Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hurt and Hope in the Upside-Down Kingdom of Jesus Christ

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 3:45)
I guess the truth is that I'm afraid. Afraid that God won't be all that he claims he is. Afraid that the unimaginable good he gives will turn out to be disappointing - something less satisfying than the good I can imagine. (I forget that all the good I can imagine has come to me from God's own hand. I forget that, having given his only Son, there is no good that God can withhold from me.)

When life starts to hurt, I start to think, "What am I doing wrong?" Job's friends came to him with the same question. The reasoning is powerful: since God doesn't punish unjustly, if it hurts, you must be doing something to deserve it. Only hurt isn't always punishment.

There are lots of things that hurt when you are doing them right.

Like forgiveness, for example. I don't know where I got the idea that forgiveness is supposed to feel soft and smooth, warm and wafting, effortless - a wave of peace and love that washes over the heart, healing wounds. No, forgiveness is the disinfectant spray your Mom used to put on an already-painful cut. Forgiveness is having someone punch you and not punching back. And not asking someone else to punch back. It hurts. All you can think about is how much it hurts, and even that is not the end - the lies come thick and clamourous, sharp with the mocking accusation that you are the weak one, the fool. Oh, forgiveness hurts the most when you are doing it right.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)
I will bow myself. I will accept hurt, and fear, and seeming failure. Jesus is here, and he leads the way.  I am all raging and trembling inside, and a new fear arises - that I will stumble and fall here, and then have nothing. I hold to God and beg him to hold on to me.

The answer is, of course, that he is holding on to me. The fact that I long for him is the result of his drawing.

I am not the first to fear this way. Joseph, stuck in prison, waited for the vindication God had promised him, but he lost heart and begged his fellow-prisoner for help. John the Baptist sent Jesus a question from his own prison cell, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" I am not the first to fear. I am not the first to wonder if I have come the wrong way, after all.

Why am I afraid? I thought that peace would come with placing myself in God's hand, in choosing forgiveness instead of bitterness, in letting go of my way, in choosing love over pride and grace over vengeance. But sin and self in me have risen up and they wage war against my will. Jesus will overcome, but just now, I am at war.

The way of Jesus is backward and upside-down. It runs counter to my self-preserving instinct and my culture and my comfort-loving heart.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)
I don't know when God's work with me will start to make sense, but I hold onto him...and that means he is holding onto me.
 “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ― C.S. Lewis
Surely Jesus who died will make things right.

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