Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To my sons - Part I

I always find myself thinking a lot about life and death around Easter.  Some might call it melancholy.  Others might call it depression.  This year, it's probably a bit of both.  But as I sit here listening to Rich Mullins' "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band," I find myself thinking about legacy.  What is it I want to pass on to the three beautiful and incredibly gifted boys God has given to me?  If I could say just one thing, what would it be?

Trust in God, my beloved sons.  Trust in him with everything you are and have.  Because if you're going to follow him, you're going to have to.  There's no middle ground.  There will be days he takes everything from you.  There will be days you swear to God (ironically) that he hates you.  There will be days when you are reduced to rubble and blood and you realize the only thing that keeps you walking in faith is the fact that there is nowhere else to go.  On those days when most people would walk away, he will ask you as he asked his friends the disciples, "Will you go away also?"  And son, you may be ready not just to walk, but to run.  But you won't.  You won't because you love him.  No, you will drop your head and sigh, and you will answer with Peter, "Where else will I go, you have words of life?"

But there's another reason you won't run.  It's not just that you love him, but somehow you know he loves you.  It goes against anything that makes sense.  Sometimes he is terrible.  Sometimes he is a wrecking ball.  I believe people misunderstand those passages in scripture that talk about God as fearful.  He is not to be feared because of his hatred and condemnation.  Oh no, it's so much worse than that.  It's his love that scares the hell out of me.  He is relentless.

It was not anger that melted the mountain of Sinai, it was love.  I suspect that the flames of hell are not kindled in God's wrath, rather they are fired by the rage of human hearts which refuse to accept his love.  They are not eternally punished by God.  They punish themselves.  They will be damned before they will accept so foolish and indiscriminate and undignified a love as that displayed on the cross.  I myself hold out hope (hope is not against orthodoxy) that hell is not, in fact, eternal.  But if hell is eternal, I believe it is because of the stubborn determination of the human will, not the will of God.  Let them shut me out of ministry and even the church itself, but I cannot believe that God is cruel or vindictive.  I cannot bow to a God formed in the image of human conceptions of vengeance and justice, whether her name be Dike, Justitia or even Theos.  I will always and only believe in the God revealed to us in Jesus, the cross and the resurrection.  I hope he is the God you will believe in too.

But the relentless love of God in Christ is terrifying.  He is a consuming fire.  He will reduce you to cinders, but  he will not let you go.  He will love you to death.  If your desire is to know him, he will grant you that desire regardless of the cost.  If you ask him for life, you will receive it.  But eternal life, like the mythical phoenix, is born out of ashes.  And the Jesus I know is liberal with his gifts.

I always wondered why scripture spoke of suffering as a gift (Phi 1:29).  Suffering brings us life because in it we know God as he truly is - God is selfless love, and selfless love is embodied in suffering.  The cross is the sacrament of that love.  It is the visible sign of an invisible truth.  God will make you his sacrament too.  And sometimes it will hurt like hell.  There is the really horrifying part of it.  God will not only allow you to suffer for your own good.  He will also allow you to suffer for the good of others.  In a very real sense, our whole purpose is to represent his love to others as he represented God's love to us.

It takes a lot of trust to suffer in faith.  It takes a lot more to suffer in faith and never see the reward.  Not everyone gets to live the story of Job.  Sometimes we do not receive back everything that God allows to be taken from us.  At least not here, not now.  As Hebrews 11:39 suggests, sometimes we do not receive what is promised because the promise is not for us individually, it is for everyone.  It is painful to suffer and not understand, not be vindicated.  But that is the call of God, and in it God ruins our lives as Mike Yaconelli once said.  But he ruins us that he might renew us.  He kills us that we might be resurrected.  And though he slay us, yet we will serve him.

So, trust in God.  Because it is in faith that all this makes sense.  It is from the perspective of the end that we understand all that goes before.  We are not yet privy to that perspective.  Trust him anyway.  He is good.  He is love.  Never believe anything else.

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