I don’t know what it is about the early Friday mornings that Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) Leadership requires of me. For my BSF class, the Leaders meet on Friday mornings beginning at 4:50 AM. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation (I don’t need very much sleep by most people’s standards, but 1-2 hours is a little scant, even for me), maybe it’s the emotional fellowship that we tend to have, maybe it’s the intense time we spend training and looking into God’s word and each other.
Whatever it is, almost every Friday, as I am driving home at 7 AM, for the last 3 years, I have had some of my best moments with God. Things that I have been aching over, praying over, searching for, come together. A song sparks some reminder or realization about God’s character. I feel his closeness and love and mercy and grace more closely than almost any other time. Beautiful sunrises inspire me, beautiful memories fill me. Today was just such a day.
I have been endeavoring all year to impress on the students that we have to see God all the time. We have to look through all the sin to see God’s grace and the promise of our eternal life with him. We must make all the beautiful things of this world into signposts that point us toward Jesus, rather than idols that draw us away. Then, the other week ago, I taught a lesson on Revelation 17 and I emphasized this verse:
They (the ten horns and the beast) will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. -Revelation 17:16b-17
The kings represented by the horns gave their power to the beast. God put that possibility into their hearts so that they would carry out his plan of destroying the prostitute.Then last week, one of my students asked how sickness could come from God’s loving hand. I gave him a fairly pat answer about how God uses our illness and the illnesses of people we love to draw us closer to him spiritually and sometimes he uses our sickness to bring us to him in our Heavenly home. We are sanctified through struggle and all that, right?
But today, as I was driving home, I was listening to Holy Is The Lord by Chris Tomlin. The line “The earth is filled with his glory” just kind of jumped out at me, highlighted, so to speak, in the ticker tape that constantly runs through my mind. The Earth is filled with his Glory. The Earth Is Filled With His Glory. The Earth. Filled. With Glory. God’s Glory.
And I realized. The whole earth is filled with his glory. It’s not just an awesome lyric, it’s awesomely biblical (Isaiah 6:3). We don’t have to look through the world or use the world as signposts or mirrors to deflect our vision to God. We just have to see the world rightly. The whole earth is filled with his glory. God is in and through and over everything.
Even evil and sin is full of his glory. Even suffering is full of his glory. It all happens within his plan and from his hand. It is all under his authority and sovereignty. We just have to expand our vision of God to be big enough to include someone that is so powerful that he can take the ugliest thing, foresee it and purpose it for good. We could not do it because we could not bear the ugliness of everything that would have to come first. We would take the easy way.
God doesn’t take the easy way. He shows us, for real, what happens when he is not the King, when we put ourselves first. When we try to displace God so that we can be God. When the angels asked if he is a good King, when Adam and Eve asked if he is a good King, if humans wouldn’t be better gods, God let us see the answer played out in the Fall and all that came after. He did that knowing how dark and sinful and ugly we would be. He did that knowing how painful it would be. He did that knowing that we would all come out on the other side, truly understanding a love that requires such a redemption from such darkness to image it’s beauty.
He goes through the pain to get to the promise. He goes through justice to get to mercy. He goes through suffering to get to sanctification. He goes through the grave to get to life.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and compete and lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. -James 1:2-5
It always amazes me what end up being trials that God uses to help perfect our patience. I signed up with a direct sales company. I just wanted to get makeup at a good price, really. I thought that if I got into putting on makeup and stuff, it would be a thing that my teenage daughter and I could bond over. And I was right about that. But then I started reading about network marketing and how it’s all about relationships and helping people and loving them and serving them. And I thought, “Relationships and helping people and loving them and serving them? Seems like I’ve heard that before.” And I wondered if this would be the thing that God would use to get me to connect with more people and show them how Jesus has changed me.
