A (not entirely) New Understanding

This past February I went to a gathering in Taylorville coined If:Local.  It was a simulcast of an event held in Texas called If:Gathering; the brain child of author/speaker Jennie Allen and some other 30-something women in ministry. It was pretty loose and the “agenda” wasn’t always really clear from the pre-event synopsis.  But it asks women to consider “IF God is real, THEN what.”  It was a beautiful convergence of speaker’s from different denominational backgrounds coming together to motivate a generation of women.  I hope to write something a little more coherent and in depth on that event and the effect it (and Jennie’s new book, Restless and a bible study led by a wonderful woman named Kim) has had on me soon (maybe after I re-watch the digital recordings of the event!)

I explain that as an introduction to why I find myself reading and studying John:2:1-11 tonight. The “If” team has been walking through the book of John with hundreds of women (and some men) for the last 40-some days asking us to read and respond to the questions “IF God is real, THEN what do these passages mean about 1-God, 2-me, 3-the world.” Unfortunately with my other bible study things going on right now (and other life) I’ve not had the time to keep up with them daily, so I’m obviously WAAAAY behind.

But that’s okay.  Because even when I’m behind in my study, I can still see God’s hand in the timing of things.  I’m not sure that if I read this any earlier I would have had the fresh perspective on the wedding in Cana that I did tonight.  For some reason, in this place, in this time, I see God moving in me and giving me different eyes with which to see.  I’m not sure my vision was the same 40 days ago.

And frankly, timing and God’s hand in everything, even the details, is what struck me most about the wedding in Cana tonight.  I had every intention of doing a couple of days of catch up (a couple of chapters or more) but couldn’t get past these 11 verses.   While I”m absolutely certain I’m not the first person who’s ever noticed this, I was floored by a new understanding of this passage.

Let me start with the passage, so you don’t have to go look it up for a refresher 🙂  This is the ESV version:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

At the end of John 1, Jesus had just started calling his first disciples.  According to John, the next day, Jesus attends a wedding that a good number of these new disciples were also attending (which we know both by the common customs of Jewish weddings at the time as well as the statement from John that “His disciples believed in Him” at the end of vs. 11.)   At this wedding His mother asks Him to fix a problem: the host ran out of wine.  Though He reminds his mother that His “hour has not yet come” He turns the water that is nearby into wine.  This is the first opportunity Jesus has to interact with the public with His new disciples, his first “teaching” opportunity, and what does He do?  He turns water into wine.

Now I’ve heard several sermons on this event.  Ones that espouse how He was a good earthly son trying to handle things for His mother because His father was gone at this point.  Ones that espouse how He had to have these “signs” as He was beginning His ministry.  And ones that speak about the fact that the servants recognized the action of Jesus and that “common” and marginalized people whet always the ones to recognize Jesus and this being a theme throughout John.  And these lessons are all well and good.  

But I think I’ve always glanced over the actual “water” and “wine” and focused too much on the “miracle.”  Yes, changing something to something that it is not is miraculous.  Awesome Sauce.  But last night I saw this passage with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.  My Life Application Study Bible has the following note:

The six stone water jars were normally used for ceremonial washing… According to the Jews’ ceremonial law, people became symbolically unclean by touching objects of everyday life.  Before eating the Jews would pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves of any bad influences associated with what they had touched.

Okay, guys, this seems HUGE to me!!!  Because what else is “unclean” because of the influence of sin and the world?  Hmm?  HMMM???  That’s RIGHT:  ME!  YOU!  ALL OF US!  And, as the song goes: What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the BLOOD OF JESUS.  And what does JESUS use as a symbol of His cleansing blood in one of His last interactions with His disciples?  That’s right:  WINE!

The absolutely most attractive quality of God/Jesus in my mind is His ability to redeem ALL things for good (see Romans 8:28).  And I see this redemptive power through this symbolism that starts with one of the first interactions Jesus has with the disciples and ends with one of the last.  It comes full circle.  Jesus takes the water that Jews had turned into a symbol of cleansing and turned it into the best wine at the party.  He didn’t think about it causing a problem later when the household was out of “cleansing” water, because HE had come to take the place of all the ceremonies, sacrifices and symbols.  And many of these ceremonies and symbols had become legalistic rituals, added over time in addition to the actual directives of God to His people.  Because when in the world, even the things that began for God can become perverted and corrupted.

But all can be redeemed… even things we’ve messed up and gotten wrong…

Because then, some time later, Jesus takes wine and uses it as a symbol of the blood He would shed to cleanse us all, once and for all, forever.  Full circle-from the beginning of His ministry to the end.  The Jews’ cleansing water turned to wine, then wine used as a symbol to remind us all that only one thing can truly cleanse us and it is the one thing we most need: Jesus.

 

Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

 

Besides thoughts on all things “If” and the positive affect getting back into a study with outer women has had on my life recently, also on deck to come soon: Gaining small victories over fear; New perspectives on God’s definition of “good” and “bad” when contemplating the question “why does God allow bad things to happen”; and Giving grace in the grey…

(of course, that pre-supposes time to write, and time is in short supply right now… so they may not come SUPER soon… but keep an eye out 🙂 )

Angry Conversations With God

One thing I can say about this chick’s blog?  I always want to read whatever book she’s reviewed.  She has a way of picking out excerpts and reviewing the work that makes me want to read more 🙂 

But when I saw the review of this Susan Issacs’ book?  I knew it was something I HAD to read.   Believing in a “God whom I loved, whom I could not escape, and with whom I was very, very pissed off”?  Wanting to take God to marriage counseling?  Yes Please. 

I doubt I’m going to read the book quickly.  I’m reading the new Tudor Era Phillipa Gregory novel, a Tudor Era non-fiction by Leanda de Lisle and the new Kerrelyn Sparks at the same time and I find too much “God” stuff exhausts me right now.  But I thought I’d blog as I read through it.  I’ve been putting off dealing much with God because it is exhausting right now and I just need to get through life at the moment.  But if Kari’s review is anywhere close to on track (as they normally are), this should have enough humor mixed in. 

So far I’ve only read the introduction, but I loved it.  I’m going to try to pull five things from each section I read, so:

Things I found particularly resonating in the introduction:

  1. Her “Martha.”  Who HASN’T met one of those women in their “church” experience?
  2. Her list of questions she might ask God in a counseling session.  (“So, Lord, is there in fact a ‘purpose-driven life’ a “secret”? A ‘best life now'”  Or are those just your latest marketing campaigns designed to get me to buy books and CDs and to tithe?”; “Did you ever speak to me?  Where you ever involved?”; “Your people love to quote Jeremiah 29:11: ‘I know the plans I have for you,… to prosper you and not to harm you.’  How come I never heard Jeremiah 20:7: ‘O, Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived’?!”)
  3. Her authenticity in questioning a “middle-class religion” that she’s been a part of all of her life.
  4. Her knowledge that those outside her “middle-class religion” would find her insane and most Christian therapists wouldn’t “dare question the Almighty.”
  5. The fact that she’s sharing her story.  Despite the world seeing her as insane or the religious world seeing her as heretical. 

Transcending Causality

I wish when I blogged I could be as eloquent as some writers are.  You know those writers, the ones who can pull you in and write so fluidly about their discovery that by the end, you too have reached an epiphany about life?  I’m not good at that.  Usually, when I blog about what’s actually in my heart and soul it’s as messy as the thoughts going through my head.  I tend to just sit and type and publish, without editing.  This, of course, can get you in trouble.  Filters are good and necessary for the preservation of self and relationships.

This isn’t one of those posts that I worry might cross some line in putting too much of me or my life “out there” for people to see.  This is simply one that I’m finding a hard time tying up in a nice little bow.  I’m wrestling with so many things right now and have had more than my far share of thoughts today to share it all with any coherency. 

