Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ruth's Secret Past

I was recently told that I am not a Ruth. Words don’t normally bother me, especially when they haven’t come out of animosity, but these remained in my mind because they labeled my core. The implication was that someone whose heart is bound to the Jewish people will have shown it by a physical change of location and language. The idea obviously mixes up a state of heart with a state of geography. Yet it has made me contemplate again, as I sit by my south-facing, sunny windows in Kansas City and not Jerusalem, Ruth’s long story . . . Who was she, and are we (who God has not yet sent over to the Middle East) anything like her?

The life of the woman we know as Ruth did not start on the day that she insisted on following Naomi to the promised land. Her marriage to Boaz the Jew was not her first marriage to a Jew. Her move to Bethlehem was not her first embrace of Israel’s God or Israel’s culture. Ruth’s famous, heart-wrenching cry, “Entreat me not to leave you!” was the result of a heart-knitting that had happened long before. For a decade past she had been joined to Israel in the most intimate of ways, although she was living in Moab.

For a decade she had belonged to the family—married.

The Bible’s description of her husband Mahlon is that he married Ruth and lived in Moab for ten years. In every translation the statements come in that order (the time-frame directly follows the marriage; it doesn’t precede it). The implication is very different than our old Sunday-school impression that Ruth hadn’t been married to him long, an impression we hold because she was beautiful, called ‘young’, and she had no children. (In reality, Ruth bore a layer of shame beyond being a Moabitess, a stranger, impoverished, and cursed by God with widowhood—she was also barren. She had been married for perhaps as long as a decade, and had not produced a child.)

We modern Christians think most of Ruth’s beautiful moment of declaration. We see the dust of the road and how she clung to Naomi instead of running back to her own mother. . .  But that moment wasn’t a turning point in her heart. 

It wasn’t her moment of decision; it is our moment of recognition. 

It’s the moment at which it becomes clear who was a sheep and who was a goat. The moment at which the outer layer of looks is stripped away, and the real love in the core of someone is displayed—are you Orpah, turning back to your old gods, or are you Ruth, truly and eternally married to the God of Israel?

Ruth was Ruth (and all that name encompasses) for the decade before she ever stepped foot into the Land itself – the decade in which she was a Jew’s wife and daughter-in-law, in which she was worshipping Yahweh, in which she truly loved her new family, and in which she had bound herself in heart and body to the Jewish people. That day on the road she simply showed the rest of us who she was inside.

The only reason Ruth ever entered Israel is because she had long before bound herself in marriage and love to the God of Israel and her new family. The entrance itself was not the binding. Out of the many believers who have loved the Jewish people with all their hearts, in all the ages and places of the world, Ruth was simply one of the few who was given the privilege of physically displaying it.

Can we perceive only the display -- the flashy, apparent moment she used the words we repeat in marriage ceremonies and then stepped across the Jordan? Or can we perceive the truth of a long love, a secret decade of devotion, a heart history that led her to easily take the dusty steps toward a place in history? In that road-side conversation you can tell Ruth had already loved Naomi for a very long time. I can tell you that those steps toward Bethlehem felt to her like simply the logical next ones -- they weren't spectacular and they weren't out of character. There was little difference between them and the steps she had been taking every day of the previous 10 years. (We think martyrs are strengthened in a moment, but they're actually the product of faithfulness. We think cultures are adopted in a cross-world move, but it's actually a movement of heart that began long before anyone else could see it.)

The real miracle of Ruth’s story is Boaz. This Jewish man saw – saw past the prejudices of his culture, saw past her Gentile genes. Saw – saw past the barrenness of her womb, saw past her stigma of being both childless and widowed. Saw – saw past the difficulties he and his children (if she bore any) would face in the life-long scandal of having an accent-laden outsider as a wife and mother.

And when he looked past those things, what did he see?

He saw into her heart, and discovered a woman who in spite of having lived her entire life in a different country was already knit to Israel, who had long ago married herself into the family and into the people, who already bore the image of the God of love and was demonstrating it by a faithfulness he may not have even seen in the natural daughters of Israel.

He saw that her state of heart had preexisted—and had made possible—her steadfastness during those moments on the road with Naomi.

