I see a lot of memes on my Facebook feed – more memes than personal news, sadly. The proliferation has become something of a litany: believe the following things. The irony is that I know I’m adding to the torrent, because I, too, love a well-crafted meme! The issue I have, however, is that no matter how beautiful the photograph, or how empathetic (or pathetic!) the font used is, that doesn’t make the content true. I’m daily resisting the urge to make a nuisance of myself by correcting the bulk of these. From time to time I’ll interject an “angel’s advocate” comment, just to make people think beyond the surface. (No doubt there are also soundbites I’m swallowing whole, that others would love to rip up.) In the same way, if I imagine myself preaching this message, raising my voice to an inspiring crescendo so that you all stand and clap and cheer – that doesn’t make my content true, either.
At the moment I see a lot of things like this: “Your mess will become your message. Your test will become your testimony. Your trial will become your triumph. Your victimhood will become your victory.”
If this helps you, awesome. It would have been a word from God at some point for some person (Joyce?). And there will be people who will receive that as a Rhema word of God for their lives, because it is.
But what if you’re not in that category? What if you’re sitting on situations where your weakness has not become your weekender, your beaten-up-ness has not become beatific, and your sins have not become your symphony? I’ve heard better men and women than I say things like, “Why? I don’t know why. I’ve had to learn to just leave some things on the shelf.” And, “What was xyz all about? I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
Here’s the thing. In education we have this thing called an IEP: Individual Education Plan. God, it seems, has written an IEP for each of us. There’s a curriculum, oh yes. But there’s a tailored way to get through it. What works for and speaks to me, won’t always work for or speak to you, because you’ve got your own IEP. And yours is just as valid as mine. Your journey will be different. To borrow from Masterchef, your Mystery Box will have some same, and some totally different ingredients from mine. My children’s walks of faith don’t look anything like mine, despite being raised on the same principles, because their life experiences and cultural surrounds aren’t anything like mine, and they’re not me. So don’t feel like you’re not making the grade, simply because you see a meme that doesn’t “sit” with your experience. You’re not obligated to fit in with anyone’s timeline for your life other than God’s. And He’s written you an IEP that’s nobody else’s business.
When Jesus lived here in a body like ours, there was an incident where the local bigwigs tried to entrap Him. They managed to catch a couple in the act of adultery. One can only speculate as to how they knew what the pair would be up to at a given hour on a given evening: perhaps there was more than one trap set that night. The man screwing her got away Scot-free, which gave a great big lie to the whole proceedings anyway, since both were legally stoneable. It is one of the most unjust red flags in the whole purported quest for “justice”. I’ve even wondered if it was a personal vendetta against the woman: had she spurned one of their number? slept with one of their sons? was it a sting? was one of the accusers her cuckolded husband or purported lover? or were they all unqualified to throw the first stone because they’d all had her at one point? Or … was it possibly her very first and very unlucky deviation from the straight and narrow?
We can’t know. All we know is that they dragged her to the temple courts (possibly still half-clothed from the bed) and threw her down in her shame at the foot of the holiest man in the town, the man they couldn’t get a handle on, the man she probably hid from wistfully, the last man she wished her soul and body bared before.
What would Mr Upright do? Nobody had seen Him commit any sort of sin. Sure, He’d been unpredictable. Uncomfortable. Nonconformist. She was clearly guilty and the Law said she ought to be stoned. Would He lead the slut-shaming, stoning charge? Would He finally say something outrageous they could pin Him on, something like, “adultery isn’t really a sin”? Or would He take one look at those long, shapely legs and slip her His number? Suspense swelled. Stones trembled with anticipation.
Jesus bent over and started writing in the dirt.
Every eye left the woman and was transfixed by the moving finger of God, writing in the dust of the earth.
Somewhere, a mic dropped. Doesn’t the finger of God write in stone? Didn’t He give the Law immutably