CVS will end airbrushing in advertisements for its store-brand beauty products by 2020. Why? “The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established,” explained the company’s president.
What should our culture learn from this step toward transparent truthfulness?
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes “the most American approach to matters of faith: a religious individualism that blurs the line between the God out there and the God Within, a gnostic spirituality that constantly promises access to a secret and personalized wisdom, a gospel of health and wealth that insists that the true spiritual adept will find both happiness and money.”
As a result, according to the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet, “America’s greatest affliction is a poverty of meaning, of purpose, of something to fill that great spiritual emptiness we feel at the heart of our nation.”
We can confuse “your truth” with “the truth,” pretending that we are more and better than we are and projecting to the world an idealized self that we know is false. But there’s a better way.
“I have no good apart from you”
Consider a simple prayer I encountered this week. In Psalm 16, David said to God, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (v. 2).
This is one of the most profound statements of self-awareness in all of literature.
“Good” translates the Hebrew tobah, meaning “practical benefit, desirability, morality.” In the eyes of the world, David had great “good” apart from God. In practical terms, he had wonderful gifts in leadership, athletic ability, and music. In terms of desirability, he was extremely handsome (1 Samuel 16:12). In moral terms, he was described by God as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV; 1 Samuel 13:14).
And yet he said to God, “I have no good apart from you.” David was clearly aware of the reason for his attributes and gifts. Echoing such self-awareness, my high school youth minister once gave me one of the most profound words of advice I have ever received: “Always remember the source of your personal worth.”
Our great value in life lies not in who we are but in Whose we are.
In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis noted that we are creatures before our Creator. We derive all that is good in life from the One who made our lives. With this result: “To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.”
“I will help thee, saith the Lord”
When we learn to say to God, “I have no good apart from you,” two results follow.
One: We stay connected to the Source of our strength.
Because he knew himself to be a creature in need of his Creator, David vowed, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). He chose to live consciously and intentionally in the presence of his Maker.
Jesus warned us of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). We cannot mix ungodliness with godliness, lies with truth.
As Oswald Chambers notes, God’s call expresses his nature, and “we can only recognize the call if that same nature is in us.” We must be on his “frequency” to hear his voice. Is God “always before” you?
Two: We live and serve with supreme confidence.
Because he lived in submission to his Maker, David could attest, “My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices” (Psalm 16:9). And he could testify, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 11).
We are loved unconditionally by the Lord of the universe. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by him (Psalm 139:14). When we fulfill his purpose for our lives, we are “doing a great work” in his world (Nehemiah 6:3).
Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on our Father’s promise, “I will help thee, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 41:14 KJV), spoke in God’s voice: “If there were an ant at the door of thy granary asking for help, it would not ruin thee to give him a handful of thy wheat; and thou art nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency.”
Then he turned to himself: “O my soul, is this not enough? Dost thou need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Dost thou want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither thine empty pitcher! Surely this will well fill it.”
“I have no good apart from you.” Is this the prayer and posture of your heart today?