She, of course, did not think so much of herself. She knew she was a foreigner, not even like one of his lowest servant-girls. She knew she had loved Yahweh from the moment she met Him and that she would give up her old surroundings to remain a part of His people, but she had no idea that she had become so virtuously beautiful because of it. In the true manner of virtuous women, Ruth wasn’t seeing herself; she was seeing Boaz—his character, his kindness, his sight—perhaps as clearly as he saw her.

So each regarded the other with incredulous surprise. While she was incredulous that he actually saw and valued her, an outsider, Boaz’s heart was so truly clear-sighted, he was incredulous that she would even consider him. Rightly incredulous. It’s a thing of beauty, this mutual incredulity. 

Without the other, neither Ruth nor Boaz would have their place in history or King David’s family line. Only their outrageous marriage brought either of them into the pages of the Bible. And that union only happened because each was able to see past the outside, into the heart of the other. Neither of their hearts were created by that moment of deciding to follow Naomi or that moment of deciding to ensure the young woman had enough barley to glean. No, their hearts were set a decade or more before, when they had individually bound themselves to God.

I’ve noticed multiple times in the last few years that certain ones of my friends and acquaintances have used the same particular word with me—when they have visited Israel, they say they have felt like it was their real “home.” They are right. The entire Christian population of the earth can’t all go live there at the moment, there isn’t room nor instructions from God to do so. 

But the fact that our bodies still live in Moab does not mean our hearts are not Ruth’s and our home is not Israel and we have not fully, irretrievably bound ourselves to the God of Israel and the people He loves.

No matter where you happen to be living at the moment or what languages you speak, do not be discouraged; the things He has done in your heart are real, as real as Ruth's unmentioned decade of love, and they will bear the same fruit as hers did. 

“Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Can Paris Be Comforted?

A friend recently commented that they could only go to Yad Vashem, the intense Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, every five years. My answer was, “Every ten!”  It wasn’t because I want time to dim the pain or because I want to avoid pain altogether, but because in my heart pain actually doesn’t dissipate — just as the reality of what happened will never disappear. It will be as fresh to me five years later as on the day I was trapped in crowds of teenagers on that zigzagging path through memories not mine, which are etched in my soul as if they are.

 Paris is reeling today; Israel feels tragedy often; Russia and Lebanon and Nigeria are suffering. In our world and in our history lessons and in our own private experiences, searing pain is rampant. 

Is it possible to ever truly recover? Is it even right? 

Some fear forgetting, but constant (or even periodic) reminders of a sorrow aren’t often necessary — because that pain inside us is from a reality that exists outside of us. The truth is, nothing can undo something that has already been done (not even time). Once the sword pierces a heart, the fact that a wound occurred can never be denied, even if it heals — that’s what a scar is. Only Superman, in the ultimate scene of furious love, was able to force the entire globe to spin backward until time reversed and his dead love, Lois Lane, was alive again. That’s not reality. And even Jesus has not promised to spin the Earth backward—back to Eden. Instead He looks forward, and talks of comfort. 

In one of the most lyrical and heartrending passages of Hebrew scripture, Rachel, weeping for her dead children, refuses to be comforted. 

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.  (Jer. 31) 

I understand her. Friends have at times prayed that I would be comforted, and I have found myself resisting — fighting their words and their wish. People seem to long for comfort to end pain; but time cannot go backward, things once done cannot be undone, and accepting dullness in place of the stinging ache is to become party to a lie — that it didn’t really matter. It did. The children are dead. 

Do you feel that “comfort” would be disingenuous — pretending that all is well, that a death never occurred? 

What is dead is not alive, and to feel otherwise about it would devalue that life and delegitimize the pain of its absence. Some who’ve lost a loved one feel startled and guilty when they find themselves enjoying the little pleasures of life again. We resonate with the exiled Israelites who stirred up their remembrance for centuries, terrified of slipping into complacence: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!”   

A few years ago a man described to me how through his own drug addiction he had lost the girl he loved. He talked of a night, before he found Jesus, that God supernaturally came to him. “I can’t explain it. The only thing I can say is that God somehow comforted me.” What had happened? What did God do? This man didn’t have words for it. I’ve often remembered his story and wondered. My heart aches when I think of him (who I barely know), middle-aged and still alone. If I am still saddened, how was he comforted? One thing is sure, it wasn’t something that time did. God did it in one night. 

