1.2 In the Meantime
So what about this time before the resurrection? How do we live? What does it mean to “be human” in an inhuman world?
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So what about this time before the resurrection? How do we live? What does it mean to “be human” in an inhuman world? Well, as I said, that’s what this book is all about, but let me paint the big picture to help orient us for our journey.
Simply put, to be human means to be like Jesus. Which, in the context of this book, means to be driven by authentic compassion. “Compassion” means to “suffer-with” another person, but it’s more than just feeling badly for someone! It’s a deep inner drive—which flows from a loving heart—that propels us toward someone in order to share in their suffering, sorrow, and pain, but also in their joy and happiness.
Compassion cannot simply stand back and watch someone hurt (or be happy)! Compassion feels “compelled” to act. Even if all I can do is sit with someone and cry with them, compassion must act. Compassion always pushes me to engage in other people’s lives. So compassion creates deep connection between people.
But compassion is not just a blind bleeding heart response to suffering. It’s a wise bleeding heart response. My intense drive to help, needs to be directed by wisdom. Wisdom that wonders things like, “What is the truth in this situation? Why is this person hurting? How can I help most effectively? Might this suffering also have good results?”
So, compassion creates connection and provides wise direction for action.
And compassion was Jesus' primary mission. Jesus is compassion. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. Compassion for us propelled God to take on our frail humanity. He chose to deeply connect with us—to suffer with us—and then to suffer for us, so that he could rescue us from that suffering. And now we get to do the same for others in a similar way.
In short, then, to be human in an inhuman world means to be compassionate.
But compassion is scary! Authentic compassion requires me to hurt when I see someone hurt, to be joyful when I see someone joyful. It moves me to enter into another person’s life and share it with them. I don’t have the energy for that! I’m hurting too badly myself. I’ve got my own struggles; my own needs. Compassion would require me to share myself, to be vulnerable! I’ve got to keep my defenses up or I’ll be overwhelmed!
I know, friend, I know. I feel the same way! But I’m not asking you to give compassion to others without first having received compassion. You don’t have to give away something you don’t have, and you don’t have to do it alone!
But receiving compassion is also scary! Perhaps especially from God. Can I trust him? What does it say about me that I need compassion—that I need help? These are questions we’ll pick up in the next few chapters, but for now, I want to sketch out a picture for you. How do I receive compassion and then share it?
First, I come to know God as good. God loves me (and you!). God likes me (and you)! He delights in me (and you!) I can trust that whatever he does it’s for my good, and no matter what atrocities I do, he will forgive me, help me, and nurse me back to health. I am God’s beloved child. That’s why Jesus died for me (and for you), because we are and always have been his dearly beloved! God is compelled by his compassion to help us!
Second, I come to know myself (and others) as created good, but corrupt and responsible for a lot of evil. I don’t naturally trust God anymore, and so I feel I must go it alone. And in the name of self-protection, or self-sufficiency, or self-soothing, I’ll do just about any sin.
I know this is difficult to admit. It’s much easier to blame it all on the world, or on my parents, or the government, or Adam and Eve, or whomever. And to be sure they bear some of the blame. But I’m also to blame. I can’t begin to be healthy in this world without properly placing the blame—and that means honestly admitting my own burden of guilt, as well as that of others.
But please note, it’s much easier to boldly admit my guilt if I have come to know God as good! If I know his response to my pain and sin is going to be compassion, then coming to him, cap in hand, saying “Lord, have mercy!” is the safest thing in all the world! It’s the best thing in the world! It means he’ll understand me, pick me up, wash me off and heal me. And, somehow, he will make all the bad stuff I did into beauty.
So first, I need to know and experience God as good to me. Then it’s safer to accept and face the evil in the world, and it’s safer to come to him when I have actively participated in that evil. Then the third step is to actually go to Jesus, repent, and consent to his compassionate forgiveness.
Jesus is God. Jesus is God’s love incarnate. Jesus means that God is now also a human. God knows my frailty from the inside. He holds my pain with me. Jesus intentionally chose to suffer and die because he likes me so much, he couldn’t bear to see me wrapped up in pain and guilt.
I know for many people the previous lines are all-to-familiar. For some they are words you’ve said so often you don’t really hear them as being about a real flesh-and-blood God anymore. For others, the love of Jesus has been weaponized against you by an abusive church or family. You’ve had to say the right things about Jesus while being hurt, forced, and manipulated.
But for just a moment, I invite you to hope that Jesus is really different from all of that. To imagine that Jesus really is God driven by compassion. That he came on a rescue mission to save the apple of God’s eye: you!
We’ll come back to this, but for now, I wonder if you can catch a glimpse of this beautiful truth: God is in love with you like a good dad is in love with his little daughter. He’s come to hunt down all the evil that threatens you. And when you run away, or when you kick and scream because you can’t see how good he is, that’s okay, he understands, and he’s going to continue patiently and gently, protecting, waiting for, and pursuing you. And when you finally relent, he’ll sweep you up in his arms, kiss your cheek, and fix you all up! And he’ll do that over and over and over again!
That’s a brief sketch of how I learn to receive compassion from God: I remember whose I am, how I got into this mess, and what Jesus is doing about it. From there I can have compassion on other people as God’s beloved, but broken children.
It’s all a big positive feedback loop. First, I have an inkling that God might actually be good, usually through meeting another person who already knows it, and that makes it safe for me to face the darkness within myself and in the world. That plunges me deep into the gentle, compassionate, love of Jesus, which then frees and emboldens me to love others a bit like Jesus loves me, which gives them the first inkling that God might actually be good!
And I must point out that this feedback loop is the loop we continually live in. It’s not just a one time experience! I am continually being shown compassion, trusting God, and dropping myself into his arms. It’s the cycle of life! I’m like a hawk riding an invisible column of warm air, spiraling ever upwards into Heaven. Or like a frog circling the edge of the pond finding froggy friends along the way.
So “to be human in an inhuman world” means to allow myself to be loved by Jesus and then, empowered by his Spirit, to love like Jesus. It means to Let Jesus love me in my pain, in my sin, and my loneliness, and then to love others in their pain, their sin, and their loneliness.
That’s why Liv and I started Signpost Inn. We want to create spaces of rest and reconnection for weary life-travelers in the way that others have created those spaces for us. Our “Inn” isn’t a physical place. It’s a vision for how to survive—and even thrive—in the wilderness of this world. It’s a vision of hospitality and welcome for life-travelers whose feet are sore and whose souls are weary and heavily burdened. In other words, it’s a vision of what it means to live like Jesus in a world full of suffering—to be the physical hands and feet of the Spirit of Christ.
Are you tired and burdened? Are you lonely? Hurt? Lost? Are you standing at a crossroads in life wondering what the hell to do next and where on earth God is? Then we invite you to pause, and look to the side of the road. There stands our little inn. All the lights are on. The front door is wide open. You can hear the sound of singing and laughter, and you can smell fresh bread being pulled from the oven.
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