It’s been two weeks since the Pensacola Mini-Conference, and Gil Kracke’s excellent break-out session is still very much on my mind. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, do yourself the favor. You won’t be disappointed!

Gil started his thesis from a very old concept, called incurvatus in se, a term that some say originated with Augustine, and which can be defined as a life lived looking “inward” at ourselves rather than looking “outward” to God.

The idea of incurvatus in se is sort of like a form of spina bifida, whereby our backs are curved inward on themselves so far that our heads are in a position whereby we can see nothing but our own belly buttons. And because our own navels are all that we can see, we worship them. They become an idol for us. In fact, they become the idol of all idols, because from this worship of self all of our other idols are formed.

This is our state in the absence of an action from God to straighten us such that we can finally look to Him. But what about our state once we are regenerated, when we are in Christ and have thus already been straightened so that we can see God? Does the concept of incurvatus in se still apply to us? Of course it does!

As a resident of the central Gulf Coast, I have seen the curved-inward state of humanity played out in spades during Mardi Gras week. As fallen creatures we are easily bent and bowed by any outside force that would bring us back in contact with our belly buttons, and Mardi Gras certainly sufficed for me, but you can fill in the blank with anything that has recently taken your focus away from God and back to your own navel.

Truth be told, our nature is so deeply curved in on itself that one could say that somewhere deep down inside we actually prefer the curved-inward state. This is where simul justus et peccator (“at once justified AND sinner”) comes into the equation, because even though we are saved and justified, a part of us still longs for the “old man”, the lost lane-end into who we were when we were so comfortable and happy living our sinful lives, thinking that such is the way things are supposed to be.

And once we have been curved back inward on ourselves, there we will stay until acted upon by the only outside force that can correct this, as Gil described it, the “left hand of God” taking us by the chin and straightening us up so that we can focus once again on Him. And God does this for us again and again (and again).

So this is my hope for today, after having single-handedly consumed three-fourths of a cream cheese king cake by myself yesterday (and that’s just the tip of the ice berg!): that on this Ash Wednesday and throughout this Lenten season, we will be focused not on our own bellies (and mine has grown significantly during Mardi Gras), but may instead be focused on Him. That we may say “Good-bye, belly button” today.

Of course I hope and pray this knowing all to well that none of us can make such a thing happen on our own, because our natural state is a sinful one. Original sin is the only theological concept that can be empirically proven, because all we have to do in order to see it is look honestly at our own behavior.

That’s why this change in our state always requires the “left hand of God” to bring it about.

More on that subject in my next post…