The already, not yet state of the Kingdom fascinates me. The concept puts a bit of divine reason behind some of my vacillating emotions and experiences. The kingdom is breaking into our reality but it is not yet fully here. I am straddling the line between my rebirth and my original sin. We have been given a foretaste, a sampling before the banquet feast, and although we will be there soon enjoying the bountiful meal, that doesn’t take away the very real hunger that we experience now.
We are all searching. Grasping for a purpose, a reason to be here. We chase it. We try to create it. We spend our lives reaching for something greater, whether we know it or not. At least I do, and I think a lot of the rest of us are too.
The high and mighty preacher who revels in the pulpit spotlight is reaching.
The twenty-something who lives for Friday nights on the town is reaching.
The politician who pushes their agenda is reaching.
The stay-at-home parent who runs PTO and brings snacks to every soccer game is reaching.
The volunteer. The artist. The professor. The executive.
We are all reaching for the sense that we matter, that we are in control, that we are known, that we are loved and worthy.
Basic Christian teaching tells us that Jesus reached down for us, and when he wraps us up in his being, we can stop reaching for significance and meaning and validation because he provides it. I know this. I’ve known this since before I can remember. The knowledge is part of my worldview, but I’m not sure if it is yet part of my being.
Our natural state is fear, and I fall into it so easily. I feel that fear of pain and failure and rejection, all rooted in the fear of being unknown and unloved. And I start grasping – trying to prove to myself that I am worthy. I perform and push and perfect until I fall flat in failure and face that I am through and through human. Stuck in this in-between of “chaos and confusion”, tasting what is true and good but not fully able to embrace the fullness of that space.
I’ve been reading a book called The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, and it is truly introducing me to a Jesus that I have not yet known. Again, I’ve been taught since I was a little girl that Jesus was fully God and fully man, a concept that is impossible to grasp but one that I embraced as true even though I didn’t understand its implications.
I would like to say that I understand the divine part of Jesus’ nature since I certainly do not think I understand his humanity, but I think that while we can easily understand the concept that Jesus was fully God, we cannot understand what the incarnation means about God’s character until we understand what it meant that Jesus was human, what it meant that he came down to straddle the line with us (and better than us) between heaven and earth.
One of my favorite bands is OneRepublic, and right now, I have their album Oh My My on repeat. During my morning and evening commutes and while I’m working at my desk and when I go for runs on the canal, good old Ryan Tedder is serenading me with some pretty profound lyrics.
One of their songs “Human” particularly grips me. Ryan sings:
Yesterday I talked to God, we had a conversation
Told him that I’m sorry I lost communication
But I just, I just needed some holiness
I said that the things that I’ve been trying end up in frustration
Life ain’t what it seems in any situation
Then he said, he said the strangest thing
He said, how does it feel to be human?
Do some of the best plans you make get ruined?
Do people curse you and flowers ain’t blooming?
How does it feel?
He said, how does it feel to be human?
If I could for one day I just might do it
Dance till the sun comes up to my music
How does it feel?
How’s it feel?
They cry is clear: God, do you know what we are going through? Do you know what we are facing? You have asked much of us, do you know how impossible it is to follow? Your rules are divine, but our reality is often gritty and disappointing, do you know how it feels to be human?
I have said as much in many late night laments. I have yelled at my ceiling and at my steering wheel and at the pavement, DO YOU ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH.
Do you actually know, and do you actually care. Is it really fair that you ask this of me and hand me this lot when I am helpless and hurting.
And the crazy crazy CRAZY thing, is that he does.
Some commonly cited examples of Jesus’ humanity are very physical in nature. We know that he ate, drank and slept. We know that he cried and smiled. We know this body operated like ours does, growing from childhood and shifting into manhood and decaying with age. But what gives my heart courage for each step of my life is that Jesus’ humanity encompasses the mental and emotional.
Jesus was familiar with feelings of longing, sorrow, and fear. He wept out of grief and anguish. He became so angry that he overturned tables in the temple. He experienced the rush of joy that comes from being right in the Father’s will: when people chose to leave their lives and follow him into the kingdom and when sick people were healed in faith and when great crowds were captured by the goodness of God portrayed in parable. He also experienced great fear of the Father’s will: when His life hung in the balance and the promise of great pain and rejection waited just on the other side of dawn.
John 11:1-44 details the death of a man named Lazarus, one of Jesus’ dearest friends. Jesus hears that Lazarus is very ill, but Lazarus passes away before Jesus can get to him. When Jesus first arrives in Bethany where Lazarus is buried, he encounters one of Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha, and they have the following encounter in verses 21-23:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Here is the hope! Martha calls upon Jesus divine power and intimate relationship with the Father, saying she knows he could bring Lazarus back if he wanted to. And Jesus says that he will! He could not be more clear: Your brother will rise again.
