Arguing With Jesus
I have been having an ongoing argument at various times with Jesus over the past few days or so. I know, some may think this is not such a good idea, but I am coming to realize that Jesus is not offended by us talking back when it is done in a spirit of honesty and searching. There are examples of people in the Bible who got into it with God and He seemed to rather relish the interactions sometimes. This is part of my liberation from false fears about God getting angry that are melting away as the truth keeps warming up.
Anyway, back to the main point. I have been having some intense issues raising up inside of me over the past few months that have not been resolved or healed. I keep talking to God about these things and often feel very frustrated that I am not healing very fast. Maybe I am making incremental progress, I am not even sure about that at times. But I realize more and more that this intense issue inside of me holds the potential to destroy my life if it is not dealt with effectively. This is a very real threat that sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night.
I have been sensing Jesus making comments about this occasionally and when they come I immediately respond with my questions or simply acknowledge appreciation for the revelations. I realize too that my mind does not have to have all the logic in place before my healing can take place. But for too long I have been given religious platitudes that failed to be effective for real life problems and so I am always searching to know the reasons behind the explanations to see if they are authentic or if they are misleading even when they sound reasonable.
I have been trying to be as honest as I can with God about what is going on inside my heart when this issue surfaces. That in itself is rather frightening and I am fearful that I might go too far in getting real. But then I question where that fear is coming from, if it is not a residual of old tapes playing in my head from assumptions about God I received from well-meaning but confused people who mentored me. It often feels risky just being transparent even if it is in my head before God, but I have to remember what I am learning about how God feels about me and keep that as my context.
But the Spirit brought some interesting things to my attention several times recently and I feel I need to sit down here and seriously ponder them, to look deeper and see what related things may be connected to it. The first thing had to do with something Jesus said when He was here on earth.
And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:40 NRSV)
Now I have heard many of the typical explanations of this passage and am well aware of the context in which this verse fits. But when the Holy Spirit picks up a text and applies it directly to me in a slightly different context I think I better sit up and listen, even if I might complain that it doesn't fit just the way it was originally given. He pressed home some questions to me that I had to ponder and answer in a way that is beginning to open my eyes to things I had never thought about before.
Jesus confronted me and said, “Take a look at this word least and tell me in your context what that might mean for you.”
As I thought about it I realized that this word is a comparative word. As such it can easily mean something quite different from one person to the next. It has to do with the artificial value that we tend to place on people based on certain variables that are important to us personally. As such, if I am honest I will have to admit that the people in my estimation (my gut feelings mind you, not the conscious, public part of me) that are the least in my life, the ones that I value the least are the ones who have abused me the most, who have offended me, hurt me, taken advantage of me and abused their power and authority over my life. Very specific people came to my mind with some very intense emotions associated as I thought about this. But Jesus pressed the conversation even further.
“Those are the people you consider least aren't they? Those people who hurt you and enjoyed doing it are the ones you are feeling very bitter about and would like to get revenge on them if you could.”
I had to agree with Him. But the implications were quickly beginning to condense already in my mind. I could see where this might be heading and I was beginning to squirm already. But I have been asking for Him to help me become free of these feelings that are rooted so deeply that I cannot escape their power in my life. I want to cooperate, especially when Jesus shows up and is ready to talk about it. I certainly don't want to miss this opportunity because it doesn't happen as often as I would like it to in my experience.
Sure enough, He took me where I thought this was headed when He said to me,
“You know those intense feelings of anger, even hatred that you have deep inside toward those people?”
Of course I know those feelings. That is what I have been asking Him to free me from for quite awhile now. But what am I supposed to do with them? And what does this have to do with it?
I remembered the text about hatred as He reminded me of my true condition again.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
So, if You say so, then I am a murderer. Yes, You have forced me to admit that in the past and I am willing to do so. But then what? I know I need forgiveness and cleansing of this. If hatred in my heart makes me a murderer just as lust makes me an adulterer, what are You going to do to deliver me from all this sin in my heart? I can't just flip a switch and turn off the anger that still simmers deep in my subconscious regions toward these people who have wounded my spirit so harshly. I can try and repeat expressions and go through motions and say words of confession and make professions, but it is my heart that needs to get on board here and I know You want to do a thorough job and not leave my experience just in the shallow part of my conscious arena of living.
Then Jesus said something that I just had to dispute because it didn't make any sense to me and I need it to make sense or my heart can't wrap itself around it. Unless something makes sense for me, at least to some extent, then to just force myself to believe it will not work but will only make me feel like I am dodging the real issue with another religious platitude – and that doesn't cut the mustard for me.
