“…As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
My spiritual tribe places a great deal of emphasis on holiness, the holiness of God and His provision for our own holiness. He goes beyond suggesting it; He commands it. Holiness in God’s people is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. Many believe that God’s command is impossible to obey because of human limitations and the power of sin. I’m not one of them; I don’t believe God lies. I believe He has fully conquered sin through Jesus Christ so that faith can do more than result in the forgiveness of sins, it can also result in freedom from sin’s dominion. We don’t have to sin. I believe He, not us, makes a way for those who earnestly trust and seek Him. He is not only able to save our souls, He is fully able to purify the affections of our hearts so that He becomes our first love in all things. This said, I don’t intend this as a commentary on sanctification.
It is a commentary on what I’ve encountered on this pathway which include so many aspects of being: deep peace, joy, and the freedom to just be. Time and time again, I sense a calm presence surrounding me, enveloping me in care, reminding me that I am highly valued, and calling me to deeper levels of faith and hope. Time often seems to stand still in the quietness of His presence. The quiet is a welcome friend. Sometimes, there is an urging, a direction of some sort. The name of a person will occasionally pop-up, and I feel compelled to pray for them. There are times when answers to questions thought about, but not actually asked suddenly enter my mind. I’ve heard myself say more than once, “Oh, that makes sense,” in response.
Then there are other times when I feel constrained and that’s usually when my emotional temperature is very high and anguish over something and it wants to morph into anger. I think experiencing anguish is as much a consequence of walking the holiness road as any of the more ‘feel good’ stuff. I think God experiences deep anguish because of deep brokenness in the world. The deeper our relationship with Him grows, the more of that same anguish we experience.
Isaiah referred to the yet to come Messiah as “a man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief” (53:3). We see the fruition of this in Jesus’ compassion on the harassed and helpless who were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36), His mourning over an unrepentant Jerusalem (Luke13:34), and His reaction to seeing the Temple converted into a shopping mall (Matt. 21:11-13).
To this day, I wonder what He wrote in the dirt as He was confronted with the unjust treatment of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-12). Her sin notwithstanding, which she acknowledged, the religious authorities sought only to hold her accountable, but not her male partner. Rampant injustice and hypocrisy surely tore at Him.
How can anyone who identifies with Christ and who is in Christ not become acquainted with grief as the realities and brokenness of this world are seen through the eyes of heaven’s citizens. This is one of the things that makes the way of holiness a hard way. Wrong is hard to coat-over, to ignore. So many are not only missing heaven-sent opportunities; they are rejecting heaven-sent opportunities, and the impacts are significant and far-reaching. It is heart-breaking and anguish inducing.
I think this anguish is a natural state that the holy ones of God must live through as Jesus did. The issue becomes how to keep anguish from becoming the anger that warps the soul (Psalm 37). I’ve been thinking about this…a lot. I believe the answers have been given, although they might not seem obvious at first.
One way is lament, the honest and open expression of grief and mourning. We see it in Job, in David, in Jeremiah, and in Jesus. It is the statement of those who declare “All is not well” despite the preference of the majority to hold to the illusion that things are fine. If all were well, why would Jesus need to return?
Open lament is not all that popular because it creates discomfort in others who just want to feel good. Consider the person who wants to prop-up someone mourning the loss of a loved one using clichés that imply that the grieving person’s grief shouldn’t be overwhelming or that it will pass away soon, and things will be better. How much of that is their desire that the mourner actually suppress their grief in order to not make others uncomfortable?
Suppression of genuine anguish may only lead to despair and/or anger. Our anguish needs to breathe so that we can function in relative health despite the circumstances that cause the anguish. Sometimes anguish needs the fellowship of others who have experienced that same anguish because they are the ones who share the road. They are the ones who can best help us carry these crosses as we help them do the same. Pain, like humans, is not meant to be borne alone.
Another way to live with grief, a way which cannot be overstated, is worship, the kind which Jesus referenced, “…in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-34). Sincere worship redirects our focus onto God who not only sees our anguish; He enters into it with us. Perhaps it is actually we who are drawn to enter into His anguish over the brokenness He so clearly sees. This is a fellowship of unity of the highest order. Whether we are drawn to Him or He to us, His perfect holiness is able to keep us from despair, from hopelessness, from anger, from self-immolation and allows us to keep moving toward Him with expectations of hope.
Worship of the Holy and life in the Holy is the protective that keeps us afloat in the painful waters of life. He is the corrective who will sweep away all anguish away. In the interim, our spiritual equilibrium often requires our lament and our worship of the Most High God just because this road can be hard.
“…keeps me in the valley,
hides me from the rain…” *
* From “Our God is Awesome” by Charles Jenkins on Kingdom Business 4, 2012. Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing, Ltd.
© Byron L. Hannon. All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.