The Gospel and Grizzly Bears

Truly Being Seen by the God Who Won’t Maul Us Apart

Davis Johnson / 7.20.21

This reflection comes to us from Davis Johnson:

The satirical news website the Onion recently published an article titled, “Truly Being Seen Still Ranks Among Worst Possible Experiences in Human Existence.” The argument is made that more comfort can be found in being mauled by a grizzly bear than having your actual motivations and personal desires perceived by others. Satire at its best grabs an idea with a kernel of truth and pushes it to its highest extreme. I laughed while reading this article, imagining Jesus raising his eyebrows at the headline and responding to its author in jest, “you are not far from the kingdom.”

A grizzly bear might actually be preferable to people because the vulnerability of actually being known so often becomes a weapon wielded against us in judgment. But God plays the long game with us in his task of “look[ing] past your protective façade” and revealing the true contents of our hearts. I’m convinced the Old Testament is as long as it is and contains as many stories as it does to communicate, without much room for debate, the universal and consistent human problem of self-deceit leading to self-righteousness. If we were to simply be told from above, “you are deceived,” we’re not as likely to take the idea very seriously. However, if we see thousands of years of human history play out like a Netflix drama, our guard is let down a bit and we begin to see ourselves as we actually are — that is, we are far more often the problem than we are the solution. Despite our best efforts, we’re usually not that awesome to one another.

If we are so often self-deceived, seeing the faults in others almost comes naturally. Jesus asked: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” This question is one of many invitations to see how often we buy into the Great Lie of Criticism, believing we will feel better once we verbalize the fault we find in others. Instead, we never arrive because criticism can’t lead to the intimacy and enjoyment we all long for — especially in our relationships with other people.

What then are we to do with our cocktail of self-deception and scrutiny? For starters, we can lay down our critical observations and start treating people as God treats us in Christ. This is not only easier said than done, but it’s actually impossible. That is, until we see God doing it to us today, and every day.

Isaiah says that God’s thoughts and ways are not like ours,; they are higher than our thoughts and ways. In other words, he sees us but does not recoil or lash out. He operates on a different playing field, not treating us as our faults deserve, but instead always moves toward us until in his death on a cross, he loves the hell right out of us.

Jesus died for our self-righteous fault finding. If this is true, than we are free to no longer measure, assess, and scrutinize others. In him, it is possible to interrupt the laws of nature and feel a true sense of benevolence toward someone we might not be all that excited to see. This isn’t something we’re meant to fake or make happen on our own — we need Jesus, the one who is removing the plank from our eyes to see ourselves as we actually are: simultaneously sinful yet loved and justified by God. Only his good news lets us hug the attacking grizzly bear of truly being seen.