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“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.”
~Nelson Rockefeller

I have come back to that quote many times in my life. It’s hopeful. And it’s something that I need to be reminded of.

But today is Good Friday, and even though its name refers to the amazing victory love won on the cross–the greatest good in the world–I cannot escape the fact that today we are celebrating the Day that Love Didn’t Work.

Now, at face value, perhaps, that claim sounds unnecessary and even melodramatic. After all, we know the end of the story. Love wins, right? How can you say that love “didn’t work” when it obviously did?

Because on Good Friday it isn’t obvious.

On Good Friday Love Doesn’t Work.

Love, if it is the most powerful force in the world, is supposed to work. It’s supposed to win. To make the world a better place. To right wrongs, to restore what’s been lost, to bring warmth and light. To bring safety. To draw together. To triumph. To work. To be successful. To come out on top.

But for those of us who choose love over hate, over lust, over violence, over demanding and demeaning, over fear–for anyone who chooses love, Good Friday inevitably comes. A day when love falls short, fails, loses, and leaves you standing holding the bag and paying the price.

A woman’s husband cheats on her. She finds out, he confesses all, she forgives and takes him back. Loves. He cheats again. Love didn’t change a thing.

A brother, a sister, a friend reveals–through words or actions that cut us to the core–how very little we matter to him (or her) when push comes to shove. Of what value is the love that we had poured into that relationship?

Here’s the story that is filling my mind today:
Corrie ten Boom survived grueling years in Nazi prison camps and emerged with a deep desire to help others experience the power of God’s love that had sustained her through some of the worst mankind has ever thrown at its fellowmen. She began to travel and speak of the power of God’s love and forgiveness and to watch other Holocaust survivors slowly recover from the horrors they had experienced. One evening after she spoke a man came up to talk to her. His face was radiant with joy, but she recognized him. He was one of the guards at one of the prison camps. Seeing him brought back memories and intense feelings of shame pouring back into her. Not just memories, but vivid, all-but-relived experiences of standing in line, stripped and exposed before a posse of male guards. He had been one of them. And here he was holding out his hand to shake hers. Here he was with joyful tears in his eyes exclaiming how wonderful God’s forgiveness is. Here he was wanting to shake her hand. And here she was feeling again all of the shame and humiliation and degradation. She couldn’t shake his hand.*

Here is where Good Friday puts us: holding the bag for all of the hurt and injustice and shame and degradation of what has been done to us in return for our love.

I can put myself in Corrie’s shoes so easily. If I shake his hand, if I forgive, I am no longer holding him responsible for this debt. I am no longer holding it against him. He is getting off scott free [I always wonder about the original scott that got away free like that. Where in the world did that expression come from?]. And yes, maybe I don’t want to see him in a concentration camp. Maybe I don’t want to see him ruined, but what about this pain and this shame that I am left holding because of what he did to me? Where do I go to get justice for this terrible injustice?

This is what Good Friday is all about. Yes, it’s about God’s amazing love for us and about the price He paid to have our sins forgiven. But we can only truly begin to understand that love when we stand at our own Good Friday holding the bag for all the things that have been done to us, things that can never be undone. When we stand at our own place where love did not work and are asked yet again to choose love. And when we find that we don’t have enough love to cover this pain. This is where Good Friday finds us.

See, we tend to think of how hard it is to forgive our enemies, but the truth of the matter is that forgiveness is hardest when we have been wronged by someone in whom we see great good. We struggle and struggle to reconcile what was done to us with what we know and love about the person who has done it. How could he do ______ when he promised _______? How could she _______ when I know that she truly did love me? Or how could someone who did _______ ever do anything good again?

We look at the cross from our vantage point of wretchedness and marvel that God could love “a wretch like me.” We see that we have nothing inherently lovable by which to commend ourselves to God. Just sinners saved by grace.

We fail to see that God’s vantage point provides a very different view. We are beings created in His image. We are worth loving because He made us and because He is worth loving. And when God sees our sin, He sees His very image doing things that should never be done. He sees all of the good that He planted within us, all the good that He knows we can be. Good that cannot be reconciled with the evil that we have chosen. We began in the Garden of Eden as His friends; and we turned away from Him, rejected Him. We did something completely inconsistent with that un-eradicable image of God that each of us bears. The image of God turned against God Himself.

