Brian Regan, a comedian, has a stand up bit about the “me-monster”,” that obnoxious person at a dinner party who insists on talking about his or her accomplishments and insists on one-upping any other person’s story. Reegan wonders during the bit “what is it about the human condition, people get something out of that?” (2:39 in the linked video) It’s a prescient question.
I’d like to take the question a bit further. Why do people get something out of that same one-upmanship when it comes to forgiveness from God? “Oh you were forgiven for what you did? Well I did this! There’s no way He’d forgive me.” The me-monster strikes again. Something about that perversity in the human condition makes it more satisfying to win the one-up competition than acknowledge that God can actually forgive whatever it is you did. And I do mean whatever.
Or maybe it’s that you actually struggle to believe you could be forgiven and the me-monster persona is simply a bold face on an empty and fearful soul. Whether it is genuine braggadocio or a false front, the persona is pride. It is a statement that your sin, whatever it might be, has one-upped God’s grace.
But think back to the stories of scripture, those characters littered throughout its pages. Some of us might have had Sunday school teachers that did us the disservice of using biblical characters as mythical heroes. Really, though, they were case studies in the profound grace God has on sinners of all varieties. Adam and Eve, the originals. Noah the drunk and Jacob the liar (and cheat). David the murderous adulterer. Zacchaeus the thief. Mary Magdalene the demon possessed. Thomas the doubter, Peter the coward, and Paul the thug. Imagine a dinner party with these folks trying to one-up each other. And yet these were the chosen ones of God to be His patriarchs, His kings, His friends, and His apostles.
What is it about the human condition that makes us withdraw into our me-monster shell before God, even in the glow of His grace? Is it so satisfying to win a competition where the result is losing forgiveness, losing peace?
At the end of Regan’s bit he talks about how he wishes he was one of the astronauts who had walked on the moon so he could sit quietly at that dinner party by while the one-uppers yacked on. Then, in a pause between brags he could simply say “I walked on the moon.” And the me-monsters would be silent. If a man who walked on the moon can silence his one-uppers, how much more the God that made that very same moon? There is no one-upping God’s grace for it truly is “grace greater than all our sin.”