It’s a big time of year for movie lovers. The 86th Academy Awards came and went on Sunday night and all we really got was this crazy selfie. Meryl Streep, you’re better than this, by the way. Channing Tatum,….. nope, this is probably about right.
But that’s about it.
Formerly in the industry myself (i.e. 7 summers, Family Video), I used to rather enjoy the ceremony. Now, understanding better the biases of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Oscars have lost much of their luster. Like all the other entertainment achievement ceremonies, the Oscars now just seem like an enormous, self-aggrandizing, collective pat on the back from the most beautiful and wealthy, generally each peddling their own agenda. Yeah, a selfie seems perfectly in place, I guess.
Without question, my favorite Oscar moment in history is the social awkwardness that was Sally Field’s acceptance speech for Best Actress in “Places in the Heart” (1985). With tears in her eyes, Field stated,
“I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it—and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”
The speech has been parodied numerous times over the years. Some find it earnest; others find it mostly embarrassing. I find it both. But I also think there’s a ubiquitous sort of painfulness to it. In other words, I think Sally Field was being tremendously sincere, saying what we’re all really feeling – an intense yearning for acceptance – and yet that, in itself, is a little uncomfortable.
Deep down inside, we all seem to have this tremendous craving for acceptance. A lot of the controversial legislation we see going on right now (Arizona recently) seems to be as much about the issue underneath the issue as anything – it’s really about acceptance. We all want it. The great satirical novelist George Orwell once said, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” And he’s right. This is why people with close relationships in their lives almost invariably are happier than those without. Furthermore, the opposite of acceptance is rejection. Many of us have a nearly paralyzing fear of this. Many of us can still remember, like it was yesterday, the way it felt when the first boy or girl we cared about failed to reciprocate those feelings. Many of us, even today, can barely stand feeling like someone doesn’t like us. We all have this innate desire to find acceptance. And the thing that kills us, all of us, the reason we pursue acceptance so feverishly, is that it doesn’t matter who you are – religious or irreligious, conservative or liberal, young or old – we all sense there is something inside of us that is utterly unacceptable.
This, by the way, is why we all like to be applauded. The standing ovation is perhaps the most obvious demonstration of group acceptance demonstrated in our culture. It’s the way a group of people communicate that they’ve accepted you/your performance. However, do you know what the problem with getting wrapped up in the applause of people is? You may win the Oscar on Sunday night, but by Tuesday morning, you’re dried up and empty once again. Human acceptance doesn’t fully satisfy us. It’s temporary. It’s inadequate. We all crave a cosmic sort of acceptance.
Acceptance from God himself more than anyone else is the thing we’re looking for in life. But we also understand that our actions often show rejection of God, which logically would mean that, we too, deserve rejection from God.
How do we overcome this?
If what we’re ultimately looking for in life is acceptance from the Divine, but we realize that we cannot produce such acceptance on our own, the only other option is that someone else would have to somehow establish our acceptance before God. And that’s the story of the gospel.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
The great exchange of the gospel is that 1) Jesus suffered the consequences of our sins, so that 2) we now receive in return his righteousness before God. Sounds unfair, right? Yes. That’s grace. But don’t ever forget that second part! If you only understand the gospel as the first part, you’ll see it merely as a second chance to “do the right thing.” But we’d blow that second chance too. And God knows that, which is why Christ gifts to us his righteousness. Righteousness means you are “right with” God. It means you are accepted by God. It means that now, every time God looks at you (which is constantly), he is absolutely delighted in you. It’s as though he says, “Whenever you feel down about yourself because some flawed human said you weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, funny enough, or good enough…Whenever someone rejects you….or even Whenever you can barely accept yourself……don’t listen to that nonsense. They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Who cares what other humans think about you. For that matter, who really cares what you think about you. Think this through carefully – if the Bible is right, then no human opinion should really ever bring you tears of pain or joy. The only opinion that would truly matter is that of God himself. And the Bible teaches that when God looks at you through the blood of Jesus, he thinks you are simply spectacular! If that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, nothing will.
Wouldn’t you like to be liberated from the control of other people’s opinions? Wouldn’t you like to be freed from living for human acceptance? All you need to do is see that on the cross, Jesus took the rejection, so that you could take the only applause that matters – from the hands of an eternal God.
This post was adapted from my Sunday sermon this past week.