Here is where we truly begin to see God’s love: when we stand in our own pain, feeling that love has failed. When we stand in the enormity of the injustice we are left holding . . . and realize that God is standing with us.

Because the cross was the ultimate moment of love’s failure.

Mankind’s failure to love as it has been loved.
Love’s failure to draw mankind back to itself through eons of goodness poured out in sun and rain and harvest blessing.
Love’s failure to keep even His own people faithful, to keep them from straying to other gods like unfaithful spouses to extramarital affairs.
Love’s failure to win the hearts of His people by coming to them in person and letting them see Him in all His beautiful and vulnerable goodness.

The cross is the place where the greatest risk fell flat and the greatest injustice was done when the greatest lover of all time was put to death in proof that love is not more powerful than greed, that love is not more powerful than lust, that love is not more powerful than fear, that love is not more powerful than any other motive you can put in that blank.

The love that conquers all was conquered on the cross.

I know. There’s something in us that doesn’t want to stay here and take a good look. There’s something in us that wants to protest that love really did conquer all, that the defeat of the cross was actually a triumph, that Jesus endured the cross because He knew how it was going to end.

All of which is true.

But we know the end of our story as well. We know love wins. Yet standing at the cross it’s impossible to feel that ending.

And that is ok. Because God did not skip to the end. He stood for 3 hours (who knows how eternal those hours felt to someone not bound by time!) and grieved with grief so deep that it darkened the sky. And perhaps the most healing thing that we can do when we come to the place where our love has been wasted or trashed or killed is to stop and look. To take a good look at the cross and at the Father standing there holding the bag for all the injustices that have ever been done.

This is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Good Friday.
This is the Day that Love Didn’t Work
This is the Day that God died

This.

This is love.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–
*for those who want to read the end to Miss ten Boom’s story, it’s found at the end of her amazing book The Hiding Place

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“When I Consider How My Light Is Spent”
also known as “On His Blindness”

a sonnet by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

(this poem is in the public domain; I copied it from poets.org  http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/when-i-consider-how-my-light-spent)

 

–this background commentary on the poem from  http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides5/Blindness.html
John Milton’s eyesight began to fail in 1644. By 1652, he was totally blind. Oddly, he wrote his greatest works, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after he became blind. Many scholars rank Milton as second only to Shakespeare in poetic ability.

Love (III)
by George Herbert


Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

poem is in the public domain
text taken from poets.org (http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/love-iii)
and (http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/173632)

 

and Ralph Vaughn-Williams set it to music! a bit operatic, but if you like Vaughn-Williams . . .

 

9-10-11

Psalm 139:6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

vi
I admit, I am a bit overwhelmed
As I ponder
How completely
You care for me.
I can’t wrap my mind around the
Magnitude
Of these details:
I can’t even get past the fact that You
Care enough
To observe me so minutely,
To study me.

9-10-11

Psalm 139:2
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

ii
You observe me–
As though I were the most important
Person in the world to You,
You are aware of where I am
And what I am doing:
Whether I am sitting down or standing up,
You know it.
And You can tell,
Like good friends can from across the room,
Exactly what I am thinking,
Nuance for nuance better than I know myself
Sometimes. Well, always.

 

