Regarding boundaries, Jesus, and the dangerous idea that we should all be BFFs…
Regarding boundaries, Jesus, and the dangerous idea that we should all be BFFs…
Recorded at ICF in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 2017.
When the Resurrection and the Life shows up at a funeral, death dies and corpses rise.
Timothy Sanford wrote about forgiveness in his book “I Have To Be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). It’s a book for Pastors’ Kids and Missionary Kids (PKs and MKs) that I blogged through a couple years ago. In the book, Sanford teaches that when you forgive someone, you have to “absorb the damages.”
I didn’t exactly know what he meant by “absorb the damages.” For me it was a completely novel way of looking at forgiveness. I had always thought forgiveness meant releasing my anger and desire for justice. I never thought about having to absorb the damages.
According to this definition, forgiveness means paying. You take on the punishment. You walk through the suffering. You pay the price that no one else is willing to pay. It is not just releasing a person from their debt. It involves accepting your own suffering. And this has certainly been my experience. Willingly or unwillingly, there have been times in my life that I have paid the price that no one else would pay.
Sanford’s explanation of forgiveness also helps me to understand the Cross on a deeper level. It’s easy to understand the mercy of a God who releases us from punishment. It’s much harder to comprehend why that same God had to suffer because of His choice to forgive. After all, He’s God. Why couldn’t He release us without suffering?
I have in fact heard people voice this very complaint, claiming that a violent, bloody cross was unnecessary for salvation. That if we, as humans, can “just decide” to forgive someone, then why wouldn’t the God of the universe be able to just decide to forgive us, too? He’s GOD. Can’t He just declare our debt null and void? Give us heaven free and clear?
I must confess, this postmodern recasting of God sounds really nice. It’s pleasant to the ears and inoffensive to the mind. But as I’ve processed through the ideas of mercy and forgiveness, the words of Timothy Sanford keep returning to me. They illuminate for me what the forgiveness of Jesus really means.
It is most certainly true that God wanted to forgive, so He decided to forgive. But in order to forgive, someone was going to have to pay the price. And in this case, the Person who paid the price was God Himself.
The “I can just decide to forgive” narrative works better with people we actually care about. When we are in relationship with someone, it is much easier to pay the price, to release the debt, and to forgive. The process is more akin to overlooking than releasing. So we delude ourselves into thinking that forgiveness means “just deciding” to forgive, apart from anyone’s suffering.
But I don’t want to worship a god made in my own image, a god whose ideas of justice and forgiveness are modeled after my own.
Forgiveness, whether it is God’s or ours, always means absorbing the damages. When we humans “just decide” to forgive someone here on earth, it is never a simple act of the will the way I’ve heard some describe it. There is always suffering involved. We suffer at the hands of another and choose not to repay evil for evil. Forgiveness means accepting that suffering. There is always a cost to forgiveness.
And that is the role of Jesus in our lives. The truth is, the cross is offensive. It is violent. It is God himself paying the price of our wrongdoing. Taking on the pain of our sin — a pain so massive we have a hard time comprehending it. Such a hard time comprehending it, in fact, that we are sometimes tempted to wave it all away.
But forgiveness is never free. The cost can’t be waved away. The forgiver always pays. Forgiving means acknowledging that there was pain and suffering and that nothing the perpetrator will ever do could ever make it right. The Forgiver Himself has to make it right.
Linking up with Velvet Ashes.
I was talking with a friend recently when the subject of fear came up – specifically, nighttime fears. And all of a sudden I remembered the nameless, faceless fears of my early twenties. These were the fears that were irrational and nonspecific, feelings more than words. I didn’t always know what I was afraid of, I just knew I was afraid and couldn’t sleep.
Back then, all I knew to do was to sing the name of Jesus, over and over again, until I fell asleep. I had a few songs on repeat in my head. Later I would sing those same songs over my babies as I rocked them. This practice became so much a part of who I was that I didn’t consciously think about it as a weapon for fighting fear until I was in the middle of this recent conversation.
As we were talking, my friend said, “It’s like singing yourself a lullaby. We sing lullabies over our children, why wouldn’t we sing them over ourselves?” That was such a great description of the practice. So I’m going to share with you my lullabies. They’re calming to me but may not do anything for you. However, I think it’ll give you a starting point to find (or remember) your own evening songs.
The first and main song is one we used to sing in college with our friends. This version sounds fairly close to the way we used to sing together. I used to sing the “Jesus” chorus over and over to myself till I calmed down and fell asleep. There’s something so powerful about lifting your eyes up, away from your problems and even away from petitions for help, and focusing on the name of JESUS.
Here’s another one that helped me, though I can’t find any music for it anywhere. It was written by a lady in our Church of Christ circles who sang in a group called Free Indeed:
“Lord give me peace,
I’m feeling all alone,
calm my spirit,
still my mind,
fill my heart with peace.”
