Sessions 5- The Hermeneutical Value of God’s Word
Session 6- The New Testament Exhortation to Understand the Old
Looking for Sessions 3-4? Click here
Sessions 5- The Hermeneutical Value of God’s Word
Session 6- The New Testament Exhortation to Understand the Old
Looking for Sessions 3-4? Click here
Sessions 3-4. Approaching the Scriptures with the right lens.
aka. Biblical Hermeneutics; i.e. Losing our gentile-centric lens.
Session’s One and Two
Introduction and Overview
Click the link below to view the slides that pertain to the material we discuss.
When I was a boy I was unsure of the future. Our family had their issues and there were many times that I would lay in bed at night and wonder if my parents would ever get a divorce as many of my friends parents had. That concern in my childhood mind would’ve been allowed to fester, always remaining a hopeless outcome, except for one thing: My parents would speak to me at various times and say, “Son, no matter how bad of a fight we have, we will never get a divorce. We will always stay married” This gave great comfort to my small, innocent mind. It gave me a handle to grab ahold of, a handle by which I knew something of security in my future: My parents would stay married.
My parents celebrated their 42 anniversary this year. They have been faithful to their words and for this I am thankful and very proud.
But imagine a different scenario where words don’t mean what they seem to mean. What if my parents had divorced, and upon me reminding them of the words they had told me their response was: “Oh son, we’re sorry, we didn’t really mean we’d never get a divorce. We just told you that to comfort you. Things have changed…”
I don’t use this analogy tritely knowing that many of had this experience as reality.
However, in this scenario the hope of the future has been shattered by a simple unfaithfulness to what was previously spoken. The hearer, in this case a small boy who trusted his parents words has had his future obliterated and must now pick up the pieces of a broken family to rebuild a new future. Anyone looking on they would say this is wrong for the boy because––
Words mean something.
Or maybe I should clarify in a generation such as this:
Words should mean something!
This is not a complicated concept, however, I am continually amazed at how simple life principles that we all abide by on a daily basis are not maintained when reading the Scriptures; or in how we think about God and the words He says. This post is a pragmatic plea for us to allow the future God has spoken of to remain the hope of what He said it would, and will be.
The hope of the biblical future being fulfilled remains the steadfast anchor by which the chains of our heart are mored to in desperate hope that God might be found true, and every other man a liar.
Hebrews 6: 11-12, 18-19 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises… in the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast
The Two Camps
There is currently a growing number of Bible students who have been trained to disbelieve that a literal future fulfillment of the words spoken in Scripture, will happen as prophesied in the future. The position that believes the opposite is called futurism, believing firmly that from Genesis to Revelation the nature of biblical prophecy is to find its true end apocalyptically. Apocalypticism is the same, in that we believe the things spoken about the end-times in the Law, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, and Letters will have a true, literal fulfillment in a climactic end.
Simply put, exactly what God said will be fulfilled in real time and space and since many events come together to begin this great end and see it through, it is as a crescendo in nature, where many biblical prophecies come together in a sort of grand finale.
To give an illustration, when Jesus says in Matthew 24 that “this generation will by no means pass away until all is fulfilled,” futurists take this to mean that Jesus meant the generation that sees ALL of the things He mentions take place. Simply, everything He mentioned did not happen in the generation proceeding 70 AD, therefore He likely means the generation of His coming because His coming is the pinnacle event of His prophecy (see Luke 21, and Mark 13 also).
What orchestral piece have you heard that does not contain it’s crescendo? What fireworks show have you witnessed that does not have a grand finale? Futurists see the Bible in this light, that the God of Israel’s beautiful song, or His firework show, or whatever analogy you would employ in the place of biblical narrative, has a climactic end. Not because He is into putting on a dramatic show, but because the Scriptures teach us that He is really into putting on a dramatic show (misnomer intentional).