Broken wounded hearts
Stars seemingly numberless
He knows all their names

jmc 1-30-2011

October 28, 2011
for D.
i
Someone said the test of love
Is making the hard decisions–
Choosing, for another’s sake,
Those necessary actions;
Taking the right path
Though it be
Strewn with rocks,
Watered with tears, and
Fraught with exhaustion or worse.
Love chooses what is best
For the beloved,
What must be chosen,
Shouldered, borne, done,
In spite of what might be
Preferred,
Regardless of what had been
Previously hoped.
ii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Opening wide the door and
Allowing the loved one to
Walk out
Into a new adventure,
A new phase of the story being told:
Love writes the ending of the last
Chapter (knowing there are some
Parts that will be missed as they are
Packed away to make room for the new)
And turns the page to the next beginning,
Not letting nostalgia rob the future
Of its joy, but not insisting
On walking the next miles of the journey,
Knowing it is time,
Promising to still be waiting
With an open door.
iii
Sometimes Love means letting go–
Throwing open the cage and
Letting the bird go free,
Removing jesses, tethers,
Putting away the scissors that kept
The freedom-loving wings clipped,
Accepting the snappings of the
Wild spirit
And not hindering
The soul from seeking its own,
Perhaps its angry or foolish, way.
Love does not quibble about
What is fair or proper or usual,
But opens its coffers to give the
Requested inheritance,
Opens its arms to release the son,
And watches his form fade into
The distance
Perhaps never to return.
iv
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Standing firm on embattled ground
Till hand forgets how to let go the spear,
Till the fight has been won or
Every last ounce of strength has been
Exhausted in the attempt.
Love refuses to recant what is
True and just and right;
Love refuses to accept in its place
The darkness of deceit,
Fighting on for what is best,
Not easiest.
v
Sometimes Love means holding on–
Refusing to give in,
Refusing to throw away all hope.
Love chooses to remember,
To affirm
All that is noble and worthy and true
In the beloved,
Even when the beloved has forgotten
The meaning of those words.
vi
This love–it is not blind:
It asks of us that we not forget but forgive,
Canceling the unpaid debts,
Knowing they may never be recognized,
May never be paid,
Yet trusting in the One Who pays all debts.
And this love–it is not easy:
yes, this love is hard.
Because it does not feel as love
Should feel, we think–
All warm and soft and comfortable–
We look at it askance,
Wonder at times if we chose rightly.
One thing we can know for certain:
Choosing to make the hard choices
For the sake of the beloved
Proves love’s quality.
vii
Because sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
It asks of us that we open our hand
(That we not hinder)
But requires of us, strictly,
To harbor that unlikely songbird
Hope
In our heart of hearts
To sing in the darkness.
viii
Yes, sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
And that is why Love is . . .
A father scanning the horizon
Day after day
Waiting for his son’s return,
For that speck in the distance
To take on his child’s familiar gait
And then for those beloved features
To come into clearer focus as the
Wanderer returns.
That’s why Love is . . .
The only-begotten Son, the Promised King
Accepting the rejection of His people,
Dying the death
Of a vile criminal at their request
To secure a greater deliverance
Than they could dream for themselves,
Losing His hold over them in order to
Hold onto them forever.
viii
Yes, sometimes Love means both
The letting go and the hanging on.
And that is why Love is . . .
A father scanning the horizon
Day after day
Waiting for his son’s return,
For that speck in the distance
To take on his child’s familiar gait
And then for those beloved features
To come into clearer focus as the
Wanderer returns.
That’s why Love is . . .
The only-begotten Son, the Promised King
Accepting the rejection of His people,
Dying the death
Of a vile criminal at their request
To secure a greater deliverance
Than they could dream for themselves,
Losing His hold over them in order to
Hold onto them forever.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . ” The words that follow this beginning come automatically to the American mind:

” . . . that all men are created equal . . . ” (and a few other “thats” follow in the first document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence.)

I just spent the last two posts discussing equality:
a) it’s a fact and not a goal and
b) it’s not as good a determiner of value as love.

Where, oh where, did we get the idea that equality makes us valuable?

We got it from God Himself. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God–the only person who can love individually every being that He created, loving them both uniquely and possibly equally.

But who really thinks about love in terms of equality?

Well, kids do sometimes when they look at how Mom and Dad do different things with one child than with another and begin to compare those things. Sometimes they are right–one kid IS getting preferential treatment. More often they are missing the fact that Mom and Dad do different things for different kids because each kid is different and what would be fun for the one would not be as fun for the other.

We don’t really love people because they are equal; we love them because we love them. Because they are ours to love. Because we choose to love them.

And if loving them makes them valuable, then all people are valuable because God loves them all.

My brother’s economics teacher told a story about his brother who had been studying in England and had to go to the emergency room for a relatively minor (though uncomfortable and necessary) complaint. He waited, as expected, for several hours to be seen. Not so different from any American emergency room. However, while he was there waiting, a man came into the emergency room with a badly broken arm. He clearly needed more immediate treatment than the brother did, but he had to wait just as long. First come, first served. It’s all equal. That system, of course, is socialism and not Marxism per se, but the two are very closely related. Both of them use “equality” as their by-word and guiding principle. But equality is not as beautiful a guiding star as it seems to be. In fact, it’s not really a star at all, just a hard, cold meteorite of a fact.

