Fortunately, for those of us hoping to become ordinands and train for the priesthood—and I do know that we’re pretty rare birds!– the selection process is not a competition—not a zero-sum game where there is a limited number of places. Each of us is to be evaluated on the basis of our own merits—our own unique gifts. But that is not to say that everyone gets a place! Nonetheless, I think that this is a very beautiful and God-centred way of assessing people.
Some months ago I gave two sermons regarding the spoken words of God on two important occasions—the baptism of Christ and the Transfiguration. In these two encounters God says, “This is my Son, the beloved. With him I am well-pleased.” The New Testament makes it clear that in Christ we can all have access to this status and identity as adopted children of God.
John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” 2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “And I will be a Father to you.” Galatians 4:4-7 says that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
But what does this mean for us? It means that despite any problems in our upbringing—I mean, no human parents are perfect—the adoptive parenting of God can be perfect and give us a great sense of identity and security.
As you can imagine, this reality should radically change the way we look at ourselves and other people. If we can truly take hold of our identities as children of God we can stop comparing ourselves to one another. We no longer have to regard one another as rivals. We can take hold of the fact that God loves us regardless of what we do for a living or what we do in general, regardless of how intelligent we are, regardless of what we look like, regardless of the things people say about us, and regardless of our wealth and possessions—or lack of them. This new way of looking at ourselves should give us true inner freedom and peace.
Like most people, I have to confess that I spend more time comparing myself to others than I should. But this creates tendencies to covetousness, envy, insecurity, pride or worse. In September I had a practice Bishops’ Advisory Panel and I have to say that at that event there was a strong sense that we were all “sizing each other up”, as the saying goes. I know that to some extent, in such a novel situation with unfamiliar people, this is inevitable. Certain theories of group behaviour mention newly formed groups going through phases of “forming, storming, norming and performing” as they struggle to succeed in the tasks they are given. But, if not done in the proper, Godly light, this can lead to a great deal of unnecessary discomfort, and feeling either superior or inferior to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because of the Coronavirus, my upcoming Bishops’ Advisory Panel, which will be in June, will not put any of us in situations of direct competition with our peers. Just the same, I will still have a tendency to be comparing myself to some unattainable ideal. On the other hand, I have to say that all the spiritual preparation that I have been undertaking has given me a powerful sense of identity in God. After spending more frequent time with the scriptures and in prayer I am finding the peace of Christ a little less elusive, and, in fact, much of the time I feel an overwhelming sense of blessedness. This means that even if I am not selected I will still be left with a strong sense of being the beloved, with whom God is well-pleased. And I will have spent more time with Him than I would have in my past life. It has been worth every moment and this gives me great joy.