The opposing view to futurism is called Preterism, in which all things that are prophetic in nature are said to have been fulfilled on or by 70 AD. In one sense, Preterist’s say they are more literal than Futurist’s in their interpretation because they keep the “original context” in which things were written. They would say that Ezekiel was only speaking to those hearing him, his immediate generation, and that it has no application to thing in the future. They say the same about Daniel and his words and maintain that the fulfillment is immediate, not in the distant future. Many Preterist’s are honorable, bible loving people, who are truly seeking to interpret the Scriptures to the best of their ability. This is respectable, and something worthy of praise. To their credit they truly are seeking to understand the Scriptures and they see this as the best way.
For instance, they take the very same words of Matthew 24 that a futurist is clinging to in hopes of occurring, and say that Jesus exclusively meant the generation He was speaking to in that moment, and that he was not speaking to future generations. They say that even though only some of the events took place as Jesus said, he was mainly speaking about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD which sealed up biblical prophecy for good. The slippery slope of this interpretation leads many to the conclusion that Jesus was just plain wrong because He did not come again as He said to the generation He was speaking to, and caused others to suffer shipwreck in their faith, leaving the faith entirely. I say this with sobriety, love, and an ache in my heart for these brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, with this interpretation, the larger sweeping nature of biblical prophecy is often ignored. I need to firmly say that I believe the view of preterism is detrimental to the Bible, how we understand it, and that it very simply does not honor the words that the Father has spoken, but rather takes away from what He has said in a very harsh, but disguised, format. It is my hope that this post might paint the larger picture of biblical prophecy and that the entire biblical narrative holds to a distinct futurist method of interpretation, beginning in Genesis and climaxing in Revelation.
The First Futurist
From the first biblical prophecy in Genesis 3:15 that a seed would crush the head of the serpent it is established that the nature of biblical prophecy is to say something that will have a latter fulfillment, and that the fulfillment is not immediate by any sense of the word. Genesis 3:15 is called the protoevangelium, or first Gospel. Just after Adam and Eve sin by their disobedience of God’s command in the garden to not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, God gives this incredible promise of hope, this good news––that the serpent who deceived them would one day be crushed by the promised Seed. It is interesting that God began biblical prophecy setting the hope of restoration in the very distant future, and it is extremely significant and instructional that the first Biblical prophecy is as such.
Although hindsight tells us this now, Adam and Eve would have seen this promise very differently. Adam and Eve had no context for the future. They had only lived in perfection in the presence of God from the time of their first breaths until that moment. Time, and its devastating longevity would not have been something they had any context for. Therefore, when Adam and Eve heard this promise we must ask the question, “What was their expectation of fulfillment?” How did they perceive the future? Based very simply on what God spoke, it seems that they would’ve believed that Eve would somehow bring forth another man immediately that would bring them back to the garden they were driven out of. At this stage Adam and Eve might have been Preterists.
For analogies sake, I like to picture Adam and Eve most likely living just outside the gate that led into the garden. Why else would God have had to protect it with the swords of fiery cherubim? They were close, and the promise that they had received from God they believed to be equally close. They thought that when this man came forth from her Seed he would crush that serpent imminently, the cherubim’s swords would cease their paths of crescent fire, and they would go back into the garden to be with God. If we can put ourselves in their shoes, this scenario is very plausible given their context since they did not yet understand time.
They couldn’t have been more naive however! We don’t know whether Abel or Cain were born first but their names give us a little hint. Abel in Hebrew means breath; son; breathing spirit; while Cain means acquired. With Cain’s given name, is it possible they believed they had acquired the Seed that was promised? However, when Abel is murdered, Adam and Eve would’ve instantly realized that neither of the boys were the promised Seed of which God had spoken.
Imagine the devastation. What they had hoped for, and likely thought close, was now an ambiguous time frame…
Who would this seed be? When would he come forth? Had they done something wrong? Had they misunderstood the Lord? Was God Himself wrong about what He promised? BY no means.