Pain is tricky. Time does seem to dull it, even take it away. Then one small trigger brings it back as sharp and cutting as it was the day of. That’s when we realize what we thought was comfort didn’t change the past. That’s when we feel betrayed by our own heart, which disconnected and deadened but told us it “healed.” That’s why I have resisted the word comfort, feeling guilty all the while because I know God well enough to know that He likes the word — He even calls Himself by it. 

Why is God’s Spirit called Comforter, and what does He mean when He talks of comforting us? Isn’t comfort a disingenuous dulling, an invalidation of very valid pain, a dishonoring of the truth of the event (the Holocaust, the broken heart, the missing child)? Why would He, a good God, comfort us over something as terrible as millions of innocents unjustly and viciously killed, or 129 murdered in the City of Love? Why would a good God comfort a heart that was raped or pierced or betrayed? I want Him to fix it, not assuage me. 

God’s answer to Rachel is profoundly unexpected. When she refuses to be comforted, because the children are actually dead (“they are no more,” Jer. 31:15), He tells her two things. Two very illogical things. And because of these two things He instructs her to stop weeping and dry her tears (don’t try saying that to a grieving mother anytime soon). 
  •  your children are not dead (“they shall come back”)
  •  your work will be rewarded.
 Rachel had seen her descendents killed on the streets of Jerusalem, her people exiled in chains to Babylon to be a nation no more, and the baby Messiah’s playmates murdered in every Bethlehem home. They were definitely dead. Yet God turns her accurate physical perception on its head. He regards the situation according to His own true identity, the “God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9), and speaks of them as if they were not dead. 

Did He not notice the bodies? He did, but in His mind this is already a given: He has, and will, raise them from the dead.  Therefore, they are as good as alive. So much so that Rachel ought to stop weeping. 

I know this about God. I’ve seen Him raise the dead before. It is His second unreasonable reason for her to dry her tears that strikes me to my core: 

Your work will be rewarded. 

Validated.  My work.  Validated are all the tears (for perhaps they are tears of intercession, and are doing good and real work, even while I think I am simply mourning). Validated is all the effort I’ve put into believing in the face of disappointment, into hoping against hope, into working for the freedom and redemption of those who seem lost. Validated is the pain (for suddenly, pain and suffering are gathered under the umbrella of Jesus’ own suffering, a work of great importance which I’m participating in). Validated is the prayer (how much time we have poured into lifting both family and strangers before God for help). Validated is faith (which is sometimes all I have to offer, when I am helpless and strengthless and voiceless).

The hard work of tears, of believing, of pain, of faith . . . these are not all lost in the abyss of grief. These have been safely deposited into the hands of the God who raises the dead, and He will reward them. 

So it seems this is comfort            
God will reverse it (the dead will return)            
God will give me gifts (for laboring through it) 

Is this truly the nature of comfort?  A short look at the word, as used in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible, surprises. Job sums up his role during his prime of prosperity as a “king in the army, one who comforts mourners.” The entire passage (Job 29) describes the actions that receive that summation. He was: 
  . . . eyes to the blind
  . . . feet to the lame
  . . . a father to the poor 

  He . . . caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy      
        . . . broke the fangs of the wicked 

This is not an American description of comfort, which is more akin to the feeling we get when a fluffy goose-down blanket is lulling us to sleep. (Not that there is anything wrong with drifting to happy oblivion within a warm cuddle, but it doesn’t bring back the dead child or cause victory over Islamic terrorists.)

Lest you think I stretch the definition of to comfort as I connect it to kingly, restorative, enriching action, let’s look at the word: 
  • the dispelling of grief by the impartation of strength (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
  • to make strong; to invigorate; to fortify; to corroborate; to assist or help; to aid; to impart strength and hope to; to encourage; to relieve; to console; to cheer (Webster’s)
  • to call alongside of
 It is that last one which, in Greek, is the premier title of our most beloved and relied upon companion—the Holy Spirit of God.

Comforter.  Parakletos.  “One called alongside. Advocate. Paraclete.”  (John 14:16)  Comforter is actually the secondary, not primary, meaning. Helper encompasses it better. 

