The title of Thomas Harris' still popular book "I'm OK, You're OK" came to mind today. (I can almost hear my high school English prof: "OK is not a word! The word is spelled OKAY!") I have never read the book, but according to the always reliable (*coughs*) Wikipedia entry (linked above) the four basic "life positions" explained in the book are:
- I'm Not OK, You're OK
- I'm Not OK, You're Not OK
- I'm OK, You're Not OK
- I'm OK, You're OK
Which of these life positions best describes the various world religions?
One of the most prevalent today, IMHO, especially in secular society, is #4: I'm OK, You're OK. This is the pluralist approach … all roads lead to Rome, all paths lead to the top of the mountain, etc. "You believe in and worship Jesus?" someone might say, "That's great … for you." Or "You believe in Muhammad, Krishna, or Adi Da? Wonderful … for you." This life position often takes the colloquialism "Whatever makes you happy …" Of course, even here there are limits … ex, "You believe and worship Satan? … Um. That's … um, great … *cough* … <changes subject>"
#1 is less prevalent but still abounds: I'm Not OK, You're OK. This is a self-depreciating position. It imagines that everyone else is good, and I am markedly inferior to them. I must admit sometimes I fall into this sort of thinking myself, and this sort of unhealthy guilt is sometimes unfortunately common in Christian circles. After all, doesn't the Bible even say "consider others better than yourselves"? (Philippians 2:3) More on that in a moment.
#3 is also prevalent: I'm OK, You're Not OK. In fact, this is the view of most religions in the world. There is a specific set of requirements that you must pass in order to qualify. If you do those things, you pass the test and are "in". If you, for example, pray the confession, pray five times a day, tithe 2.5%, fast, and go on the pilgrimage, you're in! At least, pretty sure you're in. Kinda sure. Well you don't really know but you hope you are. And this view is seen as being pretty "intolerant" and not at all politically correct, not to mention it's not exactly very humble.
#2 is probably the least prevalent: I'm Not OK, You're Not OK. This, in fact, is the view of biblical Christianity, where we read that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8) … moreover, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). Wow! Isn't that just excessively negative?
Actually, I'd say #2 is accurate. Real Christianity does not encourage people to wallow in self-pity or negativity, nor is it encouraged to gloss over our sins and failings, nor is it taught to think we're "all that" (OK) and point the finger at others (not OK). Instead it recognizes that we're all in the same boat. At least, initially.
The full text of the verse which contains the previous quotation ("consider others better than yourselves") actually reads "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don't even meet our own self-imposed standards of morality. (See "Good People?" for more about that.) How much more do we not live up to God's standards?
But that is only stating the problem. God also provides the solution: Jesus. Christianity is utterly unique in that we are not saved because we are "OK". We are saved by our acceptance of the fact that we are NOT, and our acceptance of the One who is strong enough, and merciful enough, to carry the weight for us that we cannot bear on our own, as Paul explains: "God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8)
Are we all OK? No. We're all NOT. As John Piper might say, "John Piper … is … bad!" And that includes me. But I hope I never become complacent in remembering the price that Christ paid for my freedom from sin, not by my own works that I might become conceited and prideful, but instead entirely by the grace of God. And that makes the Christian message unique, and uniquely true, among all world religions and "life positions".
(Image credit: striatic, who of course does not necessarily endorse any of the content of this post!)