Friday, December 4, 2020

Redemption's Operation

I am sure that everyone, in one way or another, is suffering.  I am positing that this planet is a war zone, and like all war zones, suffering is all too common, and kindness is shown far too infrequently, given the magnitude of the suffering.  

"The Diameter of the Bomb" captures how suffering afflicts not just those nearest an event but how it ripples out and touches more and more people.  The poem is by Yehuda Amichai, a modern Israeli poet.

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

Isn't that we reaction we all have, as the pain rolls out and we suffer more and more, that God is either outside the circle of our suffering or perhaps He doesn't even exist?  Circles are measurable--their diameters--yet suffering defies basic geometry and having made the circle so big, is it possible that even God cannot be in it or is beyond it?

God cannot be measured; if He is defies space and time in His majesty, how can He be unaware of what we are going through in space and time? 

I used the analogy of the D-Day invasion that God did leave the eternal courts of heaven, and stepped into space and time.  He wrapped Himself in flesh and blood, narrowing His circle down to one human being: a poor carpenter's son from Nazareth.  

His birth was both celebrated and condemned.  From the East, three kings appeared at the door of a humble house with gifts fit only for a king.  Another king, in a jealous rage, ordered his men to appear at the door of every house in Bethlehem, and search out all baby boys.  The streets under that star were filled with wailing and that star was reflected in small pools of blood.

That Baby's entrance into this war zone was marked by the murder of innocent children.  His cousin would be executed years later; His followers would be executed themselves.  He, too, would fall under the murderous gaze of the authorities, and would die a hideous death.  

You step onto the shores of planet Earth and you step into sin, atrocity and death.  Sin is well fortified here, just as the Germans were on the beaches of Normandy.  The beaches were lined with German embankments and the Allies were mowed down on what became known as The Longest Day.  As these soldiers disembarked, they knew that they would most likely die.  Yet, they stepped off those landing crafts anyway.  10,000 did die.  But they kept coming, moving up the beach and coming down out of the sky behind enemy lines. 

That is what Good does.  It steps off the landing craft and goes into the chaos with only one goal: victory.  Evil cannot be partially conquered; it must be utterly removed.  Good keeps on coming despite whatever Evil throws at it.  

Jesus knew that redeeming this sin-zone, war-zone planet would be costly.  The destruction is so widespread that no one escapes it--Jesus included.  Evil's fortifications were everywhere, starting with the murder of those Bethlehem boys.  

Jesus' healing ministry put Hell on notice that such evil had an expiration date.  Demons throwing children into the fire, women selling their bodies, disfigured lepers, sons lying in coffins, daughters dying on cots in poor homes, greedy tax collectors, corrupt religious leaders, decadent kings, amoral governors, rapacious insurrectionists--all were present on God's "D-Day"--the Son landed and He would fight to the end to bring about a final conquering of sin and death.

But Jesus didn't direct this redemption operation from a bunker far away from the battle lines.  He Himself was on the front lines: He drove out demons;  He forgave broken women; He raised those sons and daughters from death; He enlisted tax collectors; He decried corrupt religious leaders; He stood in front of kings and governors; His life was swapped for an insurrectionist and He died a criminal's death, having personally committed no crime. 

Our suffering results in loss--of friends, family, children, peace of mind and security.  We are appalled at just how far the enemy reaches into our lives and into our circle.  

Jesus experienced loss, over and over again.  Having sacrificed Himself to paid the wages of humanity's sin and having risen from the dead, He now truly knows what it means to suffer as a human being.  

Knowing how evil operates on this planet--without cessation and without mercy--He stepped on the shores of our Normandy anyway.  He knew He would die.  His Father told Him so as He bid heaven good-bye.  His Torah told Him: sacrificial death is required to reconcile a sinful people to Almighty God. Isaiah told Him: The Suffering Servant would be so disfigured by sin's fury that we would not even recognize Him.

But He came anyway.

This, for me, puts suffering into perspective.  I will not blame God--that is tantamount to blaming the Allies for World War II, not Hitler and his evil minions.

I will not say God ordained the evil or allowed it--that is tantamount of saying the Allies watched and allowed Hitler free rein, and while they could have stopped him at anytime, they did not. (Yes, I know.  The failure of the US to respond earlier to Hitler proved to be catastrophic--the US could have intervened much earlier but because of the isolationism resulting from World War I, it stayed out only until Pearl Harbor was bombed.  Yes, I know: The US provided the Allies with war materiel before we actually stepped in, but our overwhelming manpower could have made a difference earlier on--a kind of manpower blitzkrieg back on the Nazis before they became so entrenched.)

Don't we have contempt for nations that stand by and do nothing, when evil is released and those nations that could intervene do not?  Why then do we ascribe that same callous lack of intervention to God, all in name of His sovereignty?   

Jesus' mission, to rescue us from sin and death, tells us that our planet needed rescue from those very things:

  • "He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds." (Titus 2:14)
  • When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    'Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?'

    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:54-58)

I highlighted that last portion to encourage us in these days where suffering seems relentless and loss abounds.   

We have Suffering Servant who stands beside us, and says, "Yes. I know.  I suffered deeply while I was here.  I overcame.  So shall you, because I did and I now live in you."

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