Sunday, April 18, 2010

God in Our Image

Sometimes I begin a seminar by having the group close their eyes and answer the question, ‘Have you ever heard the whisper, I am not?’ Without my even asking, hands go up. Sometimes people raise both hands. There is always a gasp or two, and nervous laughter. Then I ask, ‘I am not what...? Instinctively people answer the question with one word. As they answer I write it down on the board. Here is a list from a recent conference.

I am not... welcome, not perfect, not good enough, not loved, not lovable, not understood, not deserving, not the one, not satisfied, not acceptable, not special, not certain, not appreciated, not there yet, not important, not smart enough, not worthy, not fast enough, not safe, not liked, not included, not anything, not fulfilled, not respected, not valuable, not it, not happy, not free, not forgiven, not able, not tall enough, not pretty enough, not strong, not healed, not supported, not saved, not wanted, not special, not adequate.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all carry the burden of this whisper, and it is a burden, a ‘yoke grievous to be borne’ to borrow a great phrase my Professor, J. B. Torrance. It debilitates and poisons our lives. It can be scary to look honestly at our own ‘I am nots,’ or the family of them that have taken root in our souls. Two things will happen for sure. First, you will be shocked at how much of your time, energy and life have been dedicated to managing this burdensome yoke, and how it has shaped your perception of yourself and others, and your relationships or lack of them. But, as Paul Fitzgerald of Heartconnexion ministries says, ‘what is not acknowledge cannot be healed.’ And if is not healed, it is influencing.

Second, you will be liberated. When we look at ourselves and face our ‘I am nots’ a wonderful thing happens. We experience the sheer acceptance of the Father, Son and Spirit. It’s almost funny. For we all know that the Lord knows us inside and out anyway, but we have a way of not thinking about his awareness of us, and our lives. But an honest look at ourselves makes us vulnerable to Papa’s love. That is as beautiful as it is ironic. Our ‘I am nots’ make us fear exposure and thus judgment. This is the trick of the father of lies. But what actually happens when we get honest is that we have nowhere to go. And when you have nowhere to go you become keenly aware of where you are—known, loved, accepted and delighted in by Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit. You may even hear another whisper, this one laced with divine delight and humor, “Well, duh! And... You didn’t think we knew that?” We have been loved and accepted our whole lives, but not in our minds. And that is the problem.

John Calvin said that our minds are a perpetual factory of idols. The beautiful news of our inclusion in Jesus’ relationship with his Father and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit is too good to believe. How could I be so loved, so embraced, so accepted? It can’t be.

At somewhere around this point in the seminar I have the group close their eyes again and ask another question. ‘What is God like?’ Answers come quickly and usually with considerable passion. Here is a list of the answers.

Holy, Judgmental, Indifferent, Powerful, Mean, Removed, Love, Distant, Legalistic, Uncaring, Impersonal, in Two Minds, Unsafe, Unapproachable, Angry, Gracious, Loving, Harsh, Abusive

With a list like this you would think I was speaking in a prison, but I wasn’t. This list, or one very similar to it has cropped up time and again in my travels around the world. It appears to be universal. Never once has the word Trinity been said, or the word relational—except, of course, by people who had been through the seminar before.

Here is another question. ‘Do you notice a similarity between the two lists?’ At this moment in the seminar there is dead silence, usually followed by something akin to a corporate gasp, and then head shaking and laughter. The way we think of God is the fruit of our ‘I am nots.’ It is called projection. While the Bible tells us that God created us in his own image, the truth is we have created god in ours. We hear the whisper, ‘I am not...’ believe it, project its pain into heaven and create a corresponding god, who then confirms our ‘I am not...’ Without even knowing it we tar the face of Jesus’ Papa with the brush of own wrongly perceived ‘notness.’ It is a hermeneutical nightmare, which ruins life, poisons freedom, and destroys relationships. With a god like this how could anyone face their ‘I am nots,’ or even acknowledge that anything is wrong?

The whole quagmire is rooted in a lie, and knowing the truth is its undoing. Jesus shares his own ‘I Am’ with us. He always has and always will. And he does so in the deep places. It is Jesus’ own I Am—I am the beloved Son of the Father, I am anointed with the Holy Spirit, I am wanted, welcomed, loved, known, cared for, safe, a thrill to my Father’s heart, I am acceptable, important, worthy, good, and full of joy—that he puts within our hearts. And the Holy Spirit works to help us hear it and to take baby steps of faith that it is true, steps against our own judgment or mindset. As we do, we begin to know that we are known, accepted, loved and delighted in, and we have freedom to look honestly at ourselves. We begin to see Jesus’ Papa with Jesus’ eyes. Then comes more freedom to be honest. In time our ‘I am nots’ are erased by Jesus’ great ‘I ams.’ And Jesus’ own life and peace and joy and freedom with his Father and the Holy Spirit begin to express themselves in us, in the way we see ourselves and others, in our relationships, work and play. It is, as Paul Young says, ‘an incremental process.’ And it produces life. Such is the kingdom of the Triune God. Thank you, Holy Spirit. We will have more please.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

I just read an essay on Jesus “absorbing the wrath of God” on the cross. It almost made me throw up. With such ease and passion and not a little patronizing the writer split Jesus’ Father into two different persons, and then ripped the Father-Son relationship apart, apparently without even knowing it, or caring. What madness. I suppose the Holy Spirit just stood there dazed wondering whose side he was supposed to join. There is something sinister about the need to have the Father vent his rage upon his own Son. And even more so when one then tries to call such an act “glorious grace.” But punishment is not forgiveness, and murder is not grace, and Jesus did not suffer the wrath of his Father, and the Holy Spirit was not torn between two lovers.

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” (MT 20:18-19)

It was the human race—not the Father—who condemned his Son. We cursed him. We poured our scorn, our wrath, our rage upon Jesus. We murdered him. And Jesus deliberately submitted himself to us and to our bizarre wrongheadedness. He bore our wrath. He suffered our enmity and died in the arms of our scorn. And he was not alone. His Father and the Holy Spirit were with him. And that is just the point. In the murder of Jesus the life of the Father, Son and Spirit found its way into our greatest sin—and overcame it. The cross is not about Jesus being forsaken by his Father; it is about the Father’s Son incarnate and the One anointed in the Holy Spirit submitting himself to the darkness of the human race, and thereby establishing a relationship with us as gross sinners. In the genius of the blessed Trinity our rejection and murder of Jesus were turned into the ultimate act of acceptance and embrace. In the murder of Jesus the blessed Trinity was “absorbing the wrath of the human race,” thereby forming oneness with us in our sin, and including us in Jesus’ relationship with his Father in the Holy Spirit. That is glorious grace, and forgiveness, and atonement, and real reconciliation, and love, and holiness, and right relationship, and mercy, and judgment.

Thank you Father, Son and Spirit for loving us beyond our wildest dreams.