What God uses to grow us and change us can be really…anticlimactic sometimes. Take selfies, for example. When I first started reading about the online marketing makeup business, I kept reading that the best thing you can do is take selfies and talk about how much you love the makeup. And I do love the makeup so that wouldn’t be a lie. But I don’t take selfies (or, at least, I didn’t). I don’t really like taking pictures – of anything. I don’t like getting my picture taken – by anyone – and I like even less the knowledge that other people will be looking at those pictures. But, it’s not about how the pictures look at all. I don’t think I look bad in pictures. Not generally speaking anyway. We all have bad hair days. It’s something else. Let’s start at the beginning…
The first clue I had to my own autism was my issues with eye contact. I can not maintain eye contact. It’s not like it makes me anxious or I feel like the other person is going to see the ugliness in my soul or whatever. My eyes and my brain don’t like to make eye contact. If I don’t focus energy into keeping my eyes on someone’s face, they will just dart back and forth or gaze off into space. I’m still listening, my eyes are just moving. It happens like blinking or breathing. If I don’t think about it, it just happens. If I focus hard enough on keeping my gaze “natural” (i.e. neurotypical-seeming) for it to work, it actually physically drains me until I won’t be able to talk anymore. Or I’ll cry. Imagine you were having a conversation while doing this:
It’s kind of like that, and it’s draining after a while, to say the least. That’s a part of my issue with eye contact.
The other part is that it reminds me that people are looking at me. Again, this is not about insecurity, this one is about anxiety. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m worried about something bad happening to my family or I am not sure if I checked the door or I try to drive without singing to the radio. Having people look at me gives me a tight-chested feeling that I can only liken to the feeling I had after my sedan got rear-ended by a 3/4 ton pickup truck. Or getting hit in the chest with a medicine ball. The after math of that bone-jarring shock is what runs through me when I think of talking on the phone or meeting new people or talking to unfamiliar people. And when people are looking at me. Any people. It doesn’t matter if I know them or not. If I’m comfortable with them or not. If I love them with every ounce of my being or hate them with all my soul. They have eyes that see me, they stress me out. Maybe I should just hang out with blind people. =)
Having a camera lens “looking” at me and knowing that people will look at the pictures evokes the same feeling. It’s getting better, but the idea of it, most of the time, is really nauseating. And then, I post the pictures and people comment and tell me they’re really good and I look good and my makeup is awesome or whatever. And they’re good pictures (I only post the good ones, LOL!) but it really makes it worse, in a way. Because it reminds me that they looked at “me.” Which is not their fault. I posted it so they would look at it. And I am glad they didn’t think it was terrible. And, emotionally and intellectually, I like getting the comments. So if you are one of the lovely people who comment on my selfies, please don’t stop. It’s just a physical reaction. I’m not unhappy, I’m just nauseated. If that makes sense.
But I am coming to understand that connection is worth the anxiety. If love is not just a warm feeling in my heart but things I do, that goes for love of Christ and love of his people. I can not claim to love God and then ignore his command to love his people because it makes me uncomfortable. Or anxious. Or spend the next day in bed. And I can not love them if I am not a part of them. Every week, I teach a lesson at BSF and the whole process makes me…ill, literally. By Friday, I end up spending at least four hours on the couch feeling like I have a fever or the flu, just from BSF using all my spoons. No matter how carefully I guard my spoons, no matter how carefully I mete out my energy, I will be wasted on Friday. Sometimes Tuesday, too. But I do it because I think that’s what God is calling me to, right now. They do God’s work and if I have to crash every week to do it, too, I will. And if being present on social media is what God is calling me to now, then that is what I do. I will be joyful in obedience, even if the body is nauseated and anxious and wasted by posting. Paul had this to say:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Now, I don’t think I’m in any danger of being “exalted above measure,” but I might be tempted to pray at least three times that God would take this thorn. But what would I be without it? So maybe, instead, I will boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Maybe, instead, I will pray that I would see His grace is sufficient for me. That His strength would be perfected in me. That I would be weak, so He would make me strong.
So I heard somewhere that we should celebrate our own Jubilee, the day when we learned that there is a way for all our debts to be forgiven and that Jesus makes everything new. The day we, personally, spiritually, returned to our ancestral home on earth, as one of God’s chosen. For me, that day was July 24, 2008. Seven years today. I am 41 years, six months and two days old, so that is just a smidge more than 1/6 of my life thus far. Maybe God really does make us new because some days, I don’t even remember that other 5/6, or the fact that I lived them without Jesus. Those are good days, the days when I live like there was no “Before”. But there was time before that, and that day I was kind of wallowing in the fallout of that life before. And there was a moment that ended that life before. Come back with me.
