When Taylor Hicks won the American Idol contest this year, they had him unveil his single, "Do I Make You Proud." Despite being a really marginally interesting song, Taylor's popularity and talent took it to the top of the charts. Yet it still remains a mediocre tune, so there must be some fundamental urge to do our parents proud that is built into our very core. This universal sentiment appears to drive the song more than the melody.
Nor is this urge limited to just this one song. Note the lines from M. Night Shyamalan's masterpiece film, The Sixth Sense:
Cole Sear: Grandma says hi. [Lynn looks up sharply]
Cole Sear: She says she's sorry for taking the bumblebee pendant. She just likes it a lot. She wanted me to tell you…
Lynn Sear: Cole, please stop…
Cole Sear: She wanted me to tell you she saw you dance. She said, when you were little, you and her had a fight, right before your dance recital. You thought she didn't come see you dance. She did. She hid in the back so you wouldn't see. She said you were like an angel.
Cole Sear: She said you came to the place where they buried her. Asked her a question? She said the answer is…"Every day." What did you ask?
Lynn Sear: Do… Do I make her proud?
In a recent interview in the Sun Newspapers, M. Night confided that he considered the above lines the climax of that movie. He had to spend the entire picture to "earn that moment of being that truthful." And earn it he did. After watching it again for the umpteenth time, unlike the more popular quotes that bring chills to the spine, that one never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
I think the reason we find the question so important is that the need for a positive answer is built into our chromosomes. It is the ultimate eschatological question; that is, it can only be answered at the end of life; either our own or that of our parents. It is the final verdict on all we have done in relationship to that parent. To receive an negative evaluation would basically nullify a very large portion of what we have done. It would drop into the void a large part of who and what we are.
I think it is so important because in this way our final evaluation by our parents images that which we will receive at the true eschatological end of time. It is the time when we will ask God as our Heavenly Father, "Do I make you proud" and we shall receive his answer. It is the question, real or implied, in our hoped for answer, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
The problem is that this question has two critical foundations. The first is who we are in relationship to the Father. Only a son or daughter of the Father has even the right to ask the question. Just as we would not ask this question of another person's father (or his answer would be meaningless if we did), it can only be asked of the Heavenly Father if we are in relationship to him. In short, it can only be asked by Christians.
Here, the current Protestant church has a lock. They rightly teach that a Christian must have a relationship with God. Through Christ Jesus we become engrafted into God's family and are considered one of His children.
The second pillar, though, is deeds. It is not enough to just exist as a child to make a father proud. One must actually do things to make a father proud. One must have deeds as well as the relationship to receive the answer we desire.
As James B. Jordan notes, our judgment as Christians is two-fold. Our first judgment occurs at the time of our conversion and is devoid of works. The second is at the end of time and is based upon works. Without the first, we have not even the right to attend the second.
In my analogy, we are adopted into God's family at our conversion. This conversion is entirely devoid of works and was a matter of God's own divine favor. At the end of time, we as his family will ask Him if we made Him proud. This evaluation will be answered on the basis of our works.
I have a feeling that a lot of Christians are going to be in for a surprise at this "second judgment," to use Jordan's terms. The Protestant Gospel of imputed righteousness, unearned salvation, and abhorrence of "works" has spawned a new generation that has heard this truncation and taken it to heart. Many say they prayed the prayer and live like the devil. Others think they are living the Christian life when they vary little from the American standard. Many in the Mega-churches may hear the preaching of service and sacrificial behavior, but in a context of entertainment and the selfish fulfillment of "needs." Also, with the emphasis on "praying" the prayer and "saving souls" the concept of the necessity of faithful living and the Lordship of Christ gets reduced and usually ignored. As a result, the Gospel of Christ becomes a caricature of itself.
Recently, however, this truncated gospel of 'behavior has nothing to do with salvation" is meeting a fitting end. The importance of behavior to a person's ultimate judgment with God has begun to recover its primacy. There has been a convergence in Pauline studies in recent years that has begun, ever so slowly, to recover this emphasis in the Gospel. At least two of these forces are the Context Group and the New Perspective on Paul scholars.
The Context Group is a collection of social scientists and historians who study the historical and social context of the first century Mediterranean culture. They then use that culture to provide the context for interpreting the writings of the New Testament. For example, love held none of the "romantic" associations that we associate with the term. Love was not a feeling so much as an allegiance or a group attachment to others. Not only that, this love had to be expressed in concrete and specific actions or it simply did not exists.
In a Social Science Commentary of the Letters of Paul, Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch make the following observation about "love" as viewed in first century culture. In fighting the more "fact" associated wisdom as found in the sophists of the first century, they note the following about Paul's views on the subject:
It is love for God that is the linchpin of the rationale behind Jesus-group wisdom. And love or personal attachment requires loving actions that reveal that attachment, since in the ancient Mediterranean all the words describing internal states (for example, love, know, hate, desire) always entail some corresponding external actions… (pgs. 70-71)
In other words, if love does not reveal itself in appropriate actions, then it isn't love. In the same way, if belief does not reveal itself in specific behavior then it isn't belief. Belonging to Jesus has associated norms of behavior. In the first century mind, if you did not conform to that behavior then you did not belong to Jesus.
Coming from almost a pure analysis of the scriptures themselves, many members of the New Perspective on Paul have come to a remarkably similar conclusion. N. T. Wright, the most conservative (and prolific) of this group notes the following about salvation and a believers fate at the judgment of God.
Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God's final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works….I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul's clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God's favorable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because…he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work… I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling'. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done…But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?
In a similar fashion, Norman Shepherd has posited that one is saved by faith alone, but that it must be a living faith. In his view, "living" faith is only revealed by specific and holy behavior on the part of those who identify themselves as Christians. Without works, in other words, faith is dead and of no effect. It is meaningless belief in axioms instead of a living relationship with savior.
In short, "praying the prayer" is useless. It is not faith in Christ; it is faith in words alone. It is an incantation. It is faith in magic and not in a personal God. And as every first grader can tell you, "There ain't no such thing as magic." Making the "prayer" the end all of your church's existence is frightening. Even more so, it is damning. It inoculates the sinner from the responsibilities of the true Imperial News of the Lordship of Christ. It is news that demands the believer bow down and obey his new Lord and Master. It is behavior led by the Spirit and not the Law, to be sure; but it is particular behavior none the less. It is behavior that God expects of us and behavior that God will judge us by at the end of time.
Of what other reason is there for God to say to the believer "Well done, good and faithful servant" if not for his or her behavior on this earth? Some of us had better get to work. The time is growing short
The world is counting on us. So is the Kingdom. So, ultimately, is God Himself. Like our earthly fathers, He lives for nothing more than to give a positive answer to our halting and trembling question.
"Did I make you proud?"