With the promise that God had made crystallized in their minds they conceive again, and bring forth Seth. It would seem that they’re hope of the promised Seed was forefront in their minds as Seth means appointed. I wonder at what stage they realized it wasn’t Seth either? When Seth gives birth to Enosh, which means mortal, his name is telling of what they clearly think––He is not the one. It is then that the Bible tells us, “then men began calling on the name of the Lord.”
What were they crying out for? The promised Seed who would come to crush the head of the serpent and restore them to the garden! Adam must’ve waited and waited with eager hope and expectation that this promised one would arise in his lifetime to no avail. In his 930th year, death creeps upon his tired lungs and when his eyes close for the last time they were most undoubtedly filled with tears of confusion and yet hope that the God he had personally walked with and spoken to would fulfill what He said with His own mouth. We can rest assured that on that day Adam died a futurist, knowing that the prophecy spoken to him would have a literal future fulfillment after his death. Thank you Adam for keeping the faith!
Often times, Preterist’s tell us that biblical prophecy must not be taken out of its original context. Futurist’s heartily agree with this. However, the problem with the preterist hermeneutic is that they do not allow any room for fulfillment beyond the original context. There is a glaring flaw with this method. As we have just witnessed, the very first biblical prophecy pointedly communicates a future hope that was not fulfilled within Adam’s life or context. Yet, I have never seen a preterist making the case that this prophecy never came to pass–– the entire biblical story hinges upon it! It is the very substance of redemptive history, the quintessential gospel that points to our Savior Christ Jesus.
It is here that we must ask a very reasonable question. Since the first prophecy God spoke had a distinct future context to its fulfillment, is it not also logical to conclude that other prophecies in the bible will possess a similar nature? Is it reasonable to use the first biblical prophecy as the interpretive key to the rest? Is it good sense to assume that prophecy simply contains this future component in its very fabric? As good students learning from experience, it would be a disservice to the Scriptures to not do so.
Still, this is exactly what the preterist position asks you to do to the ultimate demise of faith in what God has said.
Yes, Israel will be restored as Isaiah 60 says. Yes, Babylon will be decimated and judged as Jeremiah 51 exclaims. Indeed, Jesus will descend on the clouds of heaven and the tribes of Israel will mourn over Him, as one weeps for an only son. Truly, His feet will stand on the mount of olives and it will literally split in two as Zechariah 12 and 14 state and as Jesus Himself proclaims in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. All Israel will be saved on that day like Paul tells us in Romans 11, and as Revelation 20 declares Jesus will reign on this earth for 1000 years sitting upon a throne in a literal temple as Ezekiel described in chapters 40-48. Jerusalem will be elevated upon a glorious mountain as Isiah 2 emphatically declares, and the nations of the earth will come up to Jerusalem to learn from the God of Jacob, lay down their weapons and forsake war, and be healed by the waters that flow from His throne until He delivers the kingdom to the Father as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15. These words are the weight in the anchor of which our faith is joyfully roped to.
We must not overcomplicate the matter of futurist versus preterist interpretation. And here is the old horse that is belarboingly kicked: we are simply discussing a matter of faith.
From the beginning of the Bible men are asked to put their faith in what God says. The whole trajectory of the biblical hope is founded upon God saying things, and men believing that what He said will happen. If we do not do this we have no hope! If we do not do this we have no gospel! Therefore, it is my plea to suggest that we believe what has been spoken, and that we have faith that what was spoken will come to pass.
The glaring issue with the preterist interpretation is that it takes what God has spoken and discounts it by a scheme of thought that basically says God is like the parents getting the divorce, “Well, I didn’t really mean EVERYTHING I said.” This is harmful to faith. This effectively cuts the rope attached to the anchor allowing it to slip off into the bottom of the theological seas. It may never be recovered again.