And this, dear hurting hearts, is where the power of God meets the tender needs of the human soul. When Jesus introduces us to the Holy Spirit, He calls him Parakletos, which means advocate, helper, strengthener, called to one’s side. I am deeply comforted by having a faithful companion who will never leave — but also immensely comforted by the truth that He has all power and He promises to use it to advocate on my behalf (like a lawyer), to defend me, to strengthen me, to restore to me everything that was lost, and to reward me for my work.

And so I discover that comfort, the very thing I have resisted and am uncertain how to give to others, means something entirely different than I thought. It means God will fix what shouldn’t have happened, reward me for my struggle, defend me against accusations, strengthen me, AND make me free from pain and anxiety. 

How? I can sort of see how a feeling from freedom from pain might come from the promise of reward, of a dead-raising-resolution, and of having the powerful God of all as my strengthener and constant advocate. But God doesn’t leave it up to those kingly actions to, simply as a matter of course, bind up my wounded feelings — no more than He leaves it up to time. 

He is much more intimate than that.  

Most beautifully, the “how” of a comforter is sweetly articulated in the subtext of the Hebrew word for comfort, nacham.
Nacham: weeping with one who weeps, sighing deeply with one who sighs.

Now I see it. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the amazing Father — not only seeing our pain and promising to fix the source (as men like to do), but coming beside me to weep as deeply over it as I am weeping.

He feels with us. 

My tender roommate was the first person this morning on the scene of a dramatic rollover. The one occupant, a teenage girl, was pulled out miraculously unscathed (a few scratches) but traumatized, and my roommate simply held this stranger — held and held and held her while the girl cried and cried. Later, my own roommate cried and cried over the girl’s pain. I told her that she had been Jesus’ emissary, doing what He does. 

Sometimes I accidentally teach myself things as I write. As I’ve been pondering comfort, a memory has pricked me of a scene I wrote some time ago for an unfinished novel. The protagonist is appealing to Jesus to comfort the heart of a man (T---) whose brother has died without salvation . . . 

     “What is it you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. He always knew. 

     “Lord, when M---- was lost, the only thing that comforted me was that your grief was deeper than mine.”

     He nodded, searching my eyes. “It is T---- you are concerned for.”

     “To be alone in grief, to be the one with the deepest grief—it is unbearable. Your own grief is the only real comfort.      Man of sorrows,” I whispered.

It is only when Jesus himself weeps our weepings (nacham), that those griefs are fully, validatingly, comprehensively experienced. I am not capable of feeling the depth, extent, and ramifications of even one of the deaths the families in Paris are suffering this week or the families in Israel have suffered these months. But each life is intrinsically worthy, each sorrow or loss or broken heart intrinsically valid. As our hearts and bodies scream that the loss of any person, or any innocence, is devastating and must be honored by being entirely felt, I discover that only God Himself has a heart capable of fully feeling a loss like that. Only God can mourn a life as it should be mourned. (My human frame cannot withstand the depth of that pain; my human mind cannot comprehend the extensive ramifications of a life now missing, or a heart broken, or a child abused.) Only God can feel the full pain of 6 million Holocaust victims, or 129 murdered Parisians, or one rape.

Only God has the capacity to know and grieve fully. 

Just as He is currently our comforter and intercessor, kneeling beside us and breathing intensely with deep sighing over the things we sigh over, experiencing the depth of grief that would physically ruin us to experience . . . there was one particular day that Jesus did the unimaginable, the epic, the never-to-be forgotten. 

He felt it while a human man. He did it when it would hurt Him most — when it would kill Him: 

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. 

(Isaiah 53:4)

Paris, grieve. Israel, grieve. Russia, grieve. Nigeria and Lebanon, grieve. Gentle hearts everywhere, grieve. Do not be ashamed that you cannot feel it fully or grieve it adequately. And do not be afraid to eventually come to a state of freedom from pain. Because, if you are willing to come to the Man and the Comforter, HE will grieve it fully for you. His comfort can be accepted, because it is part and parcel with His restoration, His rewards, His justice, and His promise to raise the dead. 

Our tragedies are fully grieved by a God strong enough to do it. Our hearts will be fully accompanied through them by a God who is crying as hard as we are. This is why we will be able to fully let them go, and receive our dead back alive again and receive our reward. All of this together is comfort.

[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

Receive the Comforter

Monday, August 03, 2015

What Does a Bride Want?

The church longs . . . but

What are we longing for?