Yet, less than 10 verses later, Jesus speaks with Lazarus’ other sister, Mary, and even though he just declared that Lazarus will live again, Jesus experiences true grief, not only at Lazarus’ passing, but at the pain that it has caused his community. Read verses 32-35:
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
Jesus was moved and troubled and he wept at Lazarus’ death even though he would be walking again in a matter of minutes. Jesus did not scoff at the limited perspective or the unnecessary angst of Lazarus’ family and friends. His heart was grieved by their grief. His spirit was troubled by their trouble.
Standing before a tomb stinking of death gave a portent of what lay before him in this damned – literally damned – world. That his own death would also end in resurrection did not reduce the fear or the pain… Lazarus’s story, seen in full cycle, gives not only a preview of Jesus’ future but also a compressed view of the entire planet. All of us live our days in the in-between time, the interval of chaos and confusion between Lazarus’s death and reappearance. Although such a time may be temporary, and may pale in insignificance alongside the glorious future that awaits us, right now it is all we know, and that is enough to bring tears to our eyes – enough to bring tears to Jesus’ eyes.
This is the in-between we live in. This is the right now that we know. This is what it means to be human – caught between two worlds that create a hopeful but harsh reality that we struggle though daily. And Jesus knows how it feels.
I love Ryan Tedder’s Human, and I’m still going to belt it out in the shower, but the cool thing is that I know my God isn’t asking those questions. He knows what its like to dance to music and to have plans go differently than he would have hoped for and to be cursed by the people he loves most. He is well acquainted with loss and pain and struggle. He knows that redemption is coming, that all our tears will dry and all our pain will cease, but he weeps with us in the meantime.
Friends, I’m frustrated with God about a lot of things right now. I’ve discussed it in previous posts, but the long and short of it is that life is just really shredding the way I have come to value myself in this world. I have no idea what I want my life to be about. I know I’m not happy with my present circumstances, and I start to panic when I think that maybe this is it. Maybe this is what life really is. Maybe I’ve been living in a sheltered delusion my whole life about what work and community and church and calling is supposed to look like. Maybe those hopes just aren’t grounded in reality, and I just need to put on my pencil skirt and get back to it.
I have some really great people in my life who help me filter and sanity check the above thoughts (praise God for them), and remind me that this is a season and that dreams are worth chasing and that God put certain desires in my heart for a reason. But in a season where my tribe is spread far and wide, I have to do a lot of solo soul searching about what He is doing in this interesting time of life.
I have very few solid answers to my questions of calling and direction, but there is one thing I have become certain of: not only does he sympathize with my pain, he actually feels it. He doesn’t look upon my angsty, first world situation with furrowed brows and thin lips. He weeps as I do because he knows what its like to beg God for a season to end. He knows how hard it is to lay down his arms and say “thy will be done” when everything in his flesh screams to defend and run and fix. He knows the cost of faithfulness. He knows the reward, but he also knows the cost.
Lazarus was in the ground for four days before Jesus showed up in Bethany. Four days. That’s a long time to grieve, to mourn, to hurt. Jesus was going to heal, but the Jewish community did not know they would walk with Lazarus again for four whole days.
We experience a lot of longing during our lives. We lose people, jobs, dreams, stability, health, and we do a lot of waiting to see what will come of that loss. We also do a lot of stuffing. Running and hiding from that pain because its crushing and our flesh tells us that denial and filling our lives with more will lessen the blow. But I think that the fact that our God became human in Jesus changes everything, and the story of Lazarus gives us permission to be fully human because:
- Lazarus community pressed full force into grief. They dove into the emotion and expressed their strife.
- Martha and Mary grieved AND believed. They did not deny that they had lost their brother, but they sent word to Jesus and declared their faith in his healing power.
- They got to see Jesus weep. They got to see that the Lord of the heavens and the earth (who knew the healing was coming!) was so attuned with his humanity and their experience that he wept with them.
- Lazarus was raised for the glory of God!!
So whatever you are longing for, whatever you are grieving: let’s press in. Let’s be real and let’s let the hard of life be just plain old hard. And even so, let us hold fast to faith knowing that the season might be long (four days of death) and the outcome might not be the new life we envision, but Jesus is on the move. Let’s believe that he gets it – fully and completely. Let’s remember that he wept with us and for us – not just over our sin nature, but over our daily struggle and strife.
Let’s hold fast to the holy truth that he was human.