This view is truly pessimistic towards the very promises God spoke with His own mouth. It is encouraging many to not believe that the things spoken in the Bible will happen as they have been spoken. If this be the case, then where is the plumbline? If Adam had believed this way, would he not have died an unbeliever? Rather, Noah’s father Lamech would’ve most likely sat with Adam, hearing from him the promise of the coming Seed and he also would have believed it would come to pass. He would have put his faith in that promise and then discipled His son Noah in righteousness with faith in drastic contrast to the landslide of wickedness taking root in his day. Thus when God said to Noah “build an ark because it’s going to rain,” the faith instilled in him from his father to trust God would’ve driven him to complete the task. Many looked on in Noah’s day mocking, marrying, laughing, drinking, and although the witness of an enormous ship was before them, they were blind to its significance.
Likewise brothers and sisters we are approaching a time in which “all things written will be fulfilled,” (Lk. 21:22). We desire to be those who heed Jesus words, cling to them faithfully, and not write them off by the words of men. He will be the only One found worthy on that day, His words entirely justified, upheld, and completed just as He said. He will remain faithful, He will not change what He has said. We can trust what He said:
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it,” (Is. 55:11).
The amazing thing is that Genesis 3:15 still remains unfulfilled. Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion (1 Pt. 5:8), he is the prince and the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), thw ruler of this world (Jn. 14:30) and Paul confirms that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rm. 16:20). Yes, Jesus sacrifice effectively “crushed” satan, however there remains a very literal crushing ahead. Rev. 12:9 and 20:10 tells us,
“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him… And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
This one prophecy from Genesis 3:15 encompasses the last 6000 years of history unfolding. We take great joy in this future event when Jesus, the promised Seed finally triumphs over the Serpent, and squishes His head beneath His glorious heel consummating this spectacular sentence.
The vivid hope in what God has spoken, and the faith in His words remain as the only anchor for my broken soul.
And this is why I am still a futurist.
A couple years ago we had a season in South Korea. Upon our arrival my children immediately noticed that their Grandpa had hung this beautiful transparent poster of Christ crucified upon a glass door. What took place after this was the most remarkable thing to me. In the morning, just upon waking, my children would go over to it and without a word just stare for minutes at a time. It was as if they would fall into the great abyss of the crucifixion speechless and in awe. Throughout the day, without explanation they would return and look. Dumbstruck, I would watch on with tears in my eyes and ask for the same intrigue… the same wonder to overtake me that was so consuming to them.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
-The Apostle Paul
This scripture has been paramount in my life for a little over ten years. I return to it often in order to reset my own system with the system of the apostle. Something of a simultaneous reckoning takes place and I rewire my mind back to this specific purpose to know only Christ and him crucified. In order to do so, I often need to cut some wires that have begun crowding the electrical box of my mind and heart. I yank them out and I throw them away. Then I pray… I pray that this one wire of Christ and Him crucified would again be plugged into the mainframe of my mind and heart and carried out in my own will and emotions. I determine within myself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that this would be the consuming flood of purpose carrying my life along on its waters until we reach that glorious beach of resurrection. As a fencing champion relinquishing his sword in the midst of the battle I surrender.
When a man determines to do something he is set on the goal until it is accomplished. Paul does not mistakenly use this language here. For him this is exactly what has taken place within him as he testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live…” (Gal. 2:20). We cannot all say that the same is true for us.
The determination we see within the apostle can actually be quite unfamiliar to the daily routine of our lives. And yet this is not something we can just add to our routine – no, it is far more consuming than that, far more detrimental to our pretty little worlds. Quite the opposite, we must die to our routine, and it, and us, must also become crucified with Christ so that the life we live in the flesh we live in the Son of God. It is all consuming and all encompassing and requires our certain crucifixion. It is as if you are standing on the brink of a sinkhole and wondering how deep it is when all you see is black.
Yet this tunnel is the tunnel with the most glorious light at its end.