I was two months and four days out of a relationship that I had been in for 14 years. I had left, filed for divorce and was living with my three fairly young kids in a domestic violence shelter. It was the bottom of the bottom for me. I had realized that I was afraid of the man that I had really given up everything I possibly could to love. We had filed the first round of paperwork, I had said terrible things about him and he had said terrible things about me. I would like to say that I told the truth and he lied, but…who knows? And it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I was completely devastated. I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life, including, but not limited to, where we were going to live and what we would eat. I was immersed in the really ugly parts of my memories of my marriage and, yet, wondering if I should go back and, yet, knowing that it was too late for that. I won’t go into details but, I can say, it was dark up in here.
After walking out, I had gotten back in touch with a friend of mine from high school. He had just gone through a divorce as well and he had told me that the only thing that got him through his rough times was his faith in Jesus. His hope, if he had any at all, lay there. And I figured I could use a little hope (and a little distraction), so I started asking questions. And, in faith, he did his best to answer. Or, at least, point me in a good direction for the answers. =)
So we were doing sort of an impromptu “Bible introduction for the heathen.” And I comprehended it, but, it didn’t mean anything. It was mostly a literary exercise for me. I didn’t really know what Eli was getting out of it, if anything, but he kept coming back, so I did, too. Anyway, I knew what the Bible said. God created the Universe, man sinned, chaos ensued, Jesus came, more chaos. *shrug* I always believed that something created the Universe, I just wasn’t so sure about the Bible and the picture of God that it painted. I didn’t really get it, and what I did get, I wasn’t positive I liked. I kind of liked the idea of some of it and I wanted something to believe in, but I just wasn’t sure. I guess, like Tenth Avenue North, I wondered: “Could the Maker of the Stars hear the sound of my breaking heart?” Seemed unlikely.
Then, after about a month of this, Eli sent me an email with a link to a blog post.
This is something I believe, too, only have never said as well:
“Science thrives on open questions. So does faith rightly understood. Both are journeys into the unknown with the lightest of equipment: a metanarrative or mathematical formula for a compass, and a few fixed reference points on a map that may, who knows, be turned upside down.”
Journeys into the unknown, with the lightest of equipment. Bravo!
And when I got there, I followed a link in the post to a beautiful translation of Psalm 8 that changed my life. (It’s still there. You can go read it, too, if you haven’t already. It’s really good. I’ll wait here while you do that.) God uses what he will to change and turn us. I am grateful for John Hobbins and his lifelong love of Biblical language because God used him to change me. Him, and a guy who kept me too late at a gas station more times than I can count. =) Anyway, I don’t have to tell you about that moment in retrospect, I wrote about it while it was happening. I just had to. Happy email stimming, I guess.
Wow, all I have to say is “I. Love. Kung Fu.” Seriously, though, that is beautiful.
Speaking of beauty, I went to the post and read it (you know, you are the only personal correspondent I have that I have to do research to reply to his emails…). I’m reading it but it’s not making any sense cuz I’m like “what’s Psalm 8?” </end mongoloid voice> so I go read the text and translation post. I’m looking at the Hebrew and I don’t understand it but it just looks really cool (thanks, btw, I just barely started learning Latin and now I want to learn Hebrew) so I go to the English.
I kid you not, I’m reading it and I just start tearing up. I’m trying not to cry because Mae’s right there and I don’t want to explain to her why I’m bawling over the computer but, honestly, if she weren’t here I’d just have been sitting here bawling. I think it was that line – what did he call it? – the pivot: “what is man that you mind him; children of dust, that you note them?” I was just overcome by this sense of awe and humility and the beauty of the language and I just can’t even express it. Children of dust. I suddenly got it. How miniscule must a person be to God, just one more thing in a universe of beautiful things that He created and yet He has a plan for us, He actually gives a rip. He actually loves us, Eli. I can’t describe it, I don’t have the words. I’m having an actual physical feeling in my heart. From reading a Bible passage. I mean, I have had physical reactions to literature and music and art but this is something entirely different. I think I’m high on God’s love or something. And I don’t know what to do with it. But I know it’s gonna be okay. Everything is gonna be okay because God loves us, Eli. And, right now, that’s all that matters.