I’ve started writing this post several times, not really knowing where to take my inspiration.  I thought about talking about the fact that I watched The Matrix Trilogy for the first time ever this weekend, and since I watched it all together I thought about referencing the beauty of Hope mirrored in its story.  Or the fact that the Frenchman believed in “causality” only, a perfectly human need, despite the fact that he was a computer program.

I thought about referencing this blog post, suggested to me by a friend.  It’s one of those eloquent posts I mentioned earlier, one that lets you into just enough of the author’s life to not compromise her but to really understand her and have your own epiphany.  I thought I would explain that I think in a similar way to her, that I too, find myself defining my life, my questions, and my quests in the negative rather than in the positive. 

But then I stumbled across this blog post that had this verse from John 9:1-3 that so perfectly reconciled for me how God can have soverignty over our creation without having culpability in the flaws of our humanity.  It so clearly answered the questions from the previous post that stumbling across the words could be considered serendipitous if I were one to believe in fate.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” 

One of the things the blog post mentioned was the human need to recognize causality.  The question to Jesus in John 9 shows that inherent need: to reconcile the suffering (the effect) we need to understand the cause (his sin, his parent’s sin).  That’s what causes such heartache and suffering when bad things happen and we don’t know why.  We understand causality and find comfort in it.  We think we need the whys and the hows.  Jesus tells us that’s a flawed need.  We don’t need the whys and the hows.  We need Him, we need God.

One thing I don’t think I expressed well in my last post was the fact that I don’t think I am the only one who ever has these questions.  I am not alone in my suffering or in my questioning, today or any day in the story of humanity, as so many stories from the gospels show.  Passages such as this simply reaffirm my belief that God really knew what He was doing with Jesus’ part in the story. 

And such passages make my heart ache when people can’t understand how very relevant the words of Jesus are to every single person today.  Because Jesus didn’t speak to a certain person or group of people in a certain culture at a certain time.  Jesus spoke to humanity, the thread that binds us all together; the condition that transcends time, culture and individuals. 

And that human condition, THAT is what is, in-and-of-itself, imperfect and flawed.  Not the blind man, not me, and not you.  And it’s not by His doing, but by ours.  Again, transcending time, culture, and individuals; bigger than my sin; bigger than one sin by many or many sins by few; a condition impossible for humans to escape because it is the humanity itself that is flawed.

Yet, despite how intrinsically flawed we are, we are so blessed, and undeservingly so, to have a God who CAN overcome our humanity, who suffered humanity himself to do so.  And we are even more undeservingly blessed by a God who offers to us the ability to Know Him, who can turn our mourning to dancing and our suffering to joy, who offers us the chance to reconcile our imperfect humanity with His perfect holiness.

And truly, isn’t that the bigger mystery?  Look at the world today.  Look at the greed and the selfishness and the anger and the lust and the gluttony and the hard-heartedness; the obstinance and the self-glorifying and the impatience; look at the negligence and the self-righteousness and the arrogance and the self-importance.  If you look for these qualities, you won’t have any trouble finding them.  All you have to do is look at me. 

I’m human.  I understand causality so I should understand suffering in this imperfect world and this imperfect human condition…

But Grace?  What an idiot I am to question suffering and not stand in complete and total awe of Grace.

God, You continue to prove to me just how big you are, how You’ve anticipated the needs of your children, though we are undeserving of such consideration.  And yet I continue to act like a petulant child, expecting and demanding that you give that proof, that you make good things happen, that you be my private geni to make all things good.   I sit and expect Grace rather than being brought to my knees because of it.  Please forgive me. 

I’ve been asking the wrong questions.  I’ve been wrestling with you over the wrong things, over things beyond my control, but fully in Yours.  Suffering?  How can I not understand suffering?  Even if I can’t see direct causality, I can understand suffering, imperfection and crumminess.  It is all more than deserved.  How self-centered, how imperfect, how HUMAN of me to simply expect Your Grace without a hint of awe or wonder and question your soverignty over my suffering.  Father, forgive me.