The light at the end of that abyss is the hope of becoming lost in Christ alone, while being yet found. There is only Christ, and Him crucified there. As His followers we must all jump in!
In jumping we do not allow this determination to remain a vague spiritualized idea. This determination must pass from idea to form as the clay was transformed into man by the hand of God in the garden. We must allow the breath of His Spirit to breathe into us again and raise us up from the dirt, that we might be pushed down into it again…. and again, just as He was. To know Christ and Him crucified is to allow Him to reciprocate our own crucifixion.
But no one likes to die!
This is certain. Dying is not something that is nostalgic. It happens once and you do not experience it again… unless of course you are the wicked who die a second death, or the apostle who dies every single day. “I die daily.” Paul’s words resound from 1 Corinthians 15, a reverberating echo, having ridden the shockwave through the chapters stemming from where he started in chapter 2.
For Paul death was nostalgic.
Every day he relived his death that was bound up inside the body of Christ on the Cross. When his flesh began to live again, then death was nostalgic, as he crucified Paul’s motives to the crossbeam and allowed Christ’s to live. We peer into the coffin of the apostle often as he tells the truth of his state: God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10We are fools for Christ’s sake… we are weak… we are without honor. 11To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
Here is death… and yet here is life in the fullest.
Indeed the funeral dirge is sounding in this genuine list of apostolic accolades. Each title is dressed in black as the spiritual morgue continues filling with true apostles. Before any man can claim to be apostolic, I have to see proof of this resume in his life––not his PhDs or MBAs. The apostle is living as one who is dead and this is equally how he perceives himself and the world perceives him. His life is lived calling out from the coffin of who he was, as he re-buries himself daily allowing the resurrected power of Christ to keep his body of death in the ground while the testimony of Christ walks on before him.
There is an odd requital at work in determining to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, in that, when you determine to only know only this, you are actually determining to know many other things. Namely, meekness, humility, kindness, servility, mercy – and the list goes on. It is in fact these very things that are pre-filling Messiah and driving Him to so willingly to lay down His life on the cross––to become crucified. If He was not these very things, our Gospel story would be avidly different, most likely having its termination point in a radical zealot Jesus who overthrew the Roman armies, instead of a man crucified by them. When a man then determines to know only Him and His crucifixion, the man is determining to know and become the attributes that gave Jesus the humility to be led as a Lamb to the slaughter. And rest assured, the Lamb will again come as the Lion King (and I don’t mean Sinba).
There is also theology to consider when we determine to know Christ. A commonly used phrase that drives me wild is, “Just Jesus man!” What people typically mean by this is: You don’t need a bunch of theology, Jesus is enough. This is interesting because theology simply means “What man knows about God.” The person who says, “Just Jesus brother!” has a belief system about the Jesus he speaks of, and it is his own theology. Being introduced to Jesus without theology is one thing, and it happens often, but worshipping Jesus in Spirit and truth without theology is not possible. We all have a theology, it’s simply what we think we know about God. It is actually irresponsible to leave vague definition to what we believe about God. It does Him and His Son a disservice. It equally does the person a disservice because they can remain in this odd state of immaturity for years thinking, “Just Jesus man!” However, as a large ship with a small rudder, the right theology directs our ship to Messiah–– Who He is, and what He is going to do, and instructs us to be like Him.
Jesus is perfect theology, and “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…” (Col. 2:3).
Our New Testament starts with the sentence: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, son of Abraham. This is one of the most incredible statements in the entire New Testament and one that strangely often means hardly anything to “Christians.” On a couple occasions, that one verse has been read to orthodox Jews and the response is outrage. Impossible! They shout. Because this phrase is one of the most powerful things the Bible can say about a person. This one verse speaks volumes about the person it is addressing. This great alarm sounds the warning for the reader to return to the 39 books prior and understand what it means to be the Son of David and Abraham. It provokes us to understand Jesus through a theology found in the Old Testament.
