In Spite of Ourselves

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at

By Vienna Scott, Benjamin Franklin ’21

The Lenten season is marked by stories of sacrifice. We abandon the external manifestations of certain vices for a mere forty days. A few weeks without chocolate, snapchat, alcohol, and other regular pleasures is said to render the soul better prepared to grasp the meaning of the following Paschaltide.

But everything we do just seems so small.

Giving up social media or sweets will never come close to The Son of God giving up his life on a cross for the sins of the world 2,000 years ago. We cannot come close. No one else in history can come close. But season does not simply force the hand of virtue ethics, making the individual more Christ-like through their sacrifices. The heart is not furnished to be Christ, an insurmountable goal, but instead to understand Christ better and to foster our utmost love, respect, and yearning for him.

Small acts of faith made by undeserving people is a major theme of the Biblical narrative. Abraham entered a covenantal relationship with God, promising little yet God said to him,  “But me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations  I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you.  I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God” (Genesis 17:4-8 ESV). A set of great promises for a single, sinful, created man. Through the Old and New Testaments, we see this message. God acts and acts greatly for those with a mere mustard seed of faith. Small acts of man coupled with a mighty God move mountains.

So, we grab his robe, we climb the sycamore tree, we seek his presence.

In this Lenten season we intentionally commit small acts, acts which will never come close to Christ’s sacrifice, because God loves us in spite of ourselves. In light of this, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—as our true and proper worship. We strive to break the patterns of this world, and are transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1-2, adapted). The tests and temptations of Lent remind us how small we are, how limited our actions are, and how great He is. Man can only serve one master, and as we curb the craving for old vice, Lent reminds us how desperately we crave a good, perfect, and holy master.

We offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving and we call on the name of the Lord! (Psalm 116:17)

Psalm 116 English Standard Version (ESV)

I Love the Lord

116 I love the Lord, because he has heard

   my voice and my pleas for mercy.

2 Because he inclined his ear to me,

   therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The snares of death encompassed me;

   the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

   I suffered distress and anguish.

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:

   “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;

   our God is merciful.

6 The Lord preserves the simple;

   when I was brought low, he saved me.

7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;

   for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,

   my eyes from tears,

   my feet from stumbling;

9 I will walk before the Lord

   in the land of the living.

10 I believed, even when[a] I spoke:

   “I am greatly afflicted”;

11 I said in my alarm,

   “All mankind are liars.”

12 What shall I render to the Lord

   for all his benefits to me?

13 I will lift up the cup of salvation

   and call on the name of the Lord,

14 I will pay my vows to the Lord

   in the presence of all his people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord

   is the death of his saints.

16 O Lord, I am your servant;

   I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.

   You have loosed my bonds.

17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

   and call on the name of the Lord.

18 I will pay my vows to the Lord

   in the presence of all his people,

19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,

   in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!




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