Christianity: The Personal Pattern
The Gospel: Wounds Heal Wounds
In our country's last war, now forgotten and denied like a bad dream, I had the occasion to endure a year amidst the suffering and carnage. "Home" was taken from-me by the impersonal and cruel hand of bureaucracy. During that time, I was able often to recover from the sight of the ruins and the heaviness of heart that came by nightfall by sending my imagination off on a journey. I would recall the peaceful town of Columbus, Mississippi with the brethren standing outside the church building talking about hunting or the harvest. Smiles and handshakes and a quiet, "Good evening, brother Jeff" would greet me as I approached. In the eye of my mind it would be so.
But, after about six months I had a curious experience. On R & R in Hawaii, I met almost the very experience I had so long imagined. But the longed-for peace would not come to my heart. I felt ostracized and the idyllic scene was tormenting rather than tranquilizing.
Within five days, I was back amidst the horror and the people whose faces bore the ruines of our shared anguish. Strangely, I felt more at home. These understood what I was going through, because they were suffering it themselves. There was a kinship that could not be shared with those who did not know. The brethren "back home" did not understand. To them I was a somewhat disquieting apparition from another, far removed world. There is nothing more comforting than to have people who understand us. Just a glance, a knowing nod means so much from one who has shared the same pain. When ? person is hard pressed by dread and terror, then home and fulfillment and the people who are fortunate and have everything these suddenly become alien.
The Isolation of Living
It is in our isolation and hopelessness that God really touches the lives of his saints through His Son Jesus. In our presentation of the Gospel to the world and to those who have need in the church, we sometimes make the wrong approach. What is the good of all the usual religious froth we see in the materialistic cultism so many preach? What do these pious sentimentalities actually accomplish:
To some, Christianity is merely a pattern of teaching, or the organization and function of the church, some great Bible doctrines, or the social amenities and prestige to be found in being well thought of by the brethren. All these things are necessary, but actually constitute only a part. It is form that is adjunct to the substance of the gospel. Beside the form, the personality and character as a personal standard for the Christian stands but as a shadow, a far-removed pious figure that does not really touch our life.
What is love that no longer emanates from immediate contact with Him who "is" love, but lives in us only as a kind of memory, a mere distinct echo? In some men's speech they reduce this shadow to a grotesque caricature: "Have joy in your heart! Wake to face each new day with sunshine in your soul!" It is pathetic to see the yearning that these expressions betray, but at the same time it is quite foolish to put them in the form of an imperative. How can I possibly go about getting sun into my heart? Obviously there can be sunshine in my soul only if the sun shines upon me, and then the brightness of my heart is a reflection of it. But how can I "produce" the sun?
Such imperatives reflect the sad longing of people who have lost the real thing and sorely feel the deep need that must be filled. Knowing that something is gone they try to effect a "synthetic" sun which can fill the void; "I love Jesus" bumper stickers, One Way signs, religious trinkets, symbolism, distinctive clothing, peculiar systems, fame, popularity, publishing endless books, and many other things represent this effort to create something from within that will fill the void they feel. Leaders of the materialistic religion offer nothing to those in need, and produce only disillusionment in those who listen to them.
What good then is all the religious talk which is directed everywhere but to the need of man? What difference does it make to speak to me of the identity of the church as a doctrinal matter, the history of the Bible, or various doctrines which do not touch my life or living in any way. What use are these things to me if I am repining in loneliness, my conscience is tormenting me, if anxiety is strangling me? What good is a omniscient, omnipotent, eternal King to me, a poor wretch, a heap of misery, for whom nobody cares, for whom life has become an existence of pain, someone stared at in public but never seen?
The "loving Father above the starry skies" is up there in some monumental headquarters while I sit somewhere on this trash heap, living in a walk-up or a mansion, working at a stupid job that gives me the miseries or at an executive's desk which is armored with two anterooms. Most go their way, read their papers or turn on the T.V. and vegetate, for what does a "message" mean that is not good news to me in any way?
But, if someone says "There is someone who knows you, someone who grieves for you when you go your own way, and it cost Him cruelly to be the star to whom you can look, the spring from which you can drink and never thirst, the staff upon which you can lean and never fall," then that is something I can listen to and be touched by.
Jesus is not the pastel colored picture man's sentimentality has turned him into. Neither is he the intellectual exercise to be found in college courses on Biblical literature and hermeneutics. It was not the warm, cute creche of Christmas card scenes that Jesus was born into. Mary brought forth her manchild in pain with the smell of the barnyard sharp in the air. The child was shoved off into a stable by man's indifference. His parents were forced to flee, and went out upon the road as refugees to a strange land to escape the bloody hands of a despotic politician who murdered little babies to get to Him. Then came the lifelong hostility of men; the child always remained, even after he grew up, a fugitive. His heart trembled under the impact of all the temptations and fears that shake us too. And finally, his life ended as it began. He was shoved out of the world by greedy, selfish, mean men. He died on a cross in shame and humiliation. His friends deserted Him and denied having ever known Him. It was not a "grand old cross" - it was a cruel gallows, the symbol of our sin and its cost. The Man who loved without measure, suffered without measure as He saw men rushing headlong into senseless destruction - they had no use for Him.
Mine Iniquities Are Over My Head
Man needs God's words of comfort and hope. It is not in man to deal with the hurt and failure of life by himself (Psa. 38:2-22). But, the Gospel calls us to a different kind of life, for when Christ suffered for us, he left us a pattern, and we must follow in His footsteps. He did no wrong, nor was there ever any treachery upon His lips. Yet, when He was insulted He offered no insult in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, rather He left His cause in the hands of the righteous Judge. He carried the burden of our sins with Him to the cross, that we might be able to cease to live for sin, and instead live for righteousness. It was by His wounds that our wounds are healed.
God's message is alive and full of power. It cuts through the hardest armor unlike any honed steel in this universe, striking through to the dividing line of even soul and spirit, to the innermost intimacies of a man's being. The Word handled rightly is capable of exposing the very thoughts and motives of a man's heart. No being created can escape God's view, but lies bare and helpless before the eyes of Him to whom we must explain all that we have done.
We do not have one that takes our side who is incapable of being touched by how we feel, because He has shared the flesh and the experience with us. Every pain that is common to man, He has endured, yet never with sin.
We can therefore be bold, coming with courage to God's throne that we might receive mercy for our failures. All this because He died for us. One who would give His very life for me will not deny me anything I need which was of lesser worth. We can find His strength to help us when we need it. He knows and understands, and is no stranger to our suffering. He loves me and He gave Himself for me. That is "good news" - The Gospel indeed!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 29, pp. 474-475