To determine to know Christ is undoubtedly determining to know the Scriptures that tell us the most about Him. This Man’s story begins in Genesis, not Matthew, and to understand what Paul means by knowing Christ, we must know the same words Paul knew because the New Testament did not exist nor was something Paul read to learn about Jesus––it was what Paul wrote in regards to what the Old Testament had taught Him about Jesus. The glorious abyss of finding Christ in the TaNaKh, is to behold the heirloom of Jesus beauty, the embryo of His person. It is actually very interesting that Matthew doesn’t start his gospel by saying Jesus was the Son of God. His point is being based from the Scriptures of Genesis 12-22, and 2 Samuel 7, which are God’s covenant words regarding the promised one of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpents head.
The other process taking place in 1 Cor. 2:2 is that the apostle has also determined to know nothing else. This is a hard one to swallow. I have often knelt in prayer and asked the Lord to help me know nothing else except Christ and Him crucified. Then, within fifteen minutes I am often determining to know something else… usually something worldly like the news or social media. I don’t have the answer for this I blatantly confess! It remains an odd mystery to me that Paul could use such a blanket statement. It gives me hope to know that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul was telling the truth because He was writing inspired of God. Therefore I let this resolve, this overwhelming determination, consume me, teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me in righteousness––I am ok with knowing nothing else.
When I was a boy I was determined to fly jet-fighters. There was a peace that would overtake my childhood mind as I pondered what the earth would look like from up there. I imagined the quiet amidst the roaring engines of that metal bird. I longed to rest in-flight between heaven and earth. This dream, albeit concocted from youthful naivety, was a pillar of determination in my mind. My kindergarten drawings were of me in F-16’s in the clouds. I was sure that I would be a pilot, I was determined to fly.
I am now 35 and have never seen the inside of a jet-fighter. Do you know why? Because determining to fly jet-fighters meant determining to learn many other things for many years. The idea of flying was fantastic and yet I have never flown because I was not determined enough to undergo the many challenges this determination would produce. Slowly, as I grew older I was distracted with other things that slowly took away that determination. Perhaps it was the difficulty of joining the Airforce? Perhaps it was that you had to be the best of the best to fly and I was afraid of failure. Perhaps it was just a slow letting of other things took priority over the
Determining to know Christ and Him crucified is similar. It is one thing to read the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels and think I determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is another thing altogether to relate to Him in His sufferings… to undergo a crucifixion of your own… to actually lay down your life and relate to Him there befuddled of knowledge unrelated to Him. Many times, a meek response can be a level of suffering. Other times suffering can be serving undeserving people or your enemies. At times, suffering can be having your life and actions completely overlooked or disregarded. Rest assured, many of us who choose to determine this will experience these things and more as preparation for the glorious day we meet Him there in the place of enduring physical pain and possibly torture and death as we become like Him in His death…
…and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11).
My dad, who was a pilot, once told me that flying an airplane is like flying an iron dinosaur through the air. “It’s loud and clunky,” he said. “The birds… they are the ones that really fly!” He then talked about “heaven” and with glossed-over eyes would imagine the day he would spread out his own arms and fly. I am long past the age of being able to fly that jet-fighter but I am young in the hope of flying in the resurrection of the righteous! I am connecting new wires that support who Christ is, and still cutting old ones that divert attention to other things. I am resolving that my determination remain steadfastly fixed upon Messiah and Him crucified. As scary as it is, I want to draw near to Him in the fellowship of His sufferings and be conformed to His death. I want to stumble through the darkness of that pit, bleeding, weeping, and following in His footsteps only to emerge into that light at the end of the tunnel and hear, “Well done…”
The joy that will be ours on that day will pale in comparison to the sufferings we endured in this life. Take hold of that hope and plow on!