The day of His appearing
The New Jerusalem
An end to all pain

… yes. But why is the church that longs described as the bride?  What does a bride long for?  True, she wants to be taken care of, be healthy, be provided for.  And true, she wants to be rescued from evil, if she is being abused.  So keeping our words on spiritual plains, we say the church longs for the end of persecution, the end of wickedness, the end of sorrow, the end of pain, the fulfillment of promises. And yes, these are all part of the longing.

But a true bride longs for something much simpler . . .

. . . and it’s right for us to identify this basic reason that God calls the church a bride. He’s a physical God, and He uses practical imagery. There are other words that describe what marriage means, so when He says bride, He’s actually saying something and it’s not as complicated as we think.  (We get all philosophical talking about covenant imagery and blood and Nascar – sorry, just threw that in to see if you were paying attention! Grin!).

Our culture is bleary-eyed with sex, and it messes with our understanding of the church as bride. People think “sex” when they think of weddings and receptions, when they think of love and relationships. Christians are occasionally more guilty of this than the world, for it’s more likely they haven’t been prematurely reveling in the sexual benefits of marriage. Though a healthy woman definitely desires sexual intimacy with the groom, the true core of her desire is altogether more eternal and transcendent.

A bride longs for unending communion and companionship with an OTHER who adores, and who she adores. 

That is what she wants.

So when God’s description of the church (men and women both) is bride, He is actually saying something deep about Himself, about our hearts, about our future relationship with Him, and about what our ultimate driving force truly is … to know and be known — it’s a two-sided exploration, a two-sided delight.

I stood at the women’s side of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, watching the sincerity and grief as ladies of every age leaned gently from their hips, pressing against the air toward the wall as if rocking, hiding their eyes in the pages of worn prayer books. Before them stood immovable, impenetrable, ton-sized stone, hewn several millennia ago, separating them from the Temple Mount where the presence of God had rested. And they cried, seeking God there, up against the rock.  But the Lord whispered to me, breaking and opening my heart at the same time,

“I want them inside.”

He desired their presence on the inside of that realm called kingdom and the heart of God. ...their presence with Him in the room where the Throne sits, not outside at the Wall. He desired them as individuals, as women, as His people, as heirs of His promises.

How they wept on the outside; how He desired they be on the inside. And between these two parties was the rock — impenetrable rock — made of something so simple and dissolvable it shocks: unbelief. 

The answer to the heaviest, most effective barrier of the world — the barrier actually between death and life — is like the answers to most of the barriers we encounter in life. The answer is light, simple, easy.


The most wounded woman or withdrawn man can be whole with as little effort as those women could have passed through the rock, into the Presence of God. Believe My love. The hardest things are the simplest.

What keeps us from that two-sided exploration of each other, that two-sided delight of bride and God?  (And by trickle-down effect, the possibility of two-sided delight in other men and women, for once a heart is opened by God’s love, it is open to others as well.) 

Believe His Love.

He calls us bride.  It’s not a positional word, it’s a relational one.  Long for Him freely – He wouldn’t use the word if He didn’t mean for us to be it.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Authentic Prayer -- Not Anticipating His Answers

Often I don’t pray in true helplessness.  I go to God, already having formed (in my mind or even in my felt expectations) the scenario of what and how He will answer.  It’s rare that I ask, not knowing the answer (or not thinking I know how I should be answered). 

Do this when you’re a student, and you’ll be recognized as a fool who thinks he knows everything.  Do this as an adult Christian, in your relationship with God, and your intimacy with Him will be disastrously stunted – for you aren’t actually trying to know and discover Him (the one who, like a husband, thinks differently and comes up with very different solutions than his wife would), you are simply superimposing your own views of who He should be and how He should act.  This is treating Him like a non-existent person…an entity in name only…not a living, breathing, delightfully other-than, independent Thinker. 

Why might I have a boring, boxed-in life?  Because I’m not willing to let Someone outside the limited scope of my box (my intelligence, my experience, my vision) make pathways for me that will go past the horizon of my sightline.  Why might I have boring, boxed-in prayer interactions with Him?  Maybe I’m acting like He doesn’t exist as a separate person with thoughts independent from me.

For the first ­­six months of an infant’s life, they are not aware that their mother is a separate person from themselves.  I may be thirty-five years old in the Lord, but am I still acting like a five-month-old infant when I pray? 