The fact is that all men were created equal. No one has to make them equal, they already are.

But equality does not create value. And the funny thing about love (this just hit me) is that it raises the loved one from the original starting point of equality to the higher plane. When you are loved, you know that you are noticed, that you are more than just another pebble among all the other identical pebbles. By loving someone, you inherently affirm that someone’s uniqueness. Loving someone raises that someone from a position of equality to a position of worth.

Equality is what we have already; value and honor, love–those are the stars to navigate by.

So here we have the real difference between capitalism and Marxism/socialism: capitalism does one thing and does it well while Marxism/socialism try to do more than one thing and do both very badly.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which individuals are free to make their own choices. It is only an economic system. It does not try to control the choices that those people make. If it did, it wouldn’t be a free-market system. It always works like it is supposed to–whether the free choices are based on selfishness and greed or on love and honoring others. By “working” I mean that it allows individuals to make their own choices and those choices produce results in a natural way–wise use of wealth begets more wealth. Greedy use of wealth begets more wealth, but only for a time. In fact, when you hear people talking about “the failure of capitalism” they are really talking about the moral failures of individuals and groups that have led to great losses. Capitalism did not fail. As an economic system it worked just fine and did just what it was supposed to do. The people working the capitalism left out the moral ingredients necessary to produce long-lasting success. In an accident you can’t blame the perfectly functioning car for the choices of the drunk driver.

Marxism and socialism are more than economic systems. They are attempts to ensure that people will make the right choices. These systems begin from the position that humans by nature will be greedy and will exploit inequalities for their own gain; therefore these systems try to eliminate human greed and vice by eliminating inequality. To do so, they attempt to control all individual choices–for the greater good. Because no one can legislate love, they fail miserably at righting the evils they claim capitalism allows (which it does because it’s only an economic system, after all). Because inequality makes everyone ride in the boat at the same time, they fail miserably at maintaining the greater good.

You can’t eliminate the individual and still maintain the greater good. Neither can you eliminate economics for the greater good. Owning and managing one’s own stuff is part of living and being able to do good. Those with more stuff have great potential to use that stuff to help other people–just ask the hospitals that each year write off thousands of dollars’ worth of services for those who cannot pay for the care they so desperately need. That benevolent action has nothing to do with equality. It has everything to do with value, with the value they place on helping others.

[Anyone care to poke a hole or two in my boat? 😉 ]

This last portion of the poem deals with the one word that seems to be impossible–hope. Because that is the message of the Resurrection. Hope. Hope for new life that springs from the inside and changes us for eternity. Hope because the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that WE MAY BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. That’s hope. And not the wishful-thinking kind. It’s the hang-your-hat-on kind. The lay-your-every-waking-moment-on-the-line kind of hope. Expectation.

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

November 11, 2010

I just figured out tonight why Psalm 103:5 would need to happen.

I was reading the background Lois Lowry gives for her book Number the Stars in her afterword. She spoke of the courage of the Danish resistance fighters who dared to defy the Nazis in so many ways . . . and of the youth of so many of them. One young man she spoke of was only 21 when he was executed by the Nazis. Young, brave, and idealistic, he wrote a letter to is loved ones asking them not to lament the past that has ended but to work for the future they truly longed for (and needed). So young. So brave!

And it hit me that I have grown old at heart. Afraid to risk, afraid of the pain, afraid that all I’ve done and risked in the past was a mere foolish waste after all. All that pain, that fear, that doubt is crippling. Because when you’re young you know that the risks are there but you haven’t experienced them firsthand. And you tell yourself that you are proceeding in spite of the risks when really you are simply throwing yourself out into the fray as though there are no risks. Because for the young, the risks don’t exist. But when you have experienced the risks, you grow up, you become conscious of the cost, and you grow wary.

And before you realize it, you’ve grown old.

Perhaps you become more strategic, but maybe that’s a nice way of saying you play things safer.

And perhaps that’s why we need God to renew our youth like the eagle’s–so we can launch ourselves out again and take the risks as though they aren’t even there. Because in the real world, the world that matters, the risk of loving others is great, the greatest, but it’s the one ideal that is the most important. Because if we are going to act like God does, we are going to have to love like He does–in spite of the risks. And–like those young, brave, Danish resistance fighters–perhaps even because of them.

 

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalm 71:9

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:5

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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