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” -The Apostle Paul
(What provoked this blog from within the depths of me, came during a morning of prayer and meditation while listening to the instrumental song above on repeat. It is a close friend of mine’s music and carries the emotional weight of the words in this post within the borders of its musical arrangement. I would love for you to listen to it while you read this post for a more dramatic experience.)
Weeping is not something that can be conjured up. It strikes a person as a bolt of lightning, unpredictable, from a course not of ourselves. Bound up in the endless depths of the human heart is restricted emotion from years of wounding, hurts, pains, and wrongs… and when the dam holding back those floodwaters bursts its torrent is an uncontrollable flood… a deluge of something divine. Tears trace paths down our cheeks like streams through a parched desert devoid of rain for seasons past. Truly, who can explain what it is that makes one cry? Who can declare from where it is conceived? Born in that stored-away place that is rarely seen by many, the fetus of emotion grows and grows until the event that causes its birth. With heaving and groaning the baby is born and the tears on one’s face are like the wet newborn baby that has just entered the world. Is it overly allegorical to observe why we have at times returned to that fetal position in times of weeping?
There is no time or pattern to the rhythm of weeping, and it knows no metronome. It follows no clap, or tapping foot, and albeit random, its heaves produce a song of its own. The wise listen and add to their learning, the discerning get guidance.
The eyes of those who empathize become moist as well, because the chord struck deep within the person upon whom the dam has just broken can oddly cause other dams to break. By relation of experience, and of proximity to the dam, others are suddenly swept away in its forceful waters. As though the one drowning in the beauty of release should not be left alone, another swims down to join them in a sea of their own tears. Behold the power of weeping and the strength of such weakness! Behold the beauty of the broken.
No one knows the bounds or depths of sobbing uncontrollably… the untethered chorus of a crowd in mourning is staggering to behold.
Some cheeks are more desperate to savor those moments than others and like droplets of rain dripping from the leaves of forests in a downpour their tears fall to the ground where the earth desperately drinks them up. Or, they fall into the very hands of God, where they are stored until the day He wipes every single one of them away and replaces them with the oil of joy.
Lest we become overly sentimental towards the idea of simple sentiment, let us progress to the biblical thrust of weeping and the object of our attention––weeping with God. The valuable lesson we learn from the Scriptures regarding the God of Israel is that He is the divine Creator who possesses weeping as an attribute. We should think that when the Alpha and Omega weeps it is due to the most profound of circumstances. His divine heart of unchanging love and sacred refuge bursts and the longsuffering tears of deep emotional pain regarding His creation are expended, an uncontrollable geyser that sinks the arrogance of man into the deep ocean of His humility. Indeed, in Noah’s flood the wicked could have been drowning in the very tears the Godhead was shedding from their heavenly temple. As the warm droplets touched the faces of those under His judgment as they peered wide-eyed towards the heavens, they would’ve recognized His everlasting mercy before they sank down immersed in the waters of His unwavering justice.
When I was small my father would leave the room as soon as he spanked me. I never understood why until I got older and mentioned it once to him. He explained that the pain he had to inflict upon my brother and I was too much for him to bear and he would leave the room only to immediately burst into tears of his own. It was never long before he would enter the room again with wet cheeks and cradle us in his arms, sorry that his love had to manifest as judgment. I distinctly remember my young boy cheeks rubbing against his and pondering their wetness as I sat loved in his lap. In that experience I have beheld one of the most accurate pictures of our heavenly Father and I still marvel today at the revelation it holds. (My prayer for you dad is that as you read this you would be able to finally let your own dam burst and be drowned there in the waters of your heavenly Father’s love.)
To take the liberty of this example and look upon the Scriptures we look in Revelation chapter 15. You don’t have to agree with my theological perspective on this chapter to glean from what I am about to present. The example is simple. In Revelation 15:1;7-8 judgment is taking place and something called the bowls of wrath are about to be poured out. The text reads:
“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished… Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”
At the pinnacle of wrath and the precipice of His judgment being unleashed full-force we see God desiring to be alone. I wonder if this is similar to my earthly father’s discipline, in that, He is “leaving the room” to weep His own tears that His great love must now be manifested in judgment. Thus, He makes everyone leave His room as He deeply grieves and travails over the fierceness of His wrath being manifested towards those who hate Him. But, those who love Him will very shortly thereafter be taken into His arms and received forever!