Once we realize how different other people are from ourselves, they're fascinating.  There are certain people I love to listen to (my siblings for example, or my teachers)--incredibly intelligent people, with worlds inside them I don't have.  We each have lived whole lives, in whole realms, outside of any other's experience.  I may not have been a missionary in Kazakstan, but if I listen well, I get to experience…I get to almost live in…the riches of all that has been deposited in my friend while HE was a missionary in Kazakstan.  As soon as I realize how richly different from me each one is, I suddenly become heir to every land and life in the world.  Only close-minded self-preoccupation can keep me locked in the poverty of my own personal and thus limited intelligence, experience, vision, understanding, wisdom… 

I also may not be God (actually, I'm most definitely and happily not).  What an invitation I have to enter the world of His thoughts, His sight, His experiences, His wisdom…  Only close-minded self-preoccupation can keep me out of that exhilarating wealth.  

Praying is relating.  Relate to Him, not to yourself.  Ask, talk, and then listen.  Listen, and be ready for a conversation that might surprise you.  He’s difficult to anticipate, our delightfully-different-than-me God!

Call to me and I will answer you,

and will tell you great and 

hidden things 

that you have not known.

Jeremiah 33:3

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Love Transcends

Only love does things that are impossible.  It alters what was unalterable.  It resolves every riddle and repairs the irretrievably broken.  Knowledge, prophecy, philanthropy, passion … they won't last.  But as my sister so eloquently texted me today:

- love transcends
Not in a rosy way
But it does

Everything of lasting good comes from love.  And love, when you get down to its core, is always between two actual people (often, one of them is God :)). It's not between two nations; not between two people groups; not between a person and an ideal, or a person and a place.  Real love is personal, because LOVE HIMSELF is a person.

Other motivations for good works put up good fronts and seem to have good results, but their fruit and their power will eventually fade (or rot). [1 Cor. 13:1-3] 

I was stunned when I read this morning that the High and Lofty One, who inhabits eternity, said "I dwell in the high and holy place, WITH him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

Who but Love Himself would take sinners (sorry ones) up to dwell in His high and holy place, so that He can revive their hearts and spirits?  He's not afraid we'll soil His pretty temple, or sin again in His holy place.  He's concerned to heal and comfort us, because He knows our fragility.  And its not just about being present with us, for He didn't just come to where we were (though He did do that) -- He's brought us to His high home to do the healing and reviving.  [Isaiah 57:15]

No "sane" human would do this.  Even a mother calls to the muddy child to stay outside on the doorstep, until she can rush to him with a damp cloth and shoe-removing hands. And she is the most loving of us all. 

Who but Love would carry me into His home, His land, without concern for himself or the mess I might make?  Love transcends—it is beyond reason and it overcomes every objection.  It is selfless, and it is powerful.

I realized tonight that of the very few men I've ever been seriously interested in, all had one thing in common.  Marriage to any of them would have necessitated, at some point, moving to a foreign country, learning a new language, and entering a second culture. 

This is rather shocking – I’m not an adventurer.  (Or maybe I am more than I think!)  There are perhaps practical explanations for this – I was always a fish-out-of-water, growing up.   Tall, white, intellectual … raised in the inner city.  I never fully “belonged”, except within the family unit and my relationship with Jesus.  So the in-between feeling of a whole new culture wouldn’t be all that strange to me.  But that’s not the real explanation for my willingness to embark on such life-altering, hazardous journeys. 

I know how to count the cost.  But I also know a few things about love. 

Song of Solomon says that a man could give all the wealth of his house to gain love, and it would be utterly despised.  But once he has gained love, once he loves, he will rightly give everything he has because of it.  God even gave His son. 

I couldn’t ever give my life in order to gain love, but I would give my life because of love.  The two are vastly different.  (Here is a most helpful analogy for understanding faith and works, by the way.) 

I know that my sister was correct:  love transcends.  It transcends the cost and it transcends the objections.  This is why I am willing for love to come with cost.  The value of the love will be greater than the value of the cost.  I know it would be that way in my “little story”, because it has already been proven through my part in His Great Story.  Love has already transcended all reason in the way God relates to me – He pulls me into His house, while I am still a potential liability, with an indisputable record of sin.  Why?  Because in His love He wants to revive me, and that’s greater to Him than the price He will pay for having me there.  And I have courage to go in, even when I know I’m a potential liability and completely unworthy…because I know that in the end His love will have (and already has—hooray for the cross!) transcended every objection to my presence in His home and my place at His table. 

