On God, Family, and Grief: The Great Divorce #10

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 ESV) 

When stripped of all context and understanding of the gospel, this verse is quite challenging. Through the eyes of sin and self-centeredness, this verse is downright offensive. And yet this is the call of Christ upon the life of any would-be disciple. At the start of Chapter 11, Lewis plays out the consequences of this particular verse and passage in the form of a conversation between Pam, a Ghost, and Reginald, her Bright-Spirit brother.

 

“the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.” (Reginald) 

Each and every Ghost seems to come to this country with a particular agenda. Each is looking for something from God, and none seem to be looking for God. Each comes with a complaint or an issue, some grudge against God for the events of their earthly lives. And in a fit of fantastic irony, they now want something from the God with whom they stand at odds. This is the case with Pam, whose son was taken from her sooner than she would have designed.

In self-centeredness, Pam is only able to see her own suffering & loss, and she completely fails to grasp the fact that God, too, has suffered. God suffered as humanity, the pinnacle of his creative work, chose sin and death over his glorious presence. God then suffered even further as his own son paid the ultimate price in order to bring redemption. Pam’s vision of God’s suffering, though, is blinded by her own. And that is the point of these conversations – each Bright Spirit is tasked with lifting the gaze of a sinner (even a suffering sinner) from the despair of humanity to the glory of God.

 

“no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.” (Reginald) 

 

It’s amazing how a gaze fixed upon God through the cross of Christ can comfort grief, enhance joy, and provide eternal perspective. This is not to say that grief is not real and substantial. But feelings wrapped up in the flesh are but a trap if God’s hands are not on the reins. Pam was consumed by her grief without a focal point to define suffering. Christians will suffer, as will all until the curse of sin is completely removed. The encouragement of the Lord, though, is that suffering need not consume and define our existence if we have a buoy to grasp in the midst of tragedy.

 

“[the past] was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with sorrow. It was Egyptian – like embalming a dead body.” (Reginald) 

 

The beauty of the cross is the grace-enabled ability to reorient the viewpoint of the broken heart from the past to the future. Embalming is a strange practice when you think about it. Preserving death to make it seem alive. Or, by definition, to forestall decomposition. It is the art of keeping something which has died from looking as though it has died. It is the choice to live in the past. Our Ghost had chosen a future that was entirely oriented around the past. Again, and I can’t say this enough, I do not wish to minimize very real pain, but rather to say that there is a hope and a future which lifts our souls from the suffering of the world. To view the past from the present with a heart for our future – in Christ – is to have an eternal perspective. To be satisfied in such a view is to want God for his own sake, trusting his goodness with the details.

 

“I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.” (Reginald) 

 

Looking back on Luke 14:26, I think of this quote. Loving God in Christ is not a matter of more or less. In other words, to love God over family is not simply to love God more than family. It is entirely possible to chase God in such a way as to abandon family, all the while claiming to love him more. This is backwards, for the Scriptures are also clear that adoration of God will enhance love for family.

To have a properly oriented view of the love of God is to love him first. As Lewis reveals in this chapter, such love is to want God for his own sake. From the love of God, then, every other love is strengthened as God takes hold of the reins. This does not mean the complete removal of pain, or even the complete perfection of love – not so long as the corruption and curse of sin remain. But it does mean a gaze heavenward to the cross of Christ, beholding his glory, his suffering, his redemption, and his promise. And it is a gospel-soaked, grace-infused fixation of the heart upon Jesus which will, all at once, reduce what we thought was real love on earth until it seems as hatred, and elevate that same love to a place of glory in the hands of God.

All we need is a little germ of desire to start the process.

Praise God that his grace is such a germ.

May it be so for you today.

 

 

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Getting Personal: The Great Divorce #4

 

jocund: (adj.) cheerful and lighthearted

 

I am quite skilled at personal conversation. Not the kind of conversation you’re imagining, though. I’m talking about the conversations that replay perpetually in my head, but never actually happen in real life. These are the conversations of conflict, the conversations of offense, the conversations of reconciliation. If I’ve known you long, chances are I’ve had one (or many?) of these imaginary conversations with you… and you never even knew it! When I summon the courage to let one of these conversations play out with another human being, reality usually works out to look nothing like the ornery world residing happily in my head.

There is an unpredictability to humanity that makes conversation interesting. Engaging people, beyond the mundane talk of the weather or traffic patterns, stands among the greatest adventures we, as people, can enjoin. Laughter, terror, wonder, frustration, agitation, resolution… all from shared words and misinterpreted body language.

 

“There are going to be affecting scenes” (The Writer)

 

The Writer seems very aware that the approach of the solid people, the bright people, means that things are about to get personal. These people move with intention, as though each has an assignment. He seems oblivious to the possibility, though, that one of the people might be coming for him. Reading the book slowly, I appreciate his naivete, which keeps us happily inside his interpretation of the events.

