Published March 28th, 2014
When we enter relationships with the illusion that people are normal, we resist the truth that they are not. We enter an endless attempt to fix them, control them, or pretend that they are what they’re not. One of the great marks of maturity is to accept the fact that everybody comes “as is.” Of course, the most painful part of this is realizing that I am in the “as-is” department as well. Throughout history human beings have resisted owning up to that little tag. We try to separate the world into normal, healthy people (like us) and difficult people.
Sometime ago the title of a magazine article caught my eye: “Totally Normal Women Who Stalk Their Ex-Boyfriends.” The phrase that struck me was “totally normal women.” What would one of these look like (or a totally normal man, for that matter)? And if the obsessive stalking of a past lover is not just normal but totally normal, how far would you have to go to be a little strange?
We all want to look normal, to think of ourselves as normal, but the writers of Scripture insist that no one is “totally normal”—at least not as God defines normal. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” they tell us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This explains a very important aspect of the opening pages of Scripture. Have you ever noticed how many messed-up families there are in Genesis?
Here’s a quick summary:
Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him.
Lamech introduces polygamy to the world.
Noah—the most righteous man of his generation—gets drunk and curses his own grandson.
Lot, when his home is surrounded by residents of Sodom who want to violate his visitors, offers instead that they can have sex with his daughters.
Abraham plays favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael; they’re estranged.
Isaac plays favorites between his sons Jacob and Esau; they’re bitter enemies for twenty years. Jacob plays favorites between Joseph and his other eleven sons; the brothers want to kill Joseph and end up selling him into slavery.
Their marriages are disasters.
These people need a therapist.
These are not the Waltons. They need Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss—they need somebody. (Feel any better about your family?)
Why does the writer of Genesis include all this stuff?
There’s a very important reason. The writer of Scripture is trying to establish a deep theological truth: Everybody’s weird. Every one of us—all we like sheep—have habits we can’t control, past deeds we can’t undo, flaws we can’t correct. This is the cast of characters God has to work with.
Everybody’s weird. Because we know in our hearts that this is not the way we’re supposed to be, we try to hide our weirdness. Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called “depravity management.”
Every once in a while somebody’s “as-is” tag becomes high profile.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian is guilty of plagiarism.
A politician’s career explodes in sexual scandal.
A powerful CEO resigns in disgrace over illegal document shredding.
What’s surprising is not that such things happen; it’s that the general public response is, “Can you believe it? And they seemed so normal.” As if you and I, of course, would be incapable of such behavior. The problem with the human race is not that we have just a few bad apples in our midst. Writers in Scripture say that when it comes to the most important form of pathology, we are all in the same diagnostic category: “All we like sheep have gone astray…” As Neil Plantinga puts it, “In a biblical view of the world, sin is a familiar, even predictable part of life, but it is not normal. And the fact that ‘everybody does it’ doesn’t make it normal.”
From the time of Adam in the Garden of Eden, sin and hiding have been as inevitable as death and taxes. Some people are pretty good at hiding. But the weirdness is still there. Get close enough to anyone, and you will see it. Everybody’s normal till you get to know them.
And yet . . .
The yearning to attach and connect, to love and be loved, is the fiercest longing of the soul. Click to Tweet.
Our need for community with people and the God who made us is to the human spirit what food and air and water are to the human body. Neil Plantinga notes that the Hebrew prophets had a word for just this kind of connectedness of all things: shalom—“the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” Try to imagine, the old prophets told people then, and tell us still, what such a state of affairs would look like. In the center of the entire community is its magnificent architect and most glorious resident: the God whose presence fills each person with unceasing splendor and ever-increasing delight. The writers of Scripture tell us that this vision is the way things are supposed to be. This is what we would look like if we lived up to the norms God set for human life—if our world were truly normal. One day it will be.