This is the Great Story that overarches all other stories.  It defines our lives, and has determined our eternities.  May I live this Great Story in my little story -- the Love that never fails, never ends, and transcends all else. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Esther and the Black Swan

One of the things I love most about Esther's heart is this…on the night she was sent to the king, "she asked for nothing except what Hegai, the king's eunuch, advised."  Where is the pride, where is the greed, where is the human trust (confidence) in one's own beauty and strength?  Our heroines today are smart, capable, and prepared for all possibilities.  They think on their feet and creatively apply their knowledge and experience to the problem at hand—eventually gaining mastery over it.  Heroism often consists of the bravery to creatively utilize and deploy resources (be they intellectual or physical) in the face of fear.  

Never, ever, do they step back and say: “I don’t know what to do here.  Will you, who I consider wiser, please make the choice for me?”  That, we all know, is not the definition of a hero.

But this Esther—she trusted one who was wiser than she, believing that he knew what would best please that king.  It's this kind of trust we exercise when we lay down our own self-lives in favor of what the Holy Spirit says (even when, and particularly when, laying it down means real felt-loss).  And it's this sort of trust that paves the way for Him to place us in positions of power (not only does it make the opportunity, it makes us the sort who could handle that power well).  And it's only this sort of trust that creates a woman who will fling her life into God's hands and abandon herself, when the stakes are so high, and everything she’s gained is on the line. 

I had forgotten today was Purim when my thoughts slipped to Esther this afternoon.  In fact, I had spent the last hour learning about Nassim Taleb’s concept of “antifragility” and wondering what God thought; was there scriptural basis for the idea that the best way to live is to benefit from stresses and chaos, rather than to just be resilient to them (which he calls being “robust”) or negatively impacted (which he calls “fragile”)?  That we need these stresses, in order to fully live?  And if he was on to something true, what was the full truth?  Even if extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive, he is limited to the scope of human sight.  What does Divine sight see? 

It seemed there is scriptural precedent.  This came to mind immediately: For our light affliction, [referring, ironically, to our bodies being abused and dying!] which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,”  (2 Cor. 4)

That doesn't imply just surviving, but gaining.  How is it possible to actually gain from the “Black Swans” of history (unexpected and unprecedented events that change history) and the tragedies of life?  (Or, for that matter, from the smaller "tribulations" that history wouldn't call Black Swans, but that definitely rock our personal worlds!  Esther endured more of these than many of us ever will.)

Businessmen reviewing Taleb’s book pointed out one great flaw: it’s great philosophy, but how?  How were they to practically implement the concept of “antifragile” into their businesses and economics?  You can’t just become antifragile by wanting to.  You can’t just turn affliction into glory by wanting it.   

What is the how in the equation?  Esther answered me. 

Trust.  Humility and trust in someone outside herself made it possible for her to turn the worst genocidal event of her lifetime into one of the greatest deliverances ever.  The road to that victory was paved with small-scale personal-sized “Black Swans” of Taleb’s definition (improbable and unpredictable events), the “trials and tribulations” of ours, and it ended in a great upset (ethnically and economically) for that nation.  A great Black Swan.  How Esther responded each step along the way—with trust—is what defined the outcome of her predicament.  Her life has become the story of an unlikely girl who rescued an entire nation, rather than a helpless girl who endured the injustice of human-trafficking.  (After all, that’s how the first chapter of her story plays out—snatched from the possibility of a real life, to populate a pagan man’s sexual harem.)  And it was trust that made the practical difference.

That scripture I mentioned above—it doesn’t stop where I ended it.  It also gives a how:

“…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”

Anyone who’s ever done a trust fall will make the connection.  Looking at things you can’t see is technically impossible.  It takes faith.  It takes trust.  It IS trust.

Celebrating Esther and the great deliverance today with all my Jewish friends!  And may God use our trust to perform miracle after miracle in the coming days--to make us not just resilient, but anti-fragile, thriving in the middle of the world's chaos, and using every Black Swan we encounter (for we will encounter them) to display God's glory.