It had a really simple melody that I learned one Saturday morning from my youth minister’s wife. She used it when she needed peace and patience as a mama of young children; I used it at night when I couldn’t sleep.
And this last one might seem kind of strange, so bear with me. In middle school choir we sang a song set to words that had been scrawled on a cellar wall during WWII’s Holocaust:
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God, even when He is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying ‘Hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.'”
The melody and the lyrics are both haunting, and the song has stayed with me all these years. It gives me comfort – though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s when I’m in the dark, alone and afraid, that I need its message most. And it represents the undaunted faith I want to pass on to my children.
I was only 12 when I first learned the song, so I couldn’t understand the full soul-depth of its cries, but I remember watching people in the audience weep as we performed it. Now I know why they were crying. They were living in – or had lived in – a world where the sun wasn’t shining, a world where God was silent, a world where it seemed no one was there. Yet they still wanted to believe.
The version below is the closest I could find to the song I learned:
These days, I rely more on the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” for peace and calm. Many years ago in a ladies’ Bible class I listened to one woman talk about how her mentor had taught her to center herself with the “Doxology” when she felt anxious. (Did you catch that? That was a long stream of women passing on wisdom that I’m now passing on to you.) So now in times of stress, I tend to fall back on:
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”
“Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World without end
If you’ve never sung to yourself at night, I hope this post gives you a new weapon for fighting fear and anxiety. The songs that speak to you in the middle of the night may be different from the ones that speak to me, but I pray you can find your own nighttime lullabies and start singing yourself to sleep.
If you already sing away your nighttime fears, consider blessing someone else by sharing your own songs in the comments.
I’ve been stumbling around for weeks now, gathering my identity from the things other people might say about me. I’ve been scooping it up from my deepest fears of failure, harvesting it from my ripening field of inadequacies. But you know the thing is, I know better than this. I know better than to do this; yet I did it anyway. I listened to the voice of darkness, that screeching voice of lack inside my own head, and I flagrantly disregarded the bounty of Jesus and the abundance of His love.
I didn’t know where to begin again. I knew I’d misplaced my identity, but I was scared to approach God with my missteps of belief and doubt. How could I lose that precious gift of identity in Christ, after searching so long and so hard to find it before?? But one day last week I finally worked up the courage to ask God what He thinks of me. Sincerely expecting a reply, I ventured a quiet and tentative, “God, who do you say I am?” And Jesus, mysterious Son of Man that He is, simply and immediately asked back, “Who do you say I AM?”
“Who do YOU say I AM???”
Not an answer did the Promised One provide; merely, like so many instances in the Gospels, another question. Who do I say Jesus is?? Because maybe that’s where I went wrong, forgetting who Jesus is. Because maybe I don’t have to ask so many questions about myself, if I know the answer to the question about Jesus. And maybe I don’t have to get lost in my own dark, dangerous head, if I can get lost in the majesty and glory of the Creator, of the Redeemer, of the Comforter, of the Trinity.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a legitimate question to ask “Who does God say I am?” But now I know it’s just as legitimate to be asked by Him — as Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples — “Who do you say I AM?” Because maybe, just maybe, that’s the question that can transfer my focus from Self onto Savior. And maybe, just maybe, the moment I answer that question is the moment the clouds will start to lift.
Turns out, the way up out of the pit isn’t to believe in myself better, it’s to believe in Someone Better. For as Peter answered, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and HIS identity alone is what holds sway over the clinging darkness.
Linking up with Velvet Ashes
Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today, with a poem of hope and comfort for anyone who’s waiting on something.
You in the waiting,
And yes, me too —
For we are all waiting for something —
You in the waiting,
This much I know:
There are no shortcuts to healing.
There are no shortcuts to wholeness.
For we can’t know God as Healer without first being wounded.
And we can’t know God as guide without first being lost.
We can’t know Him as counselor without first being confused.
And we can’t know Him as comforter without first sustaining pain.
We can’t know Him as intimate companion without first feeling abandoned.
And we can’t find our identity in Christ alone without first losing it elsewhere.
You can finish reading here.
They were unclean and unwell, with oozing sores and wounded hearts.
He touched them anyway.
They were dirty and uncouth, sinners all.
He ate with them anyway.
They disbelieved, decried, and occasionally denied.
He loved them anyway.
He knew that nine out of ten wouldn’t say thanks for his regenerative gift.
He healed them anyway.
The tax man and fisherman weren’t looking for a revolution, or a teacher.
He called them anyway.
The rebel man was looking for revolution and a leader, but the wrong kind.
He called him anyway.
They were religious and in charge, with Abraham their father and Law their protector.
He challenged them anyway.
They were cruel and foreign, warrior oppressors gambling for his last shred of dignity.
He forgave them anyway.
They locked his corpse behind stone and guard and seal, ensuring that death and darkness held their catch.
He rose anyway.
Christ is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed!