Part of what we touched on in the last post was the observation that our personal damage – our own brokenness – skews our perceptions of reality in false directions. It would therefore be wise to seek healing in order to limit our biases.
I’m going to be blunt – not long ago I thought that was a ridiculous idea. Dumb, even. Sure, I accepted that I had some prejudices, but I thought it was crazy to suggest that my emotions could so color my rationality as to ultimately lead me to false conclusions.
Well. It would seem life has since shown me otherwise. I want to share one of several small, personal stories demonstrating as much.
First, a small bit of background. About three years ago I was going through a rough patch. I won’t share all the details, but it was a rock-bottom moment for me: my choices and behavior had – within the previous four or five years – completely destroyed my self-image and goals; I had a beautiful baby girl but my relationship with her mother had just disintegrated; and I lost the job I hated but was nonetheless my source of income.
At the point where this particular story begins, I had already reached the bottom of this drop and was on the mend. I’d started to come to terms in my heart with the head knowledge that I actually had real problems. Good friends and a good community were slowly helping to heal some of those wounds and issues.
But I was having some minor issues with the church I had begun attending and had been one of the major sources of my healing. It really was ticky-tack stuff, and it wasn’t affecting whether I was going to stay there or not.
I thought the King James language liturgy and the ornate vestments worn by the clergy were so alien, out-of-date, and distracting as to hurt the effectiveness of the church’s witness. A language too hard for the average person to comprehend and an attire too “Catholic” and “Constantinian” (i.e., bourgeois) to appeal to a postmodern culture.
Against this backdrop I found myself one night at a Bible study with a close group of friends. I don’t remember what we were discussing or how the topic came up, but eventually the conversation drifted towards what the nature of Christ’s suffering on the cross entailed – basically how it “worked.”
I shared that I thought in a mysterious way Christ took on the weight and pain of EVERY sin that EVERY human being had ever or would ever commit; that He felt every pain. Quite a few of my friends critiqued that very particular understanding – there wasn’t Biblical warrant to justify that approach; addressing the ramifications of all sins does not necessarily entail that Jesus felt John Doe’s guilt over adultery from yesterday, etc.
I remember becoming increasingly agitated as the conversation progressed. The only thing I remember saying (and at this point my friends had started backing off because they realized I’d gone beyond addressing an idea) was my last statement: “No, God HAS to have experienced all that on the cross. Because if He doesn’t know my pain personally, then f*** Him. What kind of God would that be? No, f*** Him if He can’t relate to me.”
I remember saying that, and I remember the rawness of it and saying it naturally with full conviction, without a second thought. For a life-long, devoted and committed Christian, that’s breaking some stereotypes. I don’t look back in horror at it now (for those concerned, I repented) – I look back trying to remember what emotions I was tapping in to.
Because I continued and still continue to heal over the time between then and now, and several things have changed.
Particularly, I agree with my friends on the interpretation of the cross, an interpretation I railed against because I was taking it as an attack on a fragile thread I was holding on to – the only way I could perceive God relating to what I’d just gone through in my life (never mind that the pain God knows is infinitely deeper than my own…at that time, with the wounds that fresh, I may have hit you if you’d told me that, because that sounds wonderful in theory, but when you hurt, you don’t give a rat’s rear about theory).
More indirectly, I’ve realized that the issues I was having over liturgy and vestments with my church were tied into this pain – they spoke to me of God being far away and “other” when I wanted Him right here in my world experiencing my hurt. Going all “thee, thou, beseech” on me while looking like someone from 1,500 years ago made God feel more distant to me.
I think the interesting thing is this: there are legitimate points to all those perceptions. They aren’t worthless or without insight. BUT. They weren’t the real issue, were they?
And as the real issue began to be more fully addressed – as I continue to let go of pain and disillusionment and hold on to the truth that the Christian idea of God is a God who IS with us – my “ideological” arguments carried less urgency, and I began to appreciate the bigger picture: God is with us, but at the same time He is holy and “other,” which is not something to be discarded; Jesus may not know precisely what it’s like to have a romantic relationship implode but, you know, not only do I bet He has a pretty good idea, but He’s definitely in tune with a deeper understanding of pain and suffering than I ever will be.
Damage and brokenness impact how we understand reality, friends. And I am surely not self-aware enough to always recognize how it’s happening. We need friends – community – to help us out with our blind-spots. We need wisdom in handling our thoughts and ideas; and humility to attempt to empathize with others and embrace the real possibility that we might actually be wrong about some things.