been published in Sojourners, the Huffington Post, Yours the Power, and the Journal of Public Theology. He is the father of two children, Timothy and Martha.
The Rector's Note is a blog of weekly reflections by the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel.
Read and reflect each week with Jarrett. On occasion, we have a second post or a guest post that runs in the Recto…