=) (that’s not an indication of a joke, that’s actually me smiling),
PS Thank you for being there because you are the only person that I could tell this to and I had to tell someone.
So, yeah, he could definitely hear my breaking heart. And he came here to break it. And then unbreak it. It boggled my mind then and it still does now, when I take the time to think about it. Which I don’t do enough. So I try to remember and celebrate those moments when I am really aware of God’s presence and the bigness of him. Remember those feelings so I can call them up and live there more often. Maybe one day, I can live there all the time. In awe before the throne. Until then, I am blessed enough to know the exact day that God saved me (the exact hour really, since emails have time stamps on them), so I celebrate it. Thank you for joining me this year. And, speaking of Tenth Avenue North, in the soundtrack of my life, here is the song for today. And seven years ago today….
I’ve been thinking about the whole same-sex marriage thing. It’s hard not to, it’s really been on people’s minds lately. To be honest, until now, I never thought that much about it. Before I was saved, it was a no-brainer. Of course, homosexuals should be able to marry! Everyone should be able to marry. Rights are good, everyone needs all the rights they can get. I was what I have lately heard called a Social Justice Warrior Woman. We didn’t have that phrase but I would have loved it when I was 18 years old (though, I think I would have preferred Girl. Or Girrrl). I just called myself a Radical. Radical What? you would say. I would cleverly retort, What have you got? Of course, I believed in civil rights for everyone, because what did I care what anyone wanted to do in their bedroom, anyway? All I cared about was that they were people and people need rights. And not to be oppressed. And not to be assaulted or murdered just because of who they are or what they look like.
But then I got saved. I have talked about this before, but just in case you missed it, I am pretty conservative. I am a fundamentalist. I believe that the Bible is 100% the Word Of God, every letter God breathed through the people that he chose to do his writing. I believe that God made them male and female and that he intended for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. I am even complementarian. I believe in male headship of a marriage and family as a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church, as well as the hierarchy and authority in the Trinity. He is my servant leader and I am the helper suitable for him.
And, also, in addition to all that, I support the legalization of same-sex marriage. But let me tell you why.
A week ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that. I probably would have said I don’t really care, unless legalizing it makes everyone stop talking about it – both sides – then I’m all for it. (Oh, silly Past Olga! So innocent, so naive. Like that will ever happen!) But then I started reading all these articles about how it does affect me. America is going to hell in a handbasket and shortly our churches will be bankrupt and our pastors will be in jail for not performing same-sex marriages. Or it affects me because we need to love these people and tell them the truth. That means the truth of their sin and what they are doing to themselves and the country. Honestly, I don’t really like either of those options.
But I started thinking, maybe this does affect me. Or, at least, if it doesn’t affect me, I should have an opinion about it. Maybe the Bible gives some direction here. As far as I can tell, the Bible never says that we should go to sinners and just tell them that their sin is sending them to Hell. Jesus certainly never did that and he hung out with plenty of sinners.The only people he said were going to hell were Pharisees and legalists. And it wasn’t because they were in same-sex marriages. So that can’t really be how we’re supposed to love them. (Especially since that’s not even true. Sin doesn’t send us to Hell. Not accepting Jesus as our savior is what sends us to Hell. But that is probably for another post. Anyway…)
So, then I read this in Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
And I realized that this is not about keeping marriage safe and making sure that our idea of marriage gets legislated or not. This should, like everything else, be about freeing the oppressed, removing yokes and alleviating people’s suffering. What we do to the least of these.
And it’s not just protecting them from others. This is the yoke that we put on them, the finger that we point, the wickedness that we speak in the form of hatred and prejudice and ignorance.
Who is our neighbor? The man who is beaten on the side of the road and we don’t get to ask if he is saved or who he goes home to at night before we bandage his wounds. And if we can prevent him from being beaten in the first place, that is our first priority.
History has shown us that as different groups get more civil rights and legal protections, they are treated better, on the whole. The vote for women and people of color, the repeal of Jim Crow laws, the removal of laws that prevent interracial marriage. These things came before better treatment for women and people of color. Is society perfect? No, but it’s getting better and we are moving in a good direction. Is same-sex marriage (or marriage regardless of gender like they have in Ireland, which would be my preference) the end-all and be-all of the sexuality and gender based civil rights movement? Not by a long shot, but respecting all relationships as “real” relationships is certainly a step in the right direction. Is this how we remove their yokes and alleviate their suffering? It has to be better than what we’ve done so far.
