Jesus, the Crying Judge

15 + 6 = 17_revOn March 15, 2015 the Buffalo News published a story about an arranged Indian wedding that ended with the bride walking away from the wedding festivities before the final pronouncement of marriage. Her reason? The groom could not correctly answer the question: “What is 15 plus 6?” When he replied 17 she called off the marriage.  She judged him as uneducated and there was no convincing her otherwise. The bride’s family came to her defense and accused the groom’s family of misleading them regarding their son’s educational status.  According to the local police, who were called by the groom’s family, the incident caused ‘quite a flutter.’  Matters were finally settled when the respective families returned the gifts and jewelry exchanged prior to the wedding.

Both funny and sad, this story is fascinating with its layers of cultural and societal expectations gone awry.  It is an eastern drama that leave us westerners bemused and confused.  Or does it?  If we distill this story down to one of humanity’s basic concepts we should not be surprised by such an outcome.  There is judgment and there are tests to pass in this world in every time and in every place under the sun. Judgement is part and parcel of our interactions with each other despite our modern protests of “don’t judge me,” “don’t judge me,” and “don’t judge me”.  “You don’t have the right to judge me.”  We know how the refrain goes because each of us have either said it, felt it, or been accused of it.

So, does anyone have a right to judge?  And a related question: If someone has the right to judge does it follow that there will there be a judgement day? I think so and apparently Jesus cried out about it. Text reference can be found in the Gospel of John, chapter 12, verses 44-50

If you have been a follower of my blog it will come as no surprise that I am impressed with the articulation of faith and culture presented by the pastor and writer, Tim Keller. I credit his book, “Walking with God in Pain and Suffering, “ as instrumental in helping me through an intensive 9-month cancer treatment last year.  Recently, I have been listening to podcasts of Keller’s sermons from his six thousand member church in Manhattan.  One message, given on February 18, 2015, called, “Accepting the Judge,” I found very provocative as he explained the need for judgement.  To tease you into listening I offer the first two of four propositions that he makes.  Here are the first two: 1) Why we need a judgement day; 2) Why we can’t have a judgement day.  If I listed propositions 3 & 4 they would spoil the sermon for you so listen to the podcast here.  (Click podcast on lower left of the page.)

Post script:  After listening to the podcast I would appreciate your comments.  I won’t publish them but would like to work them into future posts.

Confessional post script: I first wrote this post with the following: “The groom could not correctly answer the question, what is 12 plus 5?  He answered 17 and then she walked out of the wedding ceremony.”  I caught my error before I posted.  I’m grateful the only question asked me at my wedding was, “Do you take this man to be your husband?”

Power and Tears: Part 2

Reflections on the story in John 11 (read previous post for context)

Why did Jesus cry over the death of Lazarus if he knew he was going to use his power to change the natural order( resurrect Lazarus from death) and restore joy to his friends?tears 2

Simply – He cried because his friends were crying.  He became fully present with their suffering. He was not thinking of their future (what he was going to do for them in the next few minutes) nor was he thinking of his own future which was soon to take a dark painful course.

Nor did He feel a need to defend his actions when Mary, the sisterJesus cried of courseaccused of him of insensitivity or procrastination. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 11). Absent in Jesus was any need to defend his actions even in the midst of laments that if he had come sooner the dire situation would be different. He stayed present.  His friends were grieving and that sadness affected Jesus with empathetic sadness.

Empathy – We may be born with the capacity to empathize but nurture plays a profound role.  We must be taught and modeled the experience of feeling another person’s pain. When people lack empathy we, in the mental health profession, assume, a childhood of abuse and/or neglect or a disorder. We assume that they were never the recipients of empathy nor had it modeled for them by the significant relationships in their lives. We recognize that something is off.

A story of parenting small children:  I was at a playground with my grandsons observing small children and their parents. One man’s daughter fell and cried loudly. The father gently examined her and lovingly reassured her of his presence and his sympathy for her pain.  Another parent noticed the situation and looked on. The child with her tried to reengage her in what he was doing – building a sand castle. I heard the following:  “I will look at what you are doing in a moment but right now I feel sad about that little girl who got hurt so I want to look at her.  Let’s look at her together for a few seconds… (Pause)  She seems comforted; so now show me what you were doing.”

If that intentional modeling continues to be that mother’s practice, the child will catch it and develop capacity for empathy.

But what about those who have been deprived of empathy at vulnerable stages of development? There is hope.  God’s gift of community – godly loving spaces for transformation interfacing with malleable brains is one such place of hope. Brains can be rewired over time through strong emotional connections to develop empathy. The church with all its warts and imperfections is still the functional body of Christ.  It provides opportunities for loving interactions with others that include  listening with empathy  to people’s messed up stories.  According to Curt Thompson, author of Anatomy of the Soul, it is within this context that people who have been formerly deprived of loving attachments begin to sense what an attachment to God feels like thereby understanding God’s grace for them and for others.

