Thursday, June 7, 2007
HONEY FROM DEAD LIONS
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go for the day is breaking.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go, unless you bless me...' And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place 'The face of God', ... 'for I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been preserved.'
We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
Yet it was the Lord's good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. But when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again and God's programme shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be accounted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Blows and bruises tell for good; they go deep into the very soul.
But I have this treasure (i.e. this shining light) in a mere earthen jar, to show that its amazing power belongs to God and not to me. I am hard pressed on every side, but never cut off: perplexed, but not driven to despair; routed, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; never free from the danger of being put to death like Jesus, so that in my body the life of Jesus may also be seen. For every day I live, I am being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be visible in my mortal nature.
For us it is plain justice; we are paying the price for our misdeeds; but this man has done nothing wrong... Jesus, remember me...
(Genesis 32:24-26, 29-30, RSV; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, RSV; Isaiah 53:10-11, LB; Proverbs 20:30, Moffatt; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, Goodspeed; Luke 23:41-42, NEB)
We wrestle, in our service for God, with the failures we have in changing people. We know that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, that our contribution, though it take every part of us, is a modest one. Yet our hearts are hungry for such a valued seal of God's approval. Looking within, our hearts show that we are not much changed, either. This compounds our dissatisfaction. So much that we know sits on us cumbrously like Saul's armour.
In God's economy, self-knowledge comes mostly through adversity. When we fall and break the pretty image we have of ourselves, we see through to God. The process is usually a lengthy one, even though the failure, shame, collapse and dismay may seem to come in a matter of a few days, or a few hours. We experience something like the desolation of Jeremiah when fair Zion was 'eaten by uglies'. People who imagined that we were immune, impregnable, incorruptible are saddened -- though some may breathe more freely. In our darkness, in our brokenness we taste the bitterness of being wholly wrong, only to find the consolation of God's love at a deeper level. We have become one of the poor and learn that we are blessed: When Christians become poor, they acquire a new respect for the poor everywhere. They begin to perceive people as they are: lost, dismayed, flawed, much as they see themselves to have been -- but also loved by the same patient, waiting Father. They learn not to make judgments upon other people's wretchedness, but to look within to the creatureliness that is God's handiwork. And, having themselves found hope in darkness, sweetness in the taste of defeat, joy in being wholly in the wrong with God, they become hopeful for others, for all the others whom God sends to cross their path.
The poor are with us, everywhere -- sent by God in all the images of their plight. They become neighbours. ('Neighhours are nearby and far away. ') They may appear as intruders upon our contented domesticity, with their silent cry that they too are human, creatures of God, who have known the joy of family. The sacred indignity of their dying puts us in their debt. They have claims on our caring, upon the churches' and nations' resources and the whole family of man. In them does not God seek to make another breaking of our self-image, as persons and as communities of the Spirit? We are those who are caught up in a worldwide movement of living well upon the poverty of the poor. We look often to the crucified, for pardon and orientation; so are we to look upon the poor.
But 'tis the poor who make the loving words.
Slowly they stoop; it is a sacrament:
The poor can feed the birds.
The feat of love, the love that is the cure
For all indignities -- it reigns, it calls,
It chains us to the pure.
Shaw Neilson, 'The Poor Can Feed the Birds'
At some point early in his life Watchman had learned the lesson of 'brokenness', whereby the Christian, being once touched by God as to his own strength and permanently crippled there (as was Jacob at Jabbok) discovers in that experience the ever new strength of God.
Angus Kinnear commenting on Watchman Nee's life in Against the Tide
The ease with which the Adversary wounded Jacob makes us suspect that he could have won the struggle at any time. The meaning of the encounter was to change and test Jacob, not to destroy him. The wound Jacob received is the mark a person carries who encounters spiritual reality as deeply as did Jacob... The experience is indelible and changes us forever. It becomes like a wound, constantly reminding us of the spiritual reality we have known...
John A. Sanford, The Man who wrestled with God
The cross is the one totally realistic dialogue between the man God made us and the man we make ourselves.
Sebastian Moore, The Crucified is No Stranger
We shall always be learners, but at some point we shall learn that fundamental lesson, after which nothing can be the same again. There is now no way of not being a cripple. From that point begins a knowledge of God beyond anything we have ever dreamed... To what are we consecrated?. Not to Christian work, but to the will of God, to be and to do whatever he pleases.
Watchman Nee, Against the Tide
While the Saviour of the world is moaning 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?.' -- at the same time the thief is preaching by the Saviour's side, as becomes a preacher, first and foremost to his own edification... 'It is as a guilty man I suffer'.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Gospel of Sufferings
The greater the grief the greater the creative energy to which it gives rise. I am sure that is so in my own case. (Since my wife's death seven years ago) I am nearer to those who suffer and I understand them better.
Paul Tournier, Creative Suffering
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But I am betroth'd unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
John Donne, Holy Sonnet 14
When a man before God always suffers as a guilty one (Luke 23:41) then at every moment, no matter what may happen, it is guaranteed that God is love, or to be more precise, at every moment he is prevented from entering into doubt, by the sense of guilt asserting itself upon him...
The thought that God is love holds within itself all joy.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Gospel of Sufferings
Father, I have many things in my past life to be embarrassed about, to be ashamed of. And perhaps tomorrow... I fed myself on egotism and folly and I mixed it with religion. To give to others I preached the cross yet wished desperately to live, to succeed in the esteem of others, my peers. But now, Father, now that your blessing has come to me in the struggling darkness, I know the light. You are without shadow!
Father, I observe that now it is easier to be with people, it is very often a joy, this labour of loving. I'm pleased and grateful to be hopeful for them and encouraging to them. So much bread comes back! I feel I belong to them -- though it sounds grand to say it -- to this whole human race, especially those you send across my path and heart. You have certainly blessed my way with many angels, threatening to make me richer than I could have understood. Because I've been thus humbled I have to pray: keep me in that place, take me along the road of your choosing. You have my full permission, even though I'm occasionally surprised that you take me so literally and respond so speedily.
Thank you for the gifts of all the Christian women and men I know. Prosper them. Thank you that we may do something for the poor whose gift it is often to be so generous as to make us appear unspontaneous, calculating, Bless all those who encourage others, who serve the poor. Blessed are the poor in spirit...
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only the first in my heart;
high King of heaven my treasure thou art.
High King of heaven, after victory won,
may I reach heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's sun;
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, 0 ruler of all.
(Irish, about eighth century)
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 218-223