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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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If I show You,
if I show You where he is buried;
if I take that long, slow walk to his tomb again;
if I take that long, slow walk with You—
if we take that walk together, even though he’s four-days dead;
if I show You where he lies decayed,
What then?

______________________________________________________________

Go back and read it again. Slowly. As though it is so hard to express the thought you really want to ask that you have to preface it with several attempts. As though you can hardly get the words out. Because that’s really what you are wondering but it’s very hard to say, to admit that there’s really no hope. To admit that you feel that way.

This third part of the poem deals with the response I have when I put myself into the story being told in John 11 and when I bring the story into my own life. Jesus asks Martha, “Where have you laid him?” and she replies, “Come and see.”

That response makes sense within the moment. That’s what you do when the dearest friend couldn’t make it to the funeral of your brother but makes it to town 4 days later. You show him the grave. Maybe you pick up a bunch of flowers to lay at the grave, too. And you take a pile of tissues or a handkerchief because you know that the mourning is not over. In fact, you know that the grieving has just begun. You know that almost anything can set you off again, calling up memories that make you smile through your tears and wring your heart out through your smiles. You know that your younger sister is grieving deeply, too, and you try to be strong for her sake. One of you must be the sensible one that takes care of the details. But you and she both know that your lives will never be the same again.

But however normal Martha’s response may have been, as I read the story, as I think of the deaths (both physical and emotional) that I have mourned, my response is a bit different than Martha’s and Mary’s. As I find myself in their shoes, in their story and mine, I want to say to Him . . . very slowly . . . and in words that can hardly get past the tears . . . “What then?”

I Peter 3:3-4

Undisturbing:
Hard to be when I am not
Undisturbed

2-21-2011

God reminded me of a piece by Elisabeth Elliot in The Music of His Promises and it was what I needed to remember in my busy day . . .

God can make room for it all–
Responsibilities, concerns, tasks–
I had forgotten to ask.

these thoughts came from reading an Elisabeth Elliot piece called “Dwell in Christ, Dwell in Love” from her devotional book The Music of His Promises

What is unsettling
Me? Why am
I not “serene and whole”
And at home in
Your love? Is it because of
Remodeling?
Redecorating?
Some building project
Restructuring
The fabric of
My heart? Is it that
I have run away from home–
Camped out?
Taken up
Temporary residence
Elsewhere?
Or is it something else
Altogether different yet
Not so dissimilar?

Frustration.
While confused,
Uncertain, telling
God I didn’t know
How to cast my care
On Him–
I realized:
He was already carrying it.

The rain came again last night
Not strong and calm—benevolent,
But erratic and terrible
As though the heavens themselves
Were torn with paroxysms
Of grief

The rain came again last night,
Leveling young stalks of corn
In its throes of woe,
Gentle weeping giving way
To wracking sobs, finding
No relief

JMC Thursday, June 3, 2010

Trust in him at all times; [ye] people, pour out your heart before him: God [is] a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 62:8

Hi, God.

I’m trying to do what You said to do with my heart–pour it out before You–but I kinda have a problem. See, I tip it over to pour it out, and nothing comes out. I think it’s dried up and caked in there, maybe a little like spices do when they’ve been sitting in the cupboard too long and gotten a little moisture in them. And, well, I’m not really sure what to do now because I can’t really pour it out, see?

I took my heart to someone I thought might care to see this strange phenomena that is going on in my heart, but . . . well, she was ready to pour out her heart at the moment and mine wasn’t exactly pour-able. Actually, it wasn’t really like she poured out her heart. It was more like just shaking some of its seasoning out to flavor my life. And I really was glad for it. It’s fun to hear her adventures.

I called another friend today. Wow! Was she ever busy! I really wasn’t expecting that she’d be able to scrape free the caked stuff in my heart. I was hoping that I’d hear a little of how she was doing. I think she needed a little encouragement, and it was really nice to hear a few sound-bites of her life. The call made me smile. I hope it made her smile, too.

Another friend was a bit confused by it all. She was a little panicky, too, as though I was panicky about what in the world this stuff was and was hoping that she would fix it. She really didn’t listen but kept suggesting recipes that I could sprinkle it into. Not quite what I think I’m supposed to do with it . . . hm.

I took my heart to another friend. As I showed her the dried-up stuff that used to be my heart, she listened and tried to understand; but she really didn’t know what to do with it any more than I did. And, frankly, I’m a bit tired of talking about it all. That’s part of the dried-up-ness. It’s like “what’s the use?” Ya know?

Another friend was better able than I to “pour out” her heart. I suspect that I didn’t know what to do with her heart any more than my other friend knew what to do with mine. But somehow the act of listening and trying to understand produced a little moisture. I think the shared moisture helped, but it didn’t last long. I’m dry and caked again.

So, here’s my heart. I was bringing it to You all along; I just had some stops along the way. I’m not sure what to do with it, it’s so dry. It doesn’t want to laugh or cry but it wants to do both; it’s both frustrated and content somehow; it’s tired but doesn’t want to go to bed; concerned but not worried. What do You make of such a heart? Shouldn’t it be crying out to You right now?

Hm. It shouldn’t, huh? This is normal? You say that this is what happens sometimes to hearts that have been working hard and pouring themselves out and opening themselves up to face the elements? So. I guess this means You know what to do with it, then? Whew! What a relief! I was getting a little tired of trying to figure it out. Make something good with it, ok?

I’m going to bed.

=)

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

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