15-9 Grieving for others
We must watch out for the tendency to think that because a man has dug a hole and then fallen into it, well, that’s his problem. But we have all done this, hopelessly so. We only have ourselves to blame. And yet God has rushed to us in Christ. He was grieved for the affliction of Israel, even though it was purely due to their own sin and wilful rebellion (2 Kings 14:26). If a man has fallen into his own hole, well he is still there and needs help, however he got there.
One of the brethren I have most reason to respect is John Thomas, but he wrote some words which seem to me to have been misused: " Do what is right; be valiant for the Truth; teach it without compromise, and all lovers of the Truth will approve you. For all others you need not care a rush" . This has led to the position whereby we merely state propositional truth, in intellectual purity, and wait for the approbation of others for having stated it. And, we ignore anyone else who doesn’t see our point at the time; indeed, we even despise them. We don’t care for them any more. But this approach has led to ecclesias dying out, rather than men and women being won for Christ. For all those who do not instantly approve our message, within or without the brotherhood, we must care; we must think more deeply and sensitively how we might win them. We must try again, and again, and again, searching for the lost sheep until we find it. Their rejection of the message ought to pain us at the very core and heart of our beings. Jer. 13:17 records a private soliloquy of Jeremiah: “But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride”. He would hide away and weep for them, and nobody would ever know. His grief was to be deeply personal (“my soul shall weep”) and unperceived by others (“in secret places”). And I challenge us, each one: have we ever done this, or even come near it, in our frustration with those who reject our message? Jeremiah wept. He didn’t “…not care a rush”.
Paul explain his own attitude to preaching in 1 Cor. 2:3: “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”. It could be that this is a reference to his physical weakness at the time he preached to the Corinthians. But William Barclay understands the Greek words to more imply “the trembling anxiety to perform a duty”, and I tend to run with this. The words are a reflection of the heart that bled within Paul. The man who has no fear, no hesitancy, no nervousness, no tension in the task of preaching…may give an efficient and competent performance from a church platform. But it is the man who has this trembling anxiety, that intensity which comes from a heart that bleeds for ones hearers, who will produce an effect which artistry alone can never achieve. He is the man who will convert another. It has truly been said that “the need is the call”. To perceive the needs of others is what calls us and compels us to witness. Bent knees, wet eyes, a broken heart…I don’t mean on the platform nor necessarily in our actual presentation of the Truth, but beforehand. As part of our beings. If fused within the very texture of our human personality there is this earnest desire for others’ salvation, for their sharing in Israel’s Hope, coupled with a very real sense of our own inadequacy and sense of awkwardness with ourselves…this, it seems to me, is what converts.
And we must be aware that in helping people, be it in teaching them the Truth of Christ, or in materially supporting them in their needs, we must never allow our position of ‘superiority’ become a vehicle for abusing their person, however unintentionally. The Lord in Lk. 22:25 spoke of how in the world, “benefactors” have power over people. His idea seems to have been: ‘If you show generosity in the world, you have authority over others; but you, after my example, must show generosity to others in humble acts of service but not expect authority over others as a result of this’. The giving of help or welfare in any form should therefore never become a source of control over another person. Their integrity and independence as a person must never be in this sense ‘abused’ by us or simply lost sight of, because we have helped them.
One key aspect in perceiving the value of persons is to separate the person from their behaviour, the sinner from their sin, so that we can still love them. The way David treats Absalom is a great example. He clearly loved him, as the historical records make so abundantly clear. And yet the Psalms open another window into how David perceived Absalom. He describes him as “the cruel man” and invites God’s judgments upon him (Ps. 71:4 etc.). Yet he could do this whilst still loving Absalom the person.
Hearts That Bleed
The whole of creation keeps on going as a result of God having a heart that bleeds for people. “If he causes his heart to return unto himself”, the whole of creation would simply cease (Job 34:14 RVmg.). His spirit is His heart and mind, as well as physical power. Creation is kept going not by clockwork, but by the conscious outpouring of His Spirit, by the fact that our creator has a constantly and passionately outgoing spirit toward us. In times of depression we need to remember this; that they very fact the world is still going, the planet still moves, atoms stay in their place and all matter still exists…is proof that the God who has a heart that bleeds for us is still there, with His heart going out to us His creation. And the spirit of the Father must be in us His children. Nineveh was “a city great unto God” (Jonah 3:3 RVmg.). But it wasn’t so important to Jonah. The whole story of Jonah is to show how a man was brought to share God’s perspective- that people matter, even those we might despise and discount the most.
There is a Bible theme that the wicked will be grieved / distressed in the process of rejection (Ps. 112:10); yet we must grieve now for the Lord’s cause. We live in an increasingly dispassionate world; the mundane and the trivial are what are glorified, in the media, and in the living and conversations of those around us. Flat emotions, a narrow, totally selfish vista seem the hallmark of the post modernist era into which my generation and that below it are now entering. Yet for us there is every reason to live a life of passionate concern, of joy and grief for the sake of the Lords cause. If we allow ourselves to be lulled by the comfortable numbness of this world into not having that passion, then we will all the same come to know that same essential feeling in the grief and crying out of the rejection process. We must face it, either now or then. I have often wondered why it is that the little television which I watch is full of the most inane, meaningless, pointless material and displays. Why the pop songs I cannot help but hear in the many cafes in which I eat are just so empty and lacking in meaning; and how and why the very inanity and pointlessness of it all seems to be the very thing that is glorified. And yet this is the leading characteristic of the present world and our postmodernist generation. The impact on us is that it becomes all the harder to release the radical which there is latent in us all, it becomes all the tougher to really and unashamedly release and feel our passion for the Lord Jesus and the things of His ultimate truth.
God’s word is a living word. Unlike other history, we can see the intense personal relevance of all God’s past dealings with men. David at times gets ecstatic for what God had done at the Red Sea; one generation would tell the Passover story to another, they too would sing as Miriam had done (Ps. 145:4-7). Through sensitive reading of the word we can passionately enter into the thrill of Gods ways. We can perceive how we too stand day by day at the cross-roads, to eternal life or eternal death; how we too hold our futures in our hands, living out our lives as in the judgment presence of the Father and Son. And the memory of the sufferings of our Lord can likewise jolt us out of the ‘don’t care’ mindset of this world.
For us, remembering His agony must not just be something we reconsider at the breaking of bread. Several times in the day we ought to be looking back to Him, as He was there, and as He is in our dim reconstructions of Golgotha’s awful scene; saying with Paul that " the son of God loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). For surely no believer who has been secured in Him can see Him there, and be passive. Surely none of us can fail to feel the touching of a raw nerve. What we have put our hand to is no hobby, no mere religion. Here are the things of ultimate truth; the things which a man cannot believe, cannot even deal with, cannot read of, write about, sing about, speak about, without a heart that bleeds.