Grief and Intimacy - Part I

It has been a long time since I posted anything.  Much of my attention this spring was focused on the Wittenberg gathering.  We are back from Germany and I hope to write more about the meeting soon.  Until then I will do something unprecedented on this blog - I will post the teaching Thomas and I gave in three parts.

Part I

Sisters and brothers, I will tell you a mystery.  The God who created the Universe, the Holy and Righteous One, the Eternal One who dwells in inaccessible light – this God is a Lover with strong emotions.  He lives in an eternal, joyful communion of love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And the love of this Holy Trinity is creative, expansive - burning both to give and receive more love.   So God created men.  He formed us in His image – with emotions, intellect, and will. He kindled our life with His own breath. And He did this because He longs to share our love, as a Bridegroom longs for a Bride.

This mystery is too deep to fathom. It feels daring, even dangerous to believe. Yet I know this love is the deepest desire of my own heart.  I know there is nothing short of this union with God which will ever satisfy. And more objectively, I  must believe it to be true because scripture is full of this theme of a longing Lover.

Moses tell us - It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery. (Deut. 7:7)

Isaiah writes – For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
(Is. 54:5)

John the Apostle says…For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…

John the Baptist tells his disciples-  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29)

And Jesus Himself says -  Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may see My glory. (John 17:24)

Now here is another mystery.  Love makes one vulnerable.  Love makes even the Father of all vulnerable to rejection, to misunderstanding, to pain. Israel’s idolatry hurt the Father's heart.  God grieved over Israel. Over and over again, the Old Testament prophets lament Israel as a harlot who has abandoned the Husband who loves her.  And over and over again, through the prophets, God expresses his grief over Israel.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (
Is. 1:21)

Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
    or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me
    days without number.
(Jer. 2:32)

I remember the devotion of your youth,
    your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
    in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,…. “What wrong did your fathers find in me
    that they went far from me,

and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? (Jer. 2:2,3,5)

These are painful words - the words of a God whose love has made Him vulnerable. 

Certainly God understands our weakness. He knew from the beginning what His love would cost Him.  Behold the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world!   For the joy set before Jesus endured the cross. But in order to enter into full intimacy with God, we must understand His emotions.  We must grieve when He grieves and rejoices when He rejoices.  This is the glorious intimacy into which we are invited – the intimacy of friendship.

Imagine the relationship between a husband and a wife.  What if the wife is unfaithful? If the husband still loves her, as God still loves us, then he will take her back.  But how must she respond if she loves her husband and wants to repair the marriage?  Should she not feel grieved over her sin?  If she is not grieved, how can the two be lovers again?  How can they share their hearts, if the wife refuses to feel the husband’s pain?

Sorrow for our sins is the first step to repentance and repentance is the first step toward reconciliation. Our sorrow moves God’s heart.  He is full of mercy, longing to show us grace. But we cannot experience grace and mercy if we are not grieved over our sin.

Repentance is the key to finding intimacy with God.  And if we have sinned against our brothers, repentance is necessary to restore intimacy with them.  Repentance is more than grief, of course. It is a change of action, of mind and heart.  True repentance is a gift of grace - a gift of divine intervention. But sorrow is a catalyst to pray for that grace, and a motivator to keep our feet from straying again. Godly sorrow also opens the heart of the one who is offended, allowing them to forgive and experience grace.

But what if the source of grief is not a personal matter?  What if we are not the ones directly responsible for the sin which grieves God’s heart? In these Wittenberg gatherings we spend a lot of time looking at the sins of the Church, at the tragedies of our shared history.  While we all have said, done, and thought things which contribute to division among the people of God, none of us is personally responsible for the major divisions, schisms and hostility we have inherited. So why do we spend so much time in these meetings looking backwards?

The answer is that we are part of a bigger story. And if we love God, we must care about His story, about His pain, about His hopes and desires.  That is how we enter into the intimacy He so desires– to share His emotions.

Through Jesus the Church has been called into the bridal relationship which God wanted from the beginning.  The Church is born out of the love story which began with God and Israel.  It has been grafted in. And if you look at Christian history, you see that followers of Jesus have also been unfaithful to God – through greed, through immorality, through oppression of their neighbors, through disbelief and hatred, through division. That sin continues to play out between brothers, to resurface in our story, until it is acknowledged and grieved.

If we want deep intimacy with God, and this intimacy with the Trinity is our only hope for unity among ourselves, then we need to learn to move with God’s emotions.  We need to look at history the way He looks at history.  We become friends of God when we grieve with Him over the things which grieve His heart and rejoice over the things which make Him rejoice.  And when we enjoy this unity with God, we are in the position Jesus prays for in John 17, to love one another the way the Father loves the Son.

This is how unity among the brothers will be achieved – not by our own striving. Unity happens when we are swept up into the heart of God, when we experience His love in its fullness – the love which makes us vulnerable, the love which sometimes brings us to grief.