Family Forever 2. Unbelievable
Lately my heart has been filled with tension, restlessness and annoyance at the half truths spoken by spouses in struggling marriages, believers wilfully disobeying God and deception in the Church. Observing internal inconsistencies in my own life as well as in others seems at times to be driving me out of my mind. As a young Christian I experienced this as the gap between my head knowledge and my heart experience, today I sense it as a gap between Jesus’ true goodness and the small measure of his revealed glory in our lives (Eph 3:20-21). Praying over this the Lord unexpectedly reminded me of certain traumatic experiences in early life. As a teenage at home my opinions were at times treated as unbelievable; simply not worth taking seriously at all. This most painful experience has led me to ask, “How does God our Father feel about being treated as unbelievable?” for this is exactly how we treat him whenever we knowingly disobey his Word. The believability of the Father is at the foundation of what it means for the Church to be a forever family.
Satan convinced Adam and Eve that the limited glory God had given them rendered his commands unworthy of belief (Gen 3:1ff). From experience of suffering has been taken as evidence of divine unfaithfulness (Ps 14:1). Even the splendour of nature and the brilliant design of our own humanity fail to convince us of the trustworthiness of the Creator (Rom 1:18ff). Though delivered from Egypt by marvellous signs Israel failed to enter the Promised Land because of “an evil, unbelieving heart.…hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (3:12-13 cf. Jer 17:9). Sin has rendered us insensitive to the tenderness of God (Rom 1:31; Eph 4:18; 2 Tim 3:3). The tissue which binds families together is sharing in one another’s pleasures and pains; in denying that God has pleasures and pains over us we have cut ourselves off from knowing the Father. Left to themselves human beings experience “God” as distant, but the scriptures testify that the LORD finds our unbelief intolerable; he “was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6). Only Jesus has ever truly come to terms with this divine empathy and fully known God as Father.
Christ’s command““Believe in God; believe also in me.”” (John 14:1) makes him the centre of the believability of God. The reality of the Father is revealed in the fullness of the pleasures and pains of the humanity of the Son; ““he who has seen me has seen the Father”” (John 14:9). Jesus once described those who kept his Word as his family (Luke 8:19-21), but when all deserted him in his hour of need the bonds of family seemed terminally broken (John 1:11; 14:27). A measure much more vast than sharing in the pleasures and pains of ordinary life would ever be strong enough to bind humanity to God as family. The agony of crucifixion and the joy of resurrection are the bonds which unite us to God and reveal him as a believable Father. The cross reveals that the impact of our unbelief on God is pure sorrow, the resurrection manifest the delight God has in being humanity’s Father.
Jesus’ terrible cry ““My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) exposes in suffering human flesh that God’s own heart is truly filled with pain (John 1:18). Separation means the inability to feel what God feels, the death of divine-human empathy. To fully enter our fallen condition Christ must experience that for those “without faith it is impossible to please…God” (Heb 11:6); “my righteous one shall live by faith, but if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38). If the cross is the revelation of what our unbelief does to God, the joy of the resurrection is the manifestation of the Father’s pleasure in Jesus’ persevering faith (Luke 23:46; Rom 1:4; Heb 12:2). In fully entering into the pains and pleasures of life with God on our behalf Jesus is our reconnection with the Father and the one in whom the family of God exists forever. Jesus total empathy with lost humanity must shape the life of the Church today.
Agony and Ecstasy
Our spiritual union with Christ’s identification with lost humanity is the key to making God believable in our world (Col 1:24). Paul’s life brought many to faith because he imaged the bond created between God and us in Christ, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15); “Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (2 Cor 11:29 cf. Acts 17:16; Rom 9:2). These are words from the heart of a spiritual father delighting in his children, disabled by the suffering of his offspring and zealous to reclaim his errant progeny. The drama of fully entering into the agony and ecstasy of others is a mirror of the divine love which binds together the family of God for eternity (Col 3:14). This drama must be reclaimed amongst us.
Prophetic witness is the only way in which spiritual transformation can come to the Church in Australia for the sake of the world. The Body needs men and women of who unembarassingly image in their personal anguish and joys that when we treat the Father as unbelievable the impact on him is unbearable, but when we trust him his delights are immeasurable. This is to image the death and resurrection of Jesus; it is to live the gospel. Such a manner of life is the cure for the fractures of Christian marriages, the healing of congregational disunity and the power to reverse conformity to the values of this world. By this mode of life the Word of the Lord moves from unbelievable to fully believable (Acts 6:7; 12:24).
The death and resurrection of Jesus tells us how much our Father wants to be believed. Tragically, multitudes in Western society have disassociated themselves from the family of God because the Church has separated itself from the agonies and ecstasies of common life. The current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse carries a prophetic message for the Church; institutions have no heart. Families however do have a heart, and only the family of God is in a position to heal the dysfunctionalities of natural families, the racial divisions and the organisational indifference plaguing Australian society. The life of Jesus shows us how open God is to human life and challenges us to a radical new openness to one another and his Father. Unbelief is the root cause of all the pains of God and Man, belief is the route to unbridled joy, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Pet 1:9). It is time to turn once more for help to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2). Christ’s empathy with humanity extends to transforming unbelief into trust. Let’s agree to pray together; ““I believe, help my unbelief.”” (Mark 9:24).