2539_giant_cedar_treeIn this chapter we see the Big Man’s conversation with a ghost of his past. This is the kind of encounter I play out in my head all the time. If only I could speak with this person or that person who did this or caused that. These are the conversations I tend to irrationally fear. I think that helped me press into chapter 4!

How interesting, as he faces “the ghost of his past,” that the Big Man is actually the ghost, while “the ghost” seems to have become very real! Lewis overturns our expectations as the passengers on the bus are now plainly referred to as ghosts and shadows, recognizing that this place is, in fact, the fullness of reality – and that the people and animals are to be envied for their ability to live in so solid a setting!

 

“Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything here is for the asking and nothing can be bought.” (Len)

 

Somehow, in this place, murder has been cleaned up. Death has been overturned. Self-centeredness has been redirected, though self-awareness seems to be complete. People have received the opposite of what they deserve, yet they have the opportunity – chasing these ghosts – to seek reconciliation for the evils of their past while pleading for a friendly future. Every last bit seems to be upside-down and backwards. The Big Ghost was certainly uncomfortable with the situation. Len (the solid/bright person) seemed quite comfortable.

I can understand the Big Ghost’s discomfort. As humans, we carry pain. To see a source of pain vindicated would certainly be strange. To be invited to spend forever and ever with a source of pain in friendliness would be even stranger. Imagine a source of pain pointing out your faults, even if in love. Imagine a source of pain providing the solution to a better eternity. No wonder he walked away, grumbling and whimpering at the same time. He faced an impossible choice.

Simply defined, grace is receiving something you do not deserve. In Christian-ese, grace is a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. This chapter reminded me of the truth that those who have received grace often seem perfectly comfortable with the concept, while those who have not seem to struggle. I believe the difficulty comes from seeing grace as an unjust outcome. After all, “letting go” of the wrongs and hurts of the past makes no sense because it is void of justice. Our hearts long for justice! Forgiveness involves absorbing the pain of loss. Humanity does not openly seek the absorption of pain. The Big Ghost wants justice. It was murder!

Ah, but what if justice has been satisfied in some other way, making grace a perfectly sensible gift? Then, I believe, we would speak of grace more like Len and less like the Big Ghost.

This is where the gospel of grace and justice speaks.

 

“I’d rather be damned than go along with you.” (the Big Ghost)

 

This hint of the good news falls on deaf ears. As he retreated to the bus, the Big Ghost boldly displays a human heart’s gut response to the gift of grace: I’m not bad enough to need it, and you’re not good enough to receive it.

 

 

 

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Scarlet Threads of Grace

More than forty men, yet one Author.

Sixty-six books, yet one Word.

Centuries old, yet speaking today.

Every once in a while, I get to follow a scarlet thread through the Scriptures that reminds me how our God teaches amidst His own incomprehensibility, leading me to the cross. In full disclosure, I was reading through a commentary with the text of Hebrews 7 this morning; so no, I didn’t spot this thread on my own. I’m thankful daily that there have been devoted folks who have gone before me to mine the precious gems of Scripture for my understanding.

“This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:22 ESV)

“I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever…” (Genesis 43:19 ESV)

“For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.'” (Genesis 44:32 ESV)

In the Genesis account, Joseph, once lost to his family but now sitting in a prominent position in Egypt unbeknownst to his own brothers, requests to see his younger brother Benjamin. Jacob was not pleased to send his youngest son having already lost Joseph. Judah stands in the gap to assure his father of Benjamin’s safety. I will be a pledge. Judah becomes a guarantor of the boy’s safety. He shoulders the responsibility of bringing his brother home.

Fast forward a couple thousand years to see Jesus, now standing as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The writer of Hebrews describes Him as the guarantor, the pledge of a better covenant. Through the text of Genesis, It’s as if we get a glimpse of the eternal conversation of the Father and the Son. Jesus stands in the gap, pledging Himself to be the eternal safeguard for undeserving sinners. I will bring them back. 

My heart jumps when I read this.

I love when my heart jumps as I read.

How does this filter into my everyday life?

“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 1:18 ESV)

These are the words of a man, saved by the gospel of grace, standing in the gap. Paul stands a guarantor for the debt of a brother. In a situation where, by all rights, Paul is owed the life of the creditor, he instead chooses to shoulder the liability of the debtor. This is Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in a sinner’s heart.

Only grace can motivate such love-soaked sacrifice clothed in godly purity.

Who in your periphery stands as a debtor? Who is lying down in defeat? Who needs a word of encouragement, the simplest of gifts, or even just the presence of a friend? Holy Spirit, open our eyes that we might see!

May we all be moved and maintained by the Surety of our safety, the Guarantor of the covenant that sets prisoners free, to stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters. May we do so boldly, risking our very selves, humbled first by the sacrifice He laid on our behalf, and second trusting that Jesus has pledged to bring home all those whom the Father has given Him.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40 ESV)