Uniquely, we find in the God-breathed Scriptures a blessing for those who mourn in this life bound to the promise that they will be comforted. We find Paul excavating the principle of mourning, enjoining us to fellowship with those who are currently engulfed in their own tears (Rom. 12:15). Do we find there true relationship? And what if mourning with those who mourn has implicit suggestion concerning those with understanding who will mourn with God––since He is in fact the one weeping!?
The mysterious abyss from which tears arise has hardly been considered in relation to God in the flesh. That is to say, Jesus wept, but because of our own lack of weeping our interpretation of what is happening within Him is most likely misunderstood. I doubt that any one of us has ever sobbed until sweat like great drops of blood pushed from underneath our skin and fell from the pores of our epidermis. Again, our lack of weeping might normally write this off as an odd event––just as something that possesses its own mystique, unable to be described by the faculties of men. But, is that true? Or have we just not wept enough?
Is it possible that Jesus, as the second person of the Godhead had waited since the beginning of time to release those tears from distinct human eyes on the night before His crucifixion? And there, as He heaves and wipes the tears from his face they mix with the atoning blood that is seeping from his skin. His mourning over the sin that has brought about His fateful crucifixion merges with the deep pain of bearing the sin of the world. How often have we seen tears and blood mix? His bound-up effort of longsuffering with humans and His pent-up rage against the sin and wickedness of His creation inverts and is there becoming the cup of wrath and long-suffering which the Father is dumping out upon His Son as Calvary is only a sunrise away.
How is it that the God of Israel has chosen such vulnerability to be one of the most personal manifestations of His nature? We deduce this through simplicity in the equation: When one weeps they are vulnerable, they are weak, they are exposed. No one has ever looked at a person weeping and said “What great strength!” Yet, we have the God of the Bible continually make this odd disposition true in verses like,
“…we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,29so that no man may boast before God (1 Cor. 1:23-29),
and also God’s response to Paul,
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In these passages we find a direct definition from God concerning strength that is contingent upon manifest weakness. This is entirely opposed to the wisdom of the world! In fact, it is so entirely different than the way the world sees things it is actually confounding their wisdom to behold the beautiful weakness of Christ crucified
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe,” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).
There on the Cross, the story of great weakness prevails triumphantly over the strength of man. Now, to us being saved we behold the power of God! But to those who are perishing––weakness. But, it is not as though one party sees something different than the other, rather it is how the party interprets what they are seeing. For the Christian, he looks upon the weakness of God being flogged, pressed with a crown of thorns, nails thrust through His flesh, and hanging in the air seemingly helpless and he says, “What great strength!” The others behold the same elements and wag their heads saying, “Physician, heal yourself!” To one it is wisdom, and to the other foolishness. And in this great mystery the Messiah of humankind is being perfected through the weakness and vulnerability of suffering,
“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered,” (Heb. 5:8).
I wish to join in on the grief our Lord shared with the Father that night in the garden of Gethsemane. I want to touch that emotion and have it be real. I want to feel what God feels at this hour of history and let it manifest in warm streams on my face, where the spring’s head is centered in the overflow of God’s heart connecting to my heart, and I want it to run its torrential course out through the tear ducts of my eyes and fall to the earth or into the very Hands of God Himself.
I want that weakness… that vulnerability. I want to weep. I want to cry. May we be led by the Spirit into those uncontrollable times and cultivate a heart that is open to the infinite bounds of weeping with God. It’s ok to cry! Feel the freedom of weeping! Let it all out and see the fruit it might bear in your life with God.