Andy (a man in his early 40’s) was a child that had to raise himself.  Without going into detail, anybody hearing his story would label his childhood as harsh and neglectful. Attachments to stable caregivers were absent; normally the harbinger of a distrustful adult. However, there were times when he took advantage of caring interactions. He described living for a brief time in a neighborhood where buses destined for Vacation Bible School and church services would pick up children who wanted to go.  He was one of them. There was a kind neighbor who noticed his loneliness and neglect.  Andy began to sense there was a God who loved.  “I would hear stories in church and something exploded in me about God and it was beautiful.”  However later,  Andy would go down a path as a teenager and young adult that would lead to drug addiction and a stint in jail.

Andy told me, “When released from jail, I did not know what to do with my life. Eventually, I took a woman’s advice and enrolled in a Christian program called ‘Teen Challenge’ (a ministry dedicated to the transformation of young people with substance abuse.) Through their accountability and structured program of prayer, chapel, work, prayer, chapel, prayer, fellowship, counseling, I found myself wanting to know as much as I could about God.”

Andy attended a bible college for a period and did mission work in Asia.  Today he serves others through an urban ministry.  A man full of empathy and warmth, Andy humbly says, “Sometimes being a Christian is the best thing, sometimes it is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing for me.”

Jesus cried. Of course he did.  This powerful empathic being carried empathy where no man or woman has ever taken it – to a cross of suffering for us. Many before and after him have spoken “truth to power”; but He and only He spoke “God’s power into God’s Love.”

Post script:  Tears are filled with the presence of stress chemicals and hormones.

Post script: Tears are a functional way of getting cortisol and other stress hormones from inside us to outside us.  Have you ever wondered why you have felt slightly better after having a good cry? God blesses tears on this side of heaven but there will come a time when he will wipe every one of them away. Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

end of times

Power and Tears-Part 1

Have you ever wondered why Jesus cried?

tears 2

The account of Jesus crying can be found in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John and worth your time to read.   I will summarize: Jesus had some dear friends named Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were adult siblings who were very close to each other and to Jesus. (Yes, Jesus loves everyone but the gospel story makes it clear that these siblings had a special closeness and attachment to Jesus and he to them.)  As it turns out Lazarus had been ill.  Jesus had been petitioned by his friends to come to Lazarus quickly and possibly heal him. But Jesus did not come quickly. In fact, he seemed to take a leisurely pace to their home in Bethany.  By the time Jesus reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. As Jesus neared the home he was accosted by the overwhelming grief and disappointment of Lazarus’ sisters.

Next comes the shortest sentence in the English translated Bible: “Jesus cried.”  We don’t know for how long. The biblical text does not say.  But stop and imagine that Jesus cried for ten minutes or longer. Stay with that image (Jesus crying) for a while before you move on to the climax of the story and take notice of your feelings and thoughts.

The Biblical writer was understandably excited to move on to the real action, the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus’ display of sadness gave way to an unearthly power that shook the grip of sin and death right out of the grave of immutable realities.  A shouted command by Jesus was all it took for Lazarus to be resurrected from the dead.  Lazarus was made alive. Stunned joy and amazement was not the reaction of all the bystanders, however. The narrative explains that some would believe in Jesus by this supernatural miracle but others in power would feel threatened. (The powerful can feel threatened by the more powerful.  Our human history exposes us humans as naturally being guarded and fearful, predisposed to self-defense and self-interest.  Embedded in empathy is vulnerability – the capacity and willingness to be hurt; a risk that the powerful generally don’t take.)  Jesus’ display of power provoked by love would be costly to him.  He would pay for it with his life as seeds of sedition began to take root around him as some would begin a plot to have him killed.  The next chapters of this story would reveal a Jesus who would consciously constrain his power in favor of the ultimate sacrificial display of love, empathy and vulnerability.

But why did Jesus cry?

Read next week’s blog post.

One Journey, Two People: Part 4

David’s story continues:

“I have reached a point in my life where what I know about God and my Christian world view is not adequately addressing a growing discontent and sense of unease.  I’m coming up short.  This is not to say that I am ready to jettison my core beliefs; far from it.  Who wants to live in a house built on shifting sand?  And it is not that I don’t see Christ working in this world and even in myself.  But I’m beginning to see that a relationship with God based exclusively on facts and reason is contributing to a sense of isolation.  When I was young, ambitious and things were going well I thought myself as living a reasonably authentic life based on rational beliefs. I may have been naive. I am both an emotional and rational being.  Reason and belief alone might not be enough to ‘finish well.’  I suppose it was inevitable that God would see to it that I reached this point.” And, finally, I’ll need to get past my reluctance to navel-gaze.  As Socrates was reported to say, ‘The un-examined life is not worth living.’

brain and heart cARTOON

So, David and I – a very willing co-traveler – are carefully working through a second book.  The first, ‘Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’ by Tim Keller, was read through my 9 months of cancer therapy.  The second book, ‘Anatomy of the Soul’ by the Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson takes a different but equally well-grounded approach in addressing suffering, longing and discontent.  I suspect that Thompson’s approach will move David significantly outside his comfort zone.

