~ Perfect Striving ~
A Hasidic story tells of a rabbi who warned his students to stop complaining so much. “God hears you and thinks, ‘They think they are suffering and wallow in self-pity. I will show them what suffering is!’ Better you rejoice in how blessed with gifts you are. Then God will think, ‘So they think those are great gifts. I’ll show them what great really is!’”
Indeed, Paul writes, “It is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (Corinthians 2:9, NIV).
The rabbi also told his students, “I know you don’t understand me fully. Get used to it. When the Messiah comes, you won’t understand him either.” And that was prophetic. Understanding, however, isn’t the cement of relationships. Love and commitment are. Commitment entails self-sacrifice, and that involves suffering. Questions about the need for suffering are asked by people who have not been “made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
A child was screaming in fear out an open window that was billowing smoke from his bedroom fire. His father on the ground, just under the second story window, was pleading with his son to jump out, he was there to catch him. “But I can’t see you, dad!” the boy cried. The father yelled back, “But I can see you!” We are always in our Father’s gaze.
There is a lot of perfection in our world. That boy strived to save himself in perfect trust and self-abandonment. The father strived to save his son in perfect love and devotion.
The child’s vision was imperfect, however. Without a pure heart, our vision is too smoky to see God (Matthew 5:8). The perfect striving to rest in his father’s safe and loving arms and escape the impurity of the smoky air around him purified the child’s heart and vision once he rested securely in his father’s embrace.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV). “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4, NIV). Sin is anything that hinders clear vision of our beloved Father and His incarnate Christ in others. If we were challenged by a condition such as holiness or the risk of bloody woundedness in order to see and be fully present with our most treasured loved one, and had second thoughts about striving perfectly in those conditions, our love surely is not made perfect. We would be loving something within us more. This is devastating to God’s ability to be fully present and loving in us. Jesus said we just cannot serve two masters. And if we are Christian, we are the slaves of Christ and not of sin.
If this is not our experience as Christians, we reduce His name to vanity. My haunting question is how to avoid not living His name in vain to the extent of striving that may even involve the shedding of my blood. I know the answer is not only possible, but mandated by God’s love for me and mine for Him. And I know the answer lies in perfect striving toward the perfect attributes of Christ, grasping each one by one.
Jesus proclaimed us to be the salt of the earth. Salt was a taste enhancer in Jesus’ day, but it was more important as a preservative in an arid land of no cooling systems. He said we are to preserve what is good and viable in the world. Shall we argue with Him, our Lord and Master? Probably anticipating that, He added, “If the salt loses its own savor, it is worthless and to be thrown away.” We hear those words so often we nod our heads in agreement with a smile. But these and so many words of Christ, would cut to our hearts and disturb us if our brains didn’t intercept and hold them bondage to protect our self-imposed serenity. Many of us have forgotten to tremble at the words of God like we did as children. I include myself, for these writings are my prayerful “reflections,” not “teachings” or “dictates.”
God really does depend upon us. Some avoid that truth because they think it will induce pride. On the contrary, like Isaiah’s “Woe is me for I have seen the Lord and I am in sin,” a selfless response is a “Woe is me” humility and wonder. For His own reasons, God structured the cosmos to include the prayers and work of His people in its sustaining fabric. We are even instructed to pray that His will be done on this earth!
I am learning more to tremble upon contemplation of His words, and to respond with perfect striving. This honesty has nothing to do with pride or self-advancement. It is grounded in the real meaning of the “fear of the Lord.” And by the way, Scripture just happens to declare “The fear of the Lord” as the beginning of Wisdom.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © November 2, 2002
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