EDITORIAL: Walking With God
God has structured human life so that we each experience loneliness, at least in life “under the sun”. No matter how deep your relationship with your parents, in the usual course of events the time comes when they must die, and you must live on - knowing that nobody can empathize exactly with your memories of childhood, the smell of your early home, the colour of the kitchen door... And no matter how intimate your relationship with your partner, he or she wasn’t in your life until you met them and cleaved unto them in marriage. No matter how close your relationship with your children, they also only personally knew part of your life. If you were to find a wonderful friend, a companion on life’s road, and spent hours of conversation with them over endless late night coffees, you’d still be frustrated that you could never exactly share with them all the memories, the scenes, the situations, that resulted in the personality you are. Many of those things you’ve forgotten, or misremember; the passage of time changes perceptions of reality in any case. And were you to spend weeks explaining your recollections to somebody, they still could never hug you and say with legitimacy: “Yes, I know exactly”. Nobody has personally travelled with you over all the roads you’ve taken to what can appear to be, humanly, the unusable last equilibrium of who “you” as a person really are at this moment. This is how human experience is. We are left crying out for someone who was there, to whom we can say, “You were there [then]... you were then [then]... through those years... through that moment... you were there”.
The simple truth is, that there is such a Companion, “my comrade all the journey through” as a hymn expresses it. Life in Christ is about a personal relationship with Him as Friend, Master, Companion, Brother; and likewise with the Father. This is a reality of colossal import. Learning Bible teaching, baptism, preaching, good moral family life, working in the ecclesia... all this can be performed for decades without knowing Him as this daily, hourly, minute-by-minute Witness, Comforter and Friend. Wisdom surely consists of turning that knowledge into a felt reality.
“I will be...”
An oft overlooked component of the promises to Abraham which are the core of the Gospel is that “I will be your God”. Land and eternal life in the future, blessings... these are indeed wonderful. But the King of the Cosmos is my God. Oh how rich the promise. So often we read that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I take this to mean that He was there for them, through every moment, He was their God, He alone is without beginning and has immortality in Himself. This continuity in God over history is therefore an encouragement to us that He likewise is the continuous One in our lives too.
Israel in captivity felt God had forgotten them; and so they are comforted that they are individuals “which have been borne by me from the belly, which have been carried from the womb: and even to old age I am he, and even to grey hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; yea, I will carry, and will deliver” (Is. 46:3,4). Note how God, who is presented as male, likens Himself to a woman here. As He carried us in the womb, so He will carry us when we are old and grey haired. True to human parenting experience, the baby is always the father’s little baby, even in grey hairs. And this wonderful comfort is so simply because “I am he”. This is an evident reference to God’s Name, YHWH. The mystery of the Name is partly because the declaration of it in Ex. 3:6 implies grammatically that He is, was, and shall be. This was intended to be a great comfort to Israel in Egypt, who again had felt that God was somehow distant, looking the other way, leaving them in their aloneness. The same Name, the promise of God’s abiding presence and purpose with us, provides comfort to every one of His people.
So many of God’s children have come to exemplify the truth of what we’ve written above.
Job in his depths came to know God as his “witness in heaven” (Job 16:19); in his former life, “when the eye saw me, it gave witness [s.w.] to me” (Job 29:11). But Job was brought to learn that the only ultimate witness in life is God, and it is His testimony and not man’s which is meaningful.
David frequently expresses his aloneness, and the comfort He therefore finds in God. But this had to grow over time. His earlier Psalms reflect his fear of loneliness: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth… when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not” (Ps. 71:9,18). Is. 46:4 seems almost to be in answer to David’s fear: “even to old age I am he, and even to grey hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; yea, I will carry, and will deliver”. He evidently loved his parents and expected their passing when he wrote: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27:10). But David wasn’t begging God to not forsake him; he was now confident that God wouldn’t. Ps. 56:8 demonstrates the intensity David arrived at: “You number all my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your book?” Tear bottles were kept by mourners at funerals; they put their tears in a bottle which they then kept in memory of the deceased. But David says that his tears are in God’s bottle. The idea was that your tears went into your bottle. But David was so intimate with God that he perceived that his tears were in fact God’s; and vice versa.
God With Us
And so the awesome truth dawns: that man is not alone. For God is with us. Pushing relentlessly deeper- How, in what sense, is God with us? The answer is: ‘Emmanuel’. God is with us through the Lord Jesus. But again- what does that mean? Putting meaning into words, we could say that God is “with us” in that the Lord Jesus so suffered, so shared in our humanity, that there is no human being who can legitimately say “Nobody knows how I feel”. Maybe there isn’t anybody on this earth. But there is One who is now in Heaven, who does know. This is one window onto the old question of ‘Why the cross? Why did He have to suffer so much, and so publicly?’. For our redemption could have been achieved any way God chose; His Son didn’t have to die. To say that He had to die to fulfil the Old Testament types only pushes the questions a stage further back- but why, anyway? Why not to give a profound speech and then drink hemlock surrounded by His friends and followers, the classic parting? Why the awful intensity and utter abandon of the cross?
Whilst the answer is multi-factorial, it would be true to say that one of the reasons was so that none of us could ever legitimately think: “Nobody understands what I am going through”. I have met radical feminists who tell me they need a female Jesus, one like them; and radical black theologians for whom Jesus had to be black; and to an extent, I can see what they mean. They want Jesus to be like them. Just as I want Him to be like me. A study of Jesus in art teaches us the same. Italian painters have Him with Italian features; the Spanish masters present Him in Iberian-style villas; the Scandinavians as a blue-eyed blonde; the Africans as a negro. And yet the wonder of it all is that Christ is indeed “for every man”; the unique structure of His life and personal experiences was such that He can legitimately know the feelings of the black man, the white woman, the disabled, the deaf, the Arab, the Chinese... Nothing can separate our life experience from His understanding and ability to identify. Is. 53:7 speaks of the Lord in His time of dying: "as a sheep before her shearers is silent". Yet the Passover Lamb, so evidently typical of the Lord as He approached death, was to be male. Why such an obvious contradiction? Was it not because the prophet foresaw that in the extraordinary breadth of experience the Lord was passing through, He was made able to empathize with both men and women?
Meanings For Us
In the final analysis, we will meet Jesus alone. There will, by God’s grace, be a moment when we will even see the face of Almighty God - alone. This was the light at the end of Job’s tunnel - he would see his redeemer for himself “and not another”. Paul possibly expresses the same idea of an unenterable relationship in 1 Cor. 2:15: "He that is spiritual discerneth all things (about God), yet he himself is discerned of no man". Our real spiritual being is a "hidden man" (1 Pet. 3:4). The Spirit describes our final redemption as our "soul" and "spirit" being "saved" ; our innermost being, our essential spiritual personality, who we really are in spiritual terms, will as it were be immortalized (1 Pet. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5).
Anyone faced with the trauma of forgiveness, of seeking reconciliation with another, will know that an agreed version of events between opposed parties will never be arrived at. Yet we hanker for this, we long for justice in the eyes of men and women, that they might accept our history, our reality, as the true one. Because of this, so often forgiveness and reconciliation remain unachieved. For nobody can exactly sympathize with us. Nor with the opposing party. Vague sympathy there may be, but there can’t be true empathy, total fellow feeling with another because we have not been exactly where they were and are. For we are not God; we’ve not been there with that other person. And nobody else has been with us in that way either. But for those who know the Father and Son as their personal witnesses, who believe that justice is with God and not men, this crying need for an agreed version of events presses less heavily. God knows. Jehovah-Jireh - He has seen, and will therefore provide. Even if there’s no justice, the wonder of a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father will keep us going.
Those who lose their “faith” because of fallouts in the ecclesias, personal offence... haven’t know the wonder of this personal companionship of the Father and Son. It’s so wonderful that really whatever happens on earth, be it betrayal, injustice, sickness, even death itself... nothing shall separate us from the love and relationship of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And the response to this can only be praise: “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth, upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you” (Ps. 71:5,6).