Jesus said to me, “When you have those feelings toward those people you are angry at still, you are really feeling that way toward me.”
O.K. That is just going too far for my logical mind. I know the clichés about this, even if they are written in the Bible. I know, I know, If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
I have struggled to comprehend this verse many times in the past. It seems so much easier to love a God who has not done the despicable things to me that other people have done. Knowing a God who forgives my sins, heals my wounds, loves me unconditionally and wants to take me home to heaven to live in joy and love forever – that is a God that you would think would be easy for anyone to love. So why does this text have to go and link Him so intimately with the people that have initiated so much of the hatred in my life? Why does John insist that I don't really love God when it seems so real that He is the only one I can love? I just don't get this. And I told Jesus so quite emphatically every time He brought this up.
But He was not through with me on this yet. He had more to say to help make sense of this for me. I love that about Him. He is willing to come down and explain things many times as a way of drawing me in closer to His way of seeing things. So why is He telling me that I don't really love Him if I cannot let go of my bitterness, anger and even hatred against these other people who have hurt me? And even when I want to let go of it it is too deep for me to extricate from my heart on my own. So I feel very stuck and threatened by this inner cauldron of emotions that has potential to erupt like a violent volcano given the right circumstances.
But Jesus persists. “That hatred that you feel toward those people comes straight onto me. Remember that verse about one of the least of these? Those people in your mind are the least in your estimation, true? So the feelings that you have and the things that your secret imagination would like to do to them if you had the power and the chance are really directed at me quite literally.”
Now I am really puzzled and confused. How can Jesus say that I hate Him and want to get revenge on Him just because I feel anger and hatred toward someone who has treated me in a way totally opposite from how Jesus would every treat me? I still am not connecting the dots all the way somewhere along the line. Please explain this to me more clearly.
Yet what I seemed to hear was something even more strange. Jesus seemed to be inviting me to go ahead and take all of my anger and rage and resentment and evil desires and direct them straight at Him instead of those other people. Because of what He is telling me here He wants me to be honest enough to take out all my anger on Him in their place and not hold anything back. Now that is a very frightening proposition.
This evening as I was showering Jesus came again and continued this conversation. He began to put more pieces of the puzzle into place for me. “Remember what you have learned about the cross and what I did there?”
Oh yeah. That has a lot to do with forgiveness doesn't it. The standard answer that most people will give when asked what the cross means is that it provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins. Yes I have learned a great deal more about the differences between the two kinds of forgiveness that can be seen more clearly in the original languages. But the fact remains that the cross is the central exhibition that reveals to the universe the forgiving heart of the Godhead. All the blame stops there at the cross. Jesus took all the blame for all the sins I have or ever will commit whether I give them to Him or not. The cross is the way that Jesus earned to right in the eyes of all the universe to save sinners like me from death. Yes, I am somewhat familiar with the meaning of the cross though I am searching for much deeper insights.
But then Jesus immediately pressed it home for the punchline.
“Didn't I die for those people too? Didn't I take upon Myself the guilt of their sins just as much as I took yours upon me? Am I not just as eager to save those people who have hurt you so deeply as I am to save you? They are my children just as much as you are. Now do you begin to see what I am talking about? If I have taken on their sins, and I allowed those sins to kill me in order to save them as well as you, then I am identified with them whether they know about it yet or not just as you have been learning how much I want you to know I am identified with you. And since I have identified myself with them fully by taking their sins onto myself in order to be able to save them, then when you hate them you are in reality hating Me. Can you see that now?”
Oh boy. Yes I am beginning to see it now. I am not sure what that is supposed to do to me or how it fits into my getting free of this stiff lock on my heart, but I am at least seeing the big picture more clearly now.
What comes next? I'm not sure. This is a work in progress and this is where I find myself right now. But I do know that God is faithful and it's His responsibility to finish the healing, restoring process that He is doing in me. I am just observing what has happened so far and waiting to see what comes next myself.
Father, thank-you for caring about me even when You have to tell me that I am actually hating you and feeling bitter against you without even realizing it. My head can see the logic in what you have been telling me but my heart is waiting to grasp it at a much deeper, experiential level where it really makes the difference. You know how to talk to my heart, I don't. Please go in there and convince my heart of the things You have been revealing to my mind. I give You full permission to have Your way in my life, to do whatever it takes to save me and prepare me for Your unlimited use and for Your glory.