Monday, February 16, 2015

Like Father, Like Son

We had a fascinating discussion at my home fellowship group the other night. The conversation turned from the wrath of God to the fear of God. We talked about how many churches focus so much on the love of God that we forget that God is to be feared, and that all those in the Bible who encountered the presence of the Father were filled with holy fear. This got me thinking: what about Jesus? If Jesus is God, should we then be fearful of Him? If not, why should we be fearful of the Father?

All of us who call ourselves Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, so why weren’t those who encountered Jesus while He walked among us also terrified? I suppose those who didn’t believe in Him wouldn’t have been fearful, but those who did came to Him boldly, often for healing or simply to worship. Matthew 26:6-13 tells of the woman who came to pour expensive oil on His head. Jesus not only tells his disciples that “she has done a good work for Me,” but He also says that “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” We also have the account earlier in Matthew where Jesus blesses the little children saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly it seems that Jesus invites us to come freely to Him. He never advised us that we should approach Him fearfully.

This leads me to question how I view the Father as opposed to how I view the Son. I suspect I am not alone in this, but when I think of meeting Jesus in heaven someday, I imagine myself running into His arms with tears of joy running down my face. Yet, when I think of encountering the Father, I am terrified. I realize that my focus shifts. With Jesus, my focus is on Jesus. With the Father, my focus is on myself, and I feel unworthy to be in His presence. I imagine Him looking at me with eyes full of wrath as I curl up in the fetal position before Him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe I am forgiven, and that Jesus has paid the penalty for my sins, but it’s still awfully hard to get that belief from the head to the heart. There’s still a part of me that is fearful that somehow I’ve misunderstood His offer of salvation, and that the punishment I deserve awaits me. My faith is still plagued by a measure of doubt about the grace and mercy of God.

I find comfort in the words of Jesus in John 10:30: “I and My Father are one.” If Jesus is one with the Father, then we can know that the Father is compassionate and desiring to forgive, and loves us so much that He’s willing to lay down His own life for our sake. In fact, Christ came to us in the flesh so that we might know what our Father is like. Jesus says in John 8:19, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Jesus later says in John 18:37, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus being one with God, bore witness to the truth of who God is, so we can know that the Father is like the Son. 

I am stating the obvious here, but we don’t understand the Trinity. Though we believe that God is three persons in one, we can’t possibly grasp that truth, and we don’t understand the relationship between them. How is it that God the Father and the Son have existed from eternity past? How can Jesus be the Son without having been born after the Father? And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit! Can anyone even begin to understand it? (The Newsboys gave it a shot back in the day.) This whole idea is so incomprehensible, it’s no wonder that Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible that changed or removed all references to it. It’s also no wonder that Islam rejects the idea as polytheism. Likewise, atheists ridicule the idea as being illogical. Nonetheless, I believe it. Why? For starters, the idea is so strange and intellectually challenging that I don’t think anyone would have devised such an idea if they were looking to sell people on a new religion. For another, I believe the Bible is proven to be reliable in all other areas, and it certainly leads us to believe in a triune God. I also believe that if there is a God, it is likely that He exists in a way that is greater and more mind-bending than we can imagine. Why would He be simple enough that His creation can fully grasp Him? The fact that He came to us in the flesh implies that He needed to step down to our level so we could even begin to know Him.

I think that maybe all of this leaves us a bit confused on how we see our God and how He sees us. Our God is good, and He loves us more than we love ourselves, yet it is so easy to become fearful of Him. Perhaps our fear is a reflection of our inherent guilt. We know we are not worthy to stand before God Almighty. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” None of us love perfectly, so we remain fearful. That could explain our fear of the Father, but it still doesn’t explain why we aren’t so fearful of Jesus. Perhaps it’s because He walked among us and experienced what we experience. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

It seems that our God wants us to put aside our fears and come before His presence, yet at the same time, have a healthy dose of holy fear in the knowledge that He has the power to do with us as He pleases. Jesus warns us in Matthew 10:28, “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.” Many of us do not have a healthy fear of God. We either don’t fear Him enough that we do as we please without regard for Him, or we fear Him so much that we cannot accept the grace He gives us. For some of us, we go back and forth between the two extremes. It’s just so hard to get it right. I want to know God for who He is, and not for who I have made Him out to be. I trust that He is good.

I pray that God would help us to truly honor Him as our Lord and Savior. In these two words we find the balance of a God who is a king and a judge, who has the power to condemn or show mercy, and One who is willing to lay down His life for us in the desire to be with us for all eternity. Our Lord and Savior. Like Father, like Son.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Living in Loneliness

It’s been a few years now since I last wrote about my struggles with loneliness. While much has changed in my life since then, I remain single and lonely. However, much has changed in my perspective on my singleness and loneliness, and thus the motivation for writing this post.

