Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bird On A Wire

Now and then, I ponder a bird on a wire. It doesn’t take much to get me intellectually stimulated. It’s just always fascinated me how a little bird can light atop a high-voltage wire without getting electrocuted.

My new friend and fellow faith-struggler, Dwayne Blevins, is more knowledgeable of all things electrical. An engineer by training and instinct, he’s been kind enough to fill in some of the blanks in the more simple explanation that the bird lives to chirp the story of its high wire act only because it’s never grounded. Dwayne kind of lost me somewhere in distinguishing amperage from voltage. My ignorance of something I trust every day to power virtually my entire world is truly shocking.

Turns out that the bird is floating atop a wire transmitting anywhere from 1,200 volts to some 300,000 volts, depending on how far that point on the wire is from its source. If the winged wonder were to reach across a very small expanse and grab another wire at the same time, it would close the circuit and be instantly vaporized in a white cloud of pulverized feather and beak. Remarkably, all of that voltage/amperage leaves the bird totally unaffected, as long as it doesn’t close the circuit.

From time to time, the memories of painful experiences from the past haunt me. Over time, I’ve observed the fact that those memories cause more pain at certain times than others. Sometimes, they feel like a slow, dull ache, like a bad bruise yet to fully heal. Other times, they feel like a terminal malignancy, slowly but surely growing to choke out my very life, deadening my soul and destroying any opportunities for loving the only life that is mine, the one right in front of my face. What makes the difference in how much pain the memories cause seems to have everything to do with whether or not I close the circuit.

When the painful current of a hurtful memory enters my heart, I can close the circuit by demonizing the person who sent it my way. Anytime we call someone by a name other than the one God has already given, we reduce the worth of that person to nothing more than the sum total of how much they hurt us. What a sad, egocentric existence! As though our comfort or pain were the center of the moral universe!

That’s why forgiveness that is waiting on an apology must be particularly nauseating to God. Forgiveness waiting on a down payment of contriteness is a forgiveness that has usurped God’s place. Indeed, it’s a not-so-subtle form of spiritual prostitution, as in, payment for services rendered. Why would we demand of others something as an exchange for our mercy that God has not required in order for us to receive God’s forgiveness (check it out – Ephesians 2:4-8)? Forgiveness waiting on an apology is nothing more than an empty piƱata, the shell of religious piety void of any true holiness and only masquerading as Christianity.

None of us wants to be remembered for our worst missteps. Yet, when the memory of some hurt someone else put on us comes again, it feels so very good to lay the blame for all of our misery at their feet. Blaming really does feel good, but, just for a moment. In time, we cannot demonize others without demonizing ourselves. The moment we call someone else by the name we’ve given our pain is the moment that we close the circuit of unforgiveness and absorb into ourselves the lethal current of judgmental unforgiveness. To put it another way, no one ever pays a higher price for our unforgiveness than we do ourselves.

Or, we close the circuit by accepting the judgment of others as the final word about us. For whatever reason, when another person curses us, all they are doing is naming us after their own unresolved soul-killing pain. The curse of another has no power over us, unless we close the circuit by accepting it as the final word for ourselves. Someone once said that a false god is anyone or anything to whom we assign the power to declare our worth to us other than the God who first gave us life. The curse of others wounds so deeply only because we valued their blessing too much. We only need the complete blessing of others to the extent that we are lacking a sense of God’s blessing.

At Grace Fellowship, we’ve been pondering Jesus on a cross this past few weeks of Lent. About the way he, in fact, closed the circuit between God’s mercy-judgment and our sin. He took the lethal blow, absorbing into himself the penalty that should have been ours (Ephesians 2:14-18). Before he did, he told his disciples that anyone who ever wants to follow him must be willing to do the same, to climb upon their own personal cross of suffering forgiveness. Forgiveness always hurts. Wherever forgiveness has been extended, someone somewhere bled to make it possible.

Jesus died to complete the circuit between God’s mercy and our dead souls. Why can’t we just let Jesus’ work be what it is, enough forgiveness for all sin for all mankind for all of time (Romans 6:9-10)? Otherwise, when we close the circuit of unforgiveness, well, we’re mocking the cross as insufficient and also dying a death God never intended for anyone, even for those who, like me, are still struggling to learn the Jesus way of forgiving.

A bird on a wire. Jesus on a cross. Something to ponder just before Good Friday – and the Easter that follows shortly thereafter.