“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:17
As the Christmas season comes brazenly upon us, it may be of value to consider the immense battle that was raging over that simple abode in Bethlehem which cradled the innocent, vulnerable body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 2 v.14-15, makes an overwhelming statement in linking this simple incarnation to the total overthrow of the evil one:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The “power of death” is, unfortunately, only too present each festive season. Devastating typhoons in the Philippines, war in Syria and fractious gatherings in Egypt, remind us all of the tremendous challenges this short life on earth presents us with.
“Why do the innocents always suffer God?”
God’s answer to this doesn’t always come echoing into the cloistered chambers of intellect, but, like the “Wisdom” of old, it cries out in the dusty streets and tracks that lead to suffering humanity. God’s confession of faith moves beyond a doctrine into a crucified groan.
I’ll attempt to put a few words to the groan.
The problem begins with the event of sin and a total war with evil. We are born into battle whether we like it or not. Here endeth the first lesson! Cold comfort for some. However, God commits himself to a remedy, including my own personal healing. Receive the balm of two words.
“Innocence” and “Perspective.”
After fifty-four years on this earth I have no problem in being “as shrewd as a snake” – it is second nature to me. This “shrewdness” no doubt forms the foundation of most of our “normal life” which follows the principles of good sense and self-preservation. God calls us to a higher nature. He sends us afresh to be “as innocent as doves”. Can you hear the call to innocence this Christmas?
Innocence is bloody and painful in its purity. Innocence is vulnerable. Innocence is abused and battered. Innocence pays the price for sin and overcomes evil.
Let me introduce you to the “Trickle down factor”. Imagine innocence being at the lowest point beneath a gigantic septic waterfall of sin. All the grime and evil trickles down to land at the lowest most vulnerable point. Christ took this place on the cross. It was not so much his physical suffering – (the overkill of Mel Gibson’s film), but the horrific, scandalous reality of his ultimate innocence becoming the ultimate victim. God totally committed himself to the innocent victims of the world, drawing the whole pain and sorrow of history into himself and redeeming it. The punishment which brought us peace fell on him.
This “trickle down factor” is a general rule throughout the cosmos. The innocents continue to pay – and yet God works a glorious transformation of such suffering into glory, as His innocent heart beats in harmony to broken innocence the world over. This lamb like heart is revealed in Revelation 5: 5-6.
John, the faithful old apostle is wounded on Patmos. He sees the scroll of human history opened before him, the pain, the judgment, the sorrow, the superficial lukewarm churches and his own weakness and inability. He is driven to tears.
“Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Do not weep, a lion has won! This reminds us of Jesus’ words to Mary in the garden of resurrection. “No woman, no cry.” (Bob Marley translation!)
John’s teary eyes look hopefully to heaven, expecting to see a powerful lion over its prey…instead he sees crucified innocence.
“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Wounded innocence is enthroned in the very heart of God. It is His total identification and compassionate commitment to a world of “trickle down” suffering. Broken innocence overcomes, is transfigured in glory, and initiates a celebration of the nations.
The Lamb’s wounds do not seep with the poison of bitterness and despair but are transfigured to become triumphant emblems of the ultimate missionary triumph.
We need to allow our own hardened, “shrewd” hearts to soften and embrace the mysterious glorifying power of Christ’s love.
Bridges and Thring in the wonderful hymn “Crown Him with many Crowns” capture the mysterious beauty of such sacrifice.
“Crown Him the Lord of love :
Behold His hands and side.
Those wounds yet visible above
In beauty glorified :
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright.”
Unable to explain everything, and attempting to steer clear of heresy, and the idea of “salvation through suffering”, I would tentatively venture the thought that, despite the evil consequences of war against innocence, there is a measure of victory and glory in the pain as Christ, in becoming flesh, sucks all of suffering humanity and history into his death and takes it to be transfigured into the very heart of God.
Jurgen Moltmann also shares some deep insight into this question from his book the crucified God:
“How is faith in God, how is being human, possible after Auschwitz?” I don’t know. But it helps me to remember the story that Elie Wiesel reports in his book on Auschwitz called “Night.” Two Jewish men and a child were hanged. The prisoners were forced to watch. The men died quickly. The boy lived on in torture for a long while. Then someone behind me said: “Where is God?” and I was silent. After half an hour he cried out again: “Where is God? Where is he?” And a voice in me answered: “Where is God?. . . he hangs there from the gallows…”
A theology after Auschwitz would be impossible, were not the “sch’ma Israel” and the Lord’s prayer prayed in Auschwitz itself, were not God himself in Auschwitz, suffering with the martyred and the murdered. Every other answer would be blasphemy. An absolute God would make us indifferent. The God of action and success would let us forget the dead, which we still cannot forget. God as Nothingness would make the entire world into a concentration camp. Let me break off here, and now try, step by step, to penetrate into the mystery of God’s suffering, attempting to show how the horizon of humanity exists in the situation of the crucified God.”
You’ll have to wait for the next article for the balm of “perspective”. Here’s a bit of Baudelaire to get you thinking.
In the meantime, ask the Lord to give you the grace to abandon yourself afresh to innocence, to risk the suffering, the intercession, and to glow with the genuine Christmas light, sharing in the bright mystery of glorified woundedness.