In Jeremiah 29, the Lord tells us to seek the welfare of the city we live in. What does that mean? For years, I think Christians have tried to do this by legislating behavior which is in line with Christian ideals (e.g. sodomy laws, laws agains prostitution, etc.) But behavior without faith is not what God is after. Remember those Pharisees? Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” So maybe seeking the welfare of the city has to do with seeking justice for it. And not just for ourselves but for everyone, even while they live Babylon. And it doesn’t mean telling them how to behave, maybe it means making sure that they are treated like human beings, protecting them when they can not protect themselves. I think this means physically and politically. Using our power, status, resources and love to help others get the justice and security they should have.
1 Peter 2:12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” What if we did that? What if we did good for others and loved them, even when they spoke evil against us? What if they said, “Those Christians, they hate us. They want to beat us and kill us and they think we’re going to hell.” Then, what if we didn’t say, “No, we love you but you are going to hell and you need to stop sinning. We’re right!” What if, instead of that, we said, “No, we love you! We want to see you treated justly and fairly and we will fight to see that happen.” Full stop. No telling them what marriage should be or how they have rebelled against God, or how they are wrong, wrong, wrong and they should listen to us, because we are right. None of that. What if, while they are still sinners, we laid down our rights for them, laid down our opinions for them, laid down our self-righteousness for them, laid down our lives for them. What if we just said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” hoping that HE shows them what they do so HE can forgive them? And what if we showed them Jesus and his grace and his forgiveness and his mercy, first by our actions, then by our words – or, better, God’s Word? What if we just let God take care of their sin, since he already has?
That’s the option I like. And it doesn’t require us to compromise our values or beliefs. It only requires us to keep our mouths shut, when our beliefs are not relevant. Standing up for the truth doesn’t mean spouting it off all the time. And the fact that homosexuality isn’t in God’s plan is not the only truth there is. We can stand up for the truth that every single person is created in God’s image and, therefore, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Not to be oppressed and dehumanized. I think legalizing same-sex marriage is a step in that direction for people in the LGBTQIA+ community. That’s why I support it. And I still consider myself a conservative Christian.
The funny thing is, when it really came down to it, I got right back to where I was when I was a Radical, Social Justice Warrior Girrrl. (I may still be that. A little.) When it comes to government, for the most part, people need all the rights they can get, all the protections they can get. All I care about is that they are people and people need rights. And not to be oppressed. And not to be assaulted or murdered just because of who they are or what they look like.
I was thinking more about forgiveness. I feel like I’m really good at forgiveness because I don’t really stay angry. I don’t really get angry that much, when it comes down to it. I don’t hold grudges. But now I’m starting to think that I don’t really forgive people and love them. I just stop thinking about them and what they did. Which was never really an issue before, but now I am called to forgive some people that I have to continue to think about. And I am having difficulty because I want to just forget about it and them. I don’t mind suffering through not getting to exact my revenge, but I don’t want to remove their sins so that I can bear to be around them. Or consider them. Or think about them in passing. To put it into the framework of the metaphor of the cross, I think I am willing to be the substitute but I don’t want the atonement. I want to just stop thinking about them altogether. It’s not really the same thing. Wanting to not think about someone at all isn’t loving them. It’s just a very innocent sounding way to murder them in your heart.
But Tim Keller says this: “Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt.” (You might remember, I quoted that the other day ago.) Which I take to mean, you can do it before you feel it. Like love. You can love someone without feeling it. It’s not really “fake it till you make it.” It’s more of a reframing of how we do things. Society would tell us that we have to feel pleasant things for people before we can love them “authentically” and that our actions must mirror our feelings or we are hypocrites. But that means we don’t do anything unless we “feel like it” because that would be “inauthentic.” No one wants to be fake.