I owe a huge debt to Rich Mullins. As many of you who know me best already know, Rich is undoubtedly the most influential person on my life who I never met and who isn’t also the Son of God. Much of my way of understanding God’s love and grace comes from the example of his life and the authenticity of his music. Even when I went through a period of significant doubt, I would listen to his music and know that there was something real and substantial that couldn’t be dismissed with the same skepticism I held for much of “churchianity.” In the years since, I have continued to be impacted by his life. Perhaps the fact that he was a single man until his death at age 41 plays a role in why I can relate to him so well. Recently, I re-read the book “An Arrow Pointing to Heaven,” which recounts Rich’s perspective on the 10 main themes of his life and music. In the chapter entitled “Bound to come some trouble,” his words on loneliness deeply resonated with me.

“I think that part of being human is being alone. And being lonely. I think one of the stresses on a lot of our friendships is that we require the people we love to take away that loneliness. And they really can’t. And so, when we still feel lonely, even in the company of people we love, we become angry with them because they don’t do what we think they’re supposed to. Which is something that they really can’t do for us.”

Rich recognized that loneliness is a fact of life. There is no escaping it. One of his closest friends is quoted in the book, “I learned from him that there is within us all, if we have the guts to admit it, a terrible void created by our loneliness for God that can never be fully satisfied in this life.” Rich saw the reality of loneliness. It is that which calls us to a relationship with our Creator, and since we only know in part what we will one day know in full, will not be fully satisfied this side of eternity.

I share all of this not to discourage those of you who are struggling with loneliness (I assume all of you). I actually find it quite encouraging. If we can learn to accept loneliness as a part of life and let go of our expectations that any person can fix our loneliness problem, we can begin to find freedom in the struggle. I’ve thought a lot about how this applies to my singleness. For so long, I looked at my singleness as a curse of loneliness, and that if I found just the right person, I could be cured. Many of you likely remember the movie “Jerry Maguire” and the famous line, “you complete me.” This works well in Hollywood romance, but it is far from reality. I’ve come to realize just how unfair it is to put that kind of expectation on someone. I’ve also come to realize that maybe being single isn’t such a bad thing because my loneliness can motivate me to find other avenues to connect with people. While I don’t expect any person or group of people to fill the void, having community is very helpful. Finding groups of people who are in similar places in life has certainly been a blessing to me, as well as being part of groups that are quite different from me. Being single has its advantages because I can join any group or take part in any activity that fits within my schedule. I don’t need the approval of another person to do what I feel like God is calling me to do. I am free to serve or minister in any capacity. Ultimately, this life is not about me and having my needs met, which is impossible, so I might as well let go of that vain pursuit and focus on giving to others.

All of that being said, I don’t make the most of my singleness. In fact, I often waste much of my time on selfish endeavors. This is why I need community. I need people to be around me, and I need to take the initiative to be around other people. I tend to shelter myself from the world, and that’s the beginning of trouble. Absolutely central to the idea of being like Christ is to be in the fellowship of others. Sure, Jesus had His time alone with God, but He modeled community in the fellowship of His disciples. It is also worth noting that our God exists in Himself as a community. Before the foundation of the world He was the model of love within His triune nature. This relationship of the Trinity is how we know that God is love, as visibly demonstrated by the Son in His obedience to the Father, through the selfless act of death on the cross on our behalf. The greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37),” and the second, which Jesus says is like the first, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love God is to love others. You cannot truly do one without the other. There is no going it alone when it comes to being a Christian. It may seem like a contradiction, but we need each other more than we need a person. We cannot put on one person what we need from God, and individual people will always disappoint us. It is a burden too great for one to bear. A friend will always fail, yet we need friends. A wife or a husband will fail, but we need relationships.

The loneliest period of my life was when I was married. I didn’t need my wife to fill a void in my life, and I couldn’t fill the void in her’s. I needed the fellowship of believers. I needed people to provide support, that I could share my struggles openly, who would pray with me and I with them. I needed to experience the love of God as demonstrated through the Body of Christ. If I ever do marry again I know I will do this differently. I will not look at my wife as some kind of Messiah, the one who cures my ills. She will instead be the one who I choose to love and live with because God has spoken clearly to do so. She will be the one who He makes it known that it is better to marry than to remain single. She will be the one who draws me closer to Christ than I would be without her as my wife. It will not be about meeting my need to not be lonely, or satisfying my physical desires, it will be about answering God’s call to serve. It may be that God can use me better if I remain single. I am coming to a place of accepting that possibility. It’s quite freeing. The moment you take the pressure off of yourself that you have to find someone to marry, it is a great burden lifted off your shoulders. I do not need a wife specifically, but I do need other people in general. Whether or not I’m provided the former, I will take the initiative to seek the latter. And I will be lonely. But that’s OK. It just means that I still need God. And that’s a good thing!