Anatomy of the Soul provides some interesting information about our neuro-biology and spiritual practices, including our interaction with scripture and connections with other people. The book also provides practical exercises to assist in our movement to a better integration of soul and mind as we venture into the territory of being known- “one of God’s passions for us”.brain 2

“Transformation requires a collaborative interaction, with one person emphatically listening and responding to the other so that the speaker has the experience, perhaps for the first time, of “feeling felt” by another. The interpersonal interaction exposes these functions of the mind and facilitates the integration of various layers of neural structures and brain systems, which in turn creates new neural networks.” Curt Thompson.

Thompson explains that God is at work here. He created our brains and wants our story to intersect with His. When we allow this to happen we move into deeper security, joy and confidence in knowing we are loved by God. From this place of really knowing we are loved by God we are more inclined to bring about the changes in our world that reflect ‘God’s Kingdom here on earth as it in heaven’.

(However,) “God never connects with us simply to make us feel safe or loved.  His transformation always includes a command (a word against which our tendency is to rail) to follow him to the remaining places within ourselves and the world where darkness, cruelty, injustice, and rebellion persist.  He invites us to go into deeper places within ourselves and within the world, both ventures requiring a greater degree of faith, hope and love.” Curt Thompson

It is here that I think David is going to be helped most. My cancer may not have started his angst but it certainly added to it.   His feeling of inadequacy in always being my comforter brought out some deeper stuff. The kind of stuff that our brains are designed to shield us from or expose in us, depending on what is at stake. Our brains, amazing organs of human and divine connection, were created by a God who delights in being known by us as well as delighting in knowing us.  Telling the stories of our lives connects the different parts of our brain to assist in creating new neural circuitry of peace and understanding.  In addition, telling our stories to trusted individuals not only transforms our minds but also transforms the brains of our listeners.

Aside:  As a mental health therapist I have experienced this listener transformation many times with various clients.  It wasn’t until I read Anatomy of the Soul that I came to appreciate this as a good thing.  Most in the mental health profession caution practitioners to stay objective and secure in their emotional boundaries. This makes sense up to a point but it leaves out something profound and inherent to our shared humanness.

Deborah, eventually started telling her story of neglect and loneliness as a child and teenager. Together we were trying to make sense of the anxiety attacks that were making her life miserable. She humored me as I asked her to tell the story of a very fragile childhood.  She was not sure that it had anything to do with what she was currently dealing with because as she put it, “that was a long time ago and I can’t see the connections to what I am enduring now.  After all, I am a 45 year old woman who has a good marriage, 2 great kids and a strong relationship with the Lord. I just don’t get why I am dealing with this”.  An unexpected emotional collision of unresolved childhood hurt and abandonment with her first child leaving home for college would be the catalyst that brought her to me.  She would later come to see that there was a connection between her insecure childhood and her anxiety attacks The point of this story is not to delve into her issues (Deborah is not her name and I have changed some of the circumstances of her story) but to mention something that happened in the telling of her story that was pivotal in healing.  As she described the abandonment of her mother and the remembered feelings of loneliness, sadness and fear; a picture of my grandson who was the age that this woman was at the time of her story came uninvited to my mind.  My grandson experiences safety, love and support from parents who are deeply devoted to him. Deborah, as a small lonely frightened child, came to my mind immediately following my grandson’s image and without intention my eyes welled up for her. Deborah took notice and as she did, her story became more emotionally experienced.  She was “feeling felt”( a term Thompson uses taken from Dr. Dan Siegel).

and thereby more deeply connected to me.   I, too, was feeling more connected to her and also sensing a more compassionate- me emerging from her story; a compassion that would reach beyond the four walls of my office.

COMPASSION-mindful-happiness

We share a common image bearing status with others, whether they are clients or not.  Made in God’s image we are also invited to know Him and be known (a kind of human and divine (small t) trinity).  Our brains, intricately mysterious organs made by God are somehow structurally altered by our human connections.  There are benefits not only for us but for the world as this knowing frees us to be unencumbered agents of justice and change.

How will David experience “being known by God?” How will I? Knowing things about God won’t necessarily get us there.  Objective truths are important. Language, definitions, classifications, labels and propositions are soaked up by our human brains like sponges.  We are designed for it. But the experience of being known by God and by others does not necessarily come by these ways.  We aren’t just homo-sapiens becaworship God nature sceneuse of pre- frontal cortex superior development. We are also human beings with brains designed to love and be loved.  God our creator is love. Why would he not create our brains with such a grand  design in mind?