I don’t think that is a Biblical idea, though. I think the Biblical idea of being our “authentic selves” is about being in Christ and being obedient and true to what God would have us be. So if forgiveness means loving someone and loving them means wanting good for them, I can do that without feeling it. When Jesus forgave us on the cross, he may or may not have felt it in his heart. At Gethsemane, he prayed that he would not like to go to the cross and die for us. But he would do it, out of obedience. And he prayed for us. He asked God to forgive us. So I can pray for good for someone, I can work for good for someone, without really liking it. Even if I don’t get all warm and happy when I think about good things happening to someone else, I can pray for them to happen. And even if I don’t feel good about someone, I can still do good things for them, like help them or give them a birthday present or whatever.
It is a sin to hate someone in your heart, but it is not a sin to feel nothing for them. Love is not about feelings. It is about what you do with regards to someone. If I want you to die a painful death at my own hands, but I give you a cheese Danish and tell you to have a good day, that is hypocrisy and not love. But, if I am shopping the Danish aisle and I think, “You know, who likes Danish? That one guy. But I don’t like that guy. He kicked me in the face! I don’t want him to have any Danish. But, Danish is a good gift of God and God wants us to enjoy his good gifts. Moreover, maybe if I give him a Danish, he will see the beauty of the Danish that God made through the hands of the baker and he will get to know God through his joy in the Danish. And he may love God more. That would be a good thing that God would want.” Then I buy you a Danish and give it to you, with a handshake and a “good day to you!,” that is loving you. Loving you like Jesus.
I don’t have to like you to love you and I don’t have to like you to forgive you. I just have to love you to forgive you. And vice versa.
I may not like the idea of people who have hurt me being saved in heaven with Jesus. But, if I love Jesus and, therefore, love the people who have hurt me, I will forgive them and love them and want them to be saved in heaven with Jesus. I may not like the idea but I will hope for it. Because I love God, and God loves them. And I think that the best kind of love is born out of obligation and commitment.
Was that last sentence surprising? I know it goes against what many people think, the ideas that are generally put forth about love in Western culture. I have to admit, I don’t really understand why so many people devalue the idea of duty and obligation. I don’t know why people prefer the idea that a person would love them as an outpouring of feeling rather than a sense of honor and obligation. I don’t understand why someone would prefer any relationship to be based on liking the same things and having fun hanging out, rather than on covenant and connection and history.
Feelings change. If I only hang out with someone because I like them and they are fun and we have lots of laughs, what happens when their spouse – or their dad, or their kid – dies, or they lose their job, or get cancer, and they aren’t so much fun anymore? My husband may not like me every day, but if he feels covenanted to love and care for me, a duty given him by God, well, that’s not going to change. God does not change. And if my husband has to set aside his own feelings, desires and well-being to obey the calling that God has given him to fulfill that duty, isn’t that the most loving, most sacrificial thing he can do? Isn’t that the very definition of loving me as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her?
I guess, after all these years, I’m finally learning that forgiveness and love don’t mean having warm feelings for someone. They certainly don’t mean not having bad feelings for someone. Forgiving someone means letting go of your desire for revenge so that you can love them, which means picking up a desire for their good. And none of that has anything to do with feelings. It is intentional. It is active. You can feel angry and do those things. You can feel hurt and do those things. It might be harder, but you can do it. Jesus did it and he made a way for us to do it.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” –Colossians 3:12-14
I am reading Tim Keller’s very awesome book, The Reason for God. It is very good. This morning, I was reading the chapter about the cross and why we can not remove it, as some people want to because it is so offensive. He talks about how the cross relates to forgiveness. I had to restrain myself to keep from just highlighting everything. Here’s what I did highlight.
(p. 196) “Forgiveness means refusing to let them pay for what they did.”
“Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil.”
(p.198, talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer) “His forgiveness was costly suffering, because it actually confronted the hurt and evil before him. His forgiveness was not what he called (in The Cost of Discipleship) ‘cheap grace.’ He did not ignore or excuse sin. He resisted it head on, even though it cost him everything. His forgiveness was also costly because he refused to hate. He passed through the agonizing process required to love your enemies, so his resistance to their evildoing was measured and courageous, not venomous and cruel.”
(p.199-200) “Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy’s renewal and change…Should it surprise us, then, that when God determined to forgive us rather than punish us for all the ways we have wronged him and one another, that he went to the Cross in the person of Jesus Christ and died there? As Bonhoeffer says, everyone who forgives someone bears the other’s sins. On the cross we see God doing visibly and cosmically what every human being must do to forgive someone, though on an infinitely greater scale. I would argue, of course, that human forgiveness works this way because we unavoidably reflect the image of our Creator.”
