In his rather melancholy song, “Nothing Left To Lose,” singer Matt Kearney sings the following lyrics:
“To a kid from Oregon by way of California /
All of this is more than I’ve ever known or seen. / Come on and we’ll sing, like we were free. / Push the pedal down watch the world around fly by us. / Come on and we’ll try, one last time. / I’m off the floor one more time to find you. / And here we go there’s nothing left to choose. / And here we go there’s nothing left to lose .”
As much as I like this song, and most of the other songs I am familiar with from this particular artist, there is a very powerful sense in which these lyrics are entirely untrue. There are times in my life where I thought that there was nothing left to lose, and I found out, much to my chagrin, that I was very wrong. You can lose your friends and end up in an entirely strange place, you can lose your peace of mind, you can just about everything but the clothes on your back, you can even lose your reputation and personal dignity, but you always have something left to lose. You always have something left to lose, even if you lose your life, or are entirely forgotten and consigned to oblivion, or have your deeds twisted and defamed when you are no longer able to defend yourself, if you ever could, but there are some things that can never be lost. For example, we can never lose our responsibility for how we have chosen to live our lives, nor can we ever lose the power to choose how we will respond to the reality that we are faced with. We may not be able to choose between good options, nor can we choose necessarily what we will have to face in our lives, but we can choose how we will respond to it and how it will affect us. These things can never be taken from us, no matter how difficult our circumstances in life may be.
When I was younger and a bit more naive, I did not fully understand just how wide the gulf could be between appearances and reality. To be sure, I was early familiar with hypocrites who put on a front of righteousness and moral probity while living lives filled with the most horrible evil. I have also seen those who used the existence of such hypocrites as a way of justifying their own moral laziness. What I did not understand was how people who were basically decent (although certainly far from perfect) could be viewed in a vastly more evil light than the reality was. To be sure, there were warning signs I could have picked up on, but it has nonetheless come to a great surprise, and a horrible amount of suffering, that I have spent about a year and a half or so dealing with a glaring blind spot in my own life that has left me rather deeply shaken and made my life much more complicated than it was before when I was unaware of the problem and its horrific consequences.
A couple of passages in the Bible reflect my own concerns about this subject. The first is 1 Peter 2:11-17: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Honor the king.” A second and related verse, in talking about the qualification of leaders in the Church of God, reads in 1 Timothy 3:7: “Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Throughout most of my life, I have bemoaned social isolation as well as rejection, and being a rather sensitive person to such social slights, I have tended to think that things could get little worse than they were growing up when it came to how I was viewed by others as being invisible except as a target for invective or abuse. Yet even here I underestimated the horror at being viewed as a monstrous sort of person motivated by the deepest evils, evils that I had made an oath to God never to commit from childhood. Worse, I did not realize just how deeply caught one could get in a bind where nothing one did was right because literally every possible option opened one up to confirming the most horrible suspicions that someone could have of one’s character and motives. It is a terrible curse to know that one has talents but to be totally unable to use them because they would be completely ineffective because of questions about one’s character and reputation. Talent without character is entirely useless for the purpose of God to build up others and to show models of His ways for others to learn and adopt. Therefore, if we desire to serve God and serve others with our God-given talents and abilities, we must show at least some attention to matters of reputation, even if we find it impossible to avoid the appearance of evil. In that sense, there is always something left to lose, because we cannot ultimately give away our responsibility to choose how we will live our lives in light of the realities that we face, no matter how much we would want to do so.