When people initiate relationships, where do we start? Workers craft resumes; employers advertise the benefits of working for their companies. Sellers use elaborate print ads and commercials to tout what their product does, and why the customer should buy this particular item from this particular seller. Hopeful people and those around them put together program and award applications listing activities and achievements. Political candidates brag about their own accomplishments and point out opponents’ failings.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” - Matt. 6:1-2, 5, 16, 19
In all of these examples, we instinctively turn to doing as an indicator of value. We can’t see directly into a person’s heart; instead, we observe actions and extrapolate. Life has taught us that the people who do more or do better are the people most likely to succeed. And so we perpetuate the cycle, basing our judgments of people on the quality and quantity of their known actions, as well as the results of those actions.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”
“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”- Matt. 6:25, 32-33
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”- Eph. 2:8-9
God isn’t like us. He isn’t hindered by finite vision; rather, he focuses on who a person is, not what she’s done. God knows that character is the soil in which an action grows, and to improve the harvest, one must first deal with the soil. And, humbling as it is, God never needs us to act for him—he might use us as his instruments, but the all-powerful Creator of the universe is not crippled if we mess up.
As Psalm 50 reminds us, God has the entire universe and everything in it at his disposal. He didn’t create us or love us for what we could do for him; instead, he cherishes who we are. The relationships he initiates with us have an entirely different foundation than our relationships with each other. He’s not looking for the best or most accomplished person on the planet, but for anyone whose heart is open to his loving call. He wants to be with us, to be together—so much so that he wove this being, this communion and community, into his own name: Emmanuel, God with us.
Every now and then, I wonder what exactly Adam and Eve did all day in the Garden of Eden. Aside from Adam naming the animals, we know very little about their activities. But we do know that they lived in communion with God. The writer of Genesis knew not to emphasize doing in that pure and beautiful world, but being, and being with God.
This emphasis on being vs. doing seems counterintuitive in our busy, results-driven world. It feels weird, and it’s hard to wrap our minds around. But part of the beauty of God’s relationship with us is that he will never base it on what we do for him, but on who we are in him.