(p.200) “Jesus Christ is God. God did not then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself…this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.”
“There was debt to be paid-God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born-God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.
“We have seen how human forgiveness and its costliness sheds light on divine forgiveness. However, it is divine forgiveness that is the ultimate ground and resource for the human. Bonhoeffer repeatedly attested to this, claiming that it was Jesus’s forgiveness of him on the Cross that gave him such security in God’s love that he could live a life of sacrificial service to others.”
I was watching a lecture by Dr. RC Sproul for my Ligonier class, wherein he talks about interpreting the meaning of the Bible. He uses the analogy of art. He says that when we look at art and try to interpret it, we are trying to discern what the art means, that is, what the artist meant when he made the art. Then he talked about the movement in the art community to put emphasis on the meaning that the viewer took from the art, some artists even going so far as to say that they didn’t put any meaning into the art and that the only meaning is what the viewer brings.
That whole thing is so weird to me. How could you make a painting or a sculpture or a poem or whatever without having some intention or feeling or meaning behind the creation? If you were to do that, it seems like it would only be done as some kind of statement on your own perception of the randomness/meaninglessness/futility of life. But isn’t that meaning that you invest into the art? I don’t believe that God thinks that life is futile or meaningless and I don’t think he creates that way, neither his creation nor his word.
But then I started thinking about how when you look at a piece of art, let’s say, Jackson Pollock’s Convergence, just for example, you may be able to discern what the author intended this piece of art to say. You will probably also see some personal meaning in it. It will make you think of things. If you see a meaning in the artwork and the author doesn’t intend it, does that make it invalid or incorrect? Does it mean that meaning isn’t there? Maybe one person just sees chaos. Another might see the streaks of orange and yellow as excitement and happiness. Another might see the little pops of blue as representing little birds and go off on a Disney style fantasy. You could show this painting to 50 or 500 different people and you might get as many different interpretations. The artist could not have imagined all these different meanings that people come up with. I mean, if I look at this very descriptive painting and it reminds me of my first apartment in college and, therefore, I think it is a statement on overwhelmed exhaustion, loneliness and fear. Jackson Pollock couldn’t possibly have foreseen that, 22 years before I was born. (Just for the record: it does not remind me of my first college apartment. It doesn’t remind me of anything. Pollock looks like drop cloths to me.)
But God could. God could bring me to this painting because he knows that in my heart I need to work through the loneliness and fear of my first year of college. God could know what the paint scheme of my first apartment was like and find a ridiculous painting and show it to me. Heck, if he chose, God could make Pollock paint that ridiculous thing in those particular colors for no other reason than that I would see it 63 years later and make a huge breakthrough on some of my post-teen angst. And he isn’t limited to just the one or two meanings. He could, simultaneously, know the heart of every person that would ever see this painting, know what they are going to need to see and put it in there so they could see it.
When we study a painting, we ask, “What does it mean?” and there can be many answers depending on what each of us sees or what the painter had in mind when he painted it. But when we talk about scripture and we ask “what does it mean?” Dr. Sproul says we are trying to discover what the words literally mean. When he talks about what each of us sees and what it “means” to us, he would call that application or significance. So any given passage can only have one meaning, but infinite applications and significances. Can they all be valid? I believe the answer is a qualified yes. God can not lie or sin, so he could not imbue scripture with a meaning that would do either of those things. But, assuming that the applications we see are consistent with scripture and God’s character, then, I say, yeah. God could have put all that significance in there.
When Matthew wrote his gospel, he couldn’t have known that I would be thinking about God’s attention or that I would be writing this almost 2000 years later, any more than Jackson Pollock could know the color scheme of my first apartment. But God did. And every single word of the Bible was written from their inspiration for ours. God knew every devotional, every blog post, every journal entry that would be written, every struggle revealed, every reassurance needed, when he inspired the scripture. He knew it all at the beginning of time, before he even knit the stars together. When Matthew wrote this, when Jesus said it, God knew that I would be sitting in this chair at my dinosaur of a laptop, quoting it.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
How can we not be constantly overwhelmed by a God this awesome?