by Linda Rex
What do you do when everything that matters to you in your life shatters and falls into pieces at your feet?
Sometimes I think that until we have this experience in our lives, we are only playing at living. Because it is in these situations that we find out who we really are in the core of our beings and what it is we really believe about ourselves, God and each other. Marshall Shelley in his book writes:
“It’s doubtful that God can use any man greatly until he’s hurt him deeply,” said A. W. Tozer. In weakness, God’s strength can be revealed. Joseph was jailed, David driven into hiding, Paul imprisoned, and Christ crucified, but even in defeat, God’s servants are not destroyed. Part of the miracle of grace is that broken vessels can be made whole, with even more capacity than before.
In my life I went through a personal experience where someone I believed in and trusted completely betrayed me and rejected me. It was shattering. Here is a poem I wrote that expresses the reality of how I felt as a result of this experience:
The bloody aftermath of choices–
Broken hearts and broken dreams,
Cascading through the pages of our lives
You wander on,
Oblivious to the bodies of the crushed
How can you be so cold,
Oh, for the light!
Spit in the face
Of the grace that was given!
Ravage the hearts
Of those left behind!
One day you will pay
The cost of the pain.
Grace or no grace,
Truth will descend
And justice, justice will stand!
© Linda A. Rex, 2002
Published in “The Best Poems & Poets of 2002”, Watermark Press
Is it possible that God’s grace and justice are one and the same? When we are wounded in this way, we want God to make things right. We want justice. We want the one who has hurt us to pay in some way. We want everything to be fixed and put back together again. Or at least have the pain taken away and be able to live a normal life. It’s not fair, we think, that we have to go through this—whether or not we deserve it.
I have come to see that our perception of our loss and suffering can drive how we respond to it. Since the beginning of time, we as humans have focused on trying to resolve the problem of discerning between what is good and what is evil rather than simply eating the fruit of God’s life. We did and still do this by creating rules and laws, and by punishing misbehavior and exacting penance for sin. But the one thing we’ve never been able to swallow it seems is the bitter pill of God’s sovereignty.
We don’t seem to realize that what we really need in every circumstance is what God has offered us from the beginning—his grace. God’s love is the basis for all of his dealings with us. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that God has dished out a whole lot more grace or undeserved pardon, generosity and goodness than any of us deserve.
And we as humans handed God in Jesus everything but grace—we poured out on him every consequence, deserved or undeserved, in his crucifixion. We exacted full “justice” on Jesus. Yet God took it on the chin and responded by using or shall we say, intended from the beginning to use, Jesus’ life, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension as the means of our salvation and transformation. And through Jesus God connected all of humanity with himself forever.
In reflection, I can now say that as painful and devastating as my experience was, and in spite of the years and effort—blood, sweat and tears—it took to recover, I am deeply grateful for the experience. For God used it to transform me and to change my life. He began to do something incredible and new in my life—some things I never could have ever imagined even happening. But only because I did not run away from him, but rather ran towards him in the midst of my pain and struggle.
Even though at the time, my desire may have been that justice be done, now I see that God’s way of handling it was much better. His grace was exactly what was needed in the situation. In Jesus, justice is and will be done—God’s going to make everything right in the end. In the meantime, though, it is his grace that has carried me through and used these circumstances, the pain and suffering, to accomplish something beautiful and life-giving. And my efforts to express and participate in God’s grace in the midst of it all have been rewarded as well.
So, strange as it may seem, justice and grace are odd companions, but they are well suited for one another when they meet in the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. And via the Holy Spirit, they can and do meet together in us as we surrender to the sovereignty of God in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances. And they produce beautiful, life-giving fruit—spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. And that’s what really matters in the end.
Holy God, it is in difficult and painful times that we have a hard time understanding why things are so unjust. We don’t understand why you allow what you allow and why you do the things you do. Thank you for your grace and love—grant that we may have the grace to trust you and to surrender to your sovereign will in everything. We can only do this through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Co 4:7–11
By Linda Rex
Now that I actually do have cable TV in my house, the other day I was flipping through channels futilely trying to find something I wanted to watch. I happened upon a preacher and his wife who were diligently informing their listeners of the imminence of Jesus’ coming and they pointed to several current events, including the current cycle of “blood moons” as proof of their prediction.
Naturally I flashed back to my earlier years which were filled with “World Tomorrow” broadcasts and sermons about the tribulation coming soon! At that point, my finger hit the up key and I was looking at the next crazy option on the menu (which wasn’t much better).
Later this week I was talking with a sincere, Bible-believing Christian who is on fire for Jesus, and I found myself once again in that place. The end is near! We’ve got to get ready! We must be prepared or we won’t escape disaster! We’ve got to do something now!
Now, I respect these people’s desire to love and serve God, and their sincere belief that Christ is coming soon and that they’ve got to get everyone ready so they don’t miss out. But I am just as concerned that they do not realize how much they are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expectantly waited for a messiah to come and rescue them from their oppressors and restore to them their kingdom. They so anticipated a conquering deliverer and majestic savior that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he did come.
Sure, John was down at the river baptizing everyone and telling them to get their act together in preparation for his coming. But even he became so unsure of Jesus that after a while he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3).
John the Baptizer, whom Jesus described as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and was the Elijah to come, (Luke 1:17, 76) had forgotten the lesson of Elijah: God doesn’t always speak to us or rescue us in big and powerful ways. No, he prefers the opposite. Thomas F. Torrance describes it eloquently, I believe:
Recall the contrast between Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, dejected and dispirited because the events of history after Mount Carmel have not taken the course he had hoped. God had certainly vindicated Elijah’s faith, and the prophets of Baal had been overthrown, but the tyrant forces of evil were still in control defying God’s sovereignty. Then Elijah is taught a supreme lesson on Mount Horeb. He is shown a terrific display of violence in wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in the wind, or earthquake or fire. After the fire there came a still small voice and immediately Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle: that was the violence of God. It is still the same story with John the Baptist. He expected the events of history after the baptism of Jesus to take quite a different course. He expected as Messiah a mighty deliverer coming in judgement and bringing upheaval and violence, who would redeem Israel from the New Testament Ahab and Jezebel, Herod and Herodias, and restore to God his sovereignty over his people. But instead of all that, he saw the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick…Like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God had become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury….
Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgment: on the contrary he continued it, and … he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgment….In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his very intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.1
I do realize that the creeds tell us that one day Jesus Christ will return in power and glory. And on that day we will become most truly who we are in him and will shine like the sun. But I think we need to reconsider exactly what Jesus is going to do when he comes.
Will he start striking down all the evil people and evil governments? Will he start killing people right and left? Too often this has been the description I have heard of what Jesus is going to do when he returns.
Wouldn’t a greater, more violent attack upon evil be to just make it irrelevant? To so fill the world and universe with light and goodness that darkness has nowhere to go except away? To so expose the reality of human hearts that they can no longer pretend or hide behind apparent goodness and kindness but by God’s grace become what they truly always were meant to be?
Yes, I wonder.
I think that it is interesting how through the centuries since Jesus died and was resurrected we have continued to see Torrance’s “inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil.” Even though Jesus is present in the world today by the Holy Spirit, we still see the forces of evil and humanity defying the sovereignty of God.
But at the same time, we witness daily, if we look closely, “the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick.” When we actively participate in the ministry Jesus is doing in the world, even now we participate in the kingdom of God. As we actively participate in what God in Jesus through the Spirit is doing and we actually live in relationship with God in Christ led by and filled with the Spirit of God moment by moment, the tyranny of evil and inhumanity of man is being violently overthrown in our hearts and lives and in the hearts and the lives of others every day.
It is in this divine ministry through human instruments that once again we see and experience the “violence” of God at work in our world. And all of this is in anticipation of the fullness of his kingdom at Jesus’ return in glory. In my view, this is what we need to be focusing on.
Dear Jesus, please give us eyes to see and ears to hear who you really are! Father, please take away all that blinds us to your great love for us. Thank you for allowing us to participate each day in your violent work of redemption. Let all we think, say and do be a pure reflection of your light in Jesus by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’” Matthew 11:2–3
1. Torrance, Thomas F., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ”, Walker, Robert T. ed. Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press, 2008). Pages 149-150.