Today I had to stop reading a book for church history because it started an ache in my heart that I don’t feel like pressing on. It is an ache about sin that runs through me and mine and stretches back into the distant past, and can seem insurmountable.
If this seems like an excuse to talk about study, it shouldn’t. I’ve barely read anything and know even less. I can’t school anyone in CH and neither do I want to. It’s the vibe that lingers when the words blur on the page.
A vibe made up of whispers and double crossing, of favours wheedled out of people reluctant to give them, of pats on the shoulder and half truths, blatant self-promotion and deals with words, so many words spun into flattery and lies. I feel sick, and sad, and small. This history doesn’t mention much of God, but He is all I can think about as I read it.
I can’t believe, somehow (am I so naïve) the shadows of our backstory. I wonder in despair if any of these men and women knew Jesus, and then there is another voice reminding me of a truth colder still.
I too can wheedle with the best of them. I can scheme and flatter and self-promote and talk a torrent of ill-spoken words. All around me, so many people have been broken by such whispers: mine, others, intended, mistakenly. Precious spirits crushed or hardened into the kind of anger that can keep you going for a little while, splintering your insides. I have friends consumed by bitterness or bewildered with the pain of hurt done to them by others who ticked the same ‘I love God’ box on their Facebook profiles.
Christians can be worse than anyone at loving each other. Things done in the name of Jesus can be the most vile.
But He is not. That’s what I need preached to my soul as it shifts restlessly. He did not scheme for self-advantage, or write letters full of double-edged dangerous words, or assemble powerful factions to bend people to his will.
My Saviour came to serve this world full of self-appointed kings. He flipped tables and washed feet, whispering only to soothe, wheedling only to rescue. My Saviour was silent when he could have rained down hell. He grieved at our slavery to sin and the brokenness wrought by it, and then he went to the cross for people just like me, who scoff and spit and swindle. He gives me hope, such great hope in the darkness of history and, all too often, present reality.
I think about real power, and hope, and a passage in Revelation comes to mind. It is possibly my favourite in the book, certainly up there with tears wiped away and ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. I won’t presume to do it justice, but the picture in chapter 5 of the sealed scroll makes me weep along with the writer:
“And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
And yet through tears, in the best fashion of storytelling, when all seems lost:
“And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”
Hope? I grasp with every fibre of my being this note of hope:
“And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll…. They sang a new song, saying,
‘Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
And here is hope, love vast as the ocean. That, unworthy as we will forever be, Jesus is worthy. And because of him, even when the battle seems lost, it is already won. That on a grey old day when it feels like nothing in our world will ever change, we can know that because of Jesus, it already has.