I will admit that I have been somewhat disengaged from the 2016 political process – partly for reasons of disillusionment and my own sanity, partly because of church, family and other commitments, and partly because if I do have an ounce of free time for extracurricular purposes, I am devoting it to the exploits of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (better to get our idols out on the table!) rather than the exploits of various primaries and caucuses.
However, when I have tuned in intermittently I have noticed – perhaps with some candidates more than others (but in no way with just one particular candidate) – that we seem to have let our ultimate criteria become authenticity, which can be defined a number of ways. “He or she tells it like it is,” thus he or she is authentic and the best person for the job. “He or she comes across as real rather than phony,” or “he or she is finally saying the things we are all thinking, but are afraid to say, thus he or she is truly authentic.” I guess I am too much of a Calvinist, but I distrust those who appeal to our “authenticity” button even more than those who appear phony or counterfeit or come across wooden or unpolished. After all, if authenticity is our main criterion, then the most charismatic figures, even if they had “Mein Kampf” on their resume, could probably work their way into our little authenticity demanding hearts.
Obviously, authenticity matters. Certainly we should seek to discern truth from fiction, live lives of integrity and seek the common good. But I believe we are running a fool’s errand and are at risk of lying to ourselves if we place much hope or confidence in the merits of our own authenticity or anyone else’s. While we were still sinners, Paul writes to the Romans, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Not after we had gotten on the right path … not after we had our problems solved … not after we reached an adequate level of authenticity. No, our true identity, and dare I say authenticity, is found not in our attempts to “be real,” or to “tell it like it is,” whatever that means, but in accepting that we are a garden variety, dime-a-dozen sinner, and yet, even so, one for whom Christ loved enough to die for.
One other not-unrelated gift of our Reformed faith is grounded in the firm belief that grace precedes law and that grace precedes sin. We cannot even know we are sinners or even know what sin is unless we have first been acted upon by grace. The more we realize God’s grace at work in our lives and in the life of the world, the more clearly we are also able to see the many fault lines of our own sin. The clearer God’s grace becomes, the clearer our inauthenticity becomes. And yet, while we were still sinners … while we were still inauthentic … while we were still floundering … God proves love for us and makes us God’s own. Perhaps the most “authentic” thing to happen to us is for our inauthenticity to be exposed by God’s grace … for then, we can truly be free, truly liberated, truly forgiven sinners on the way to becoming who we are in Jesus Christ. Our only Hope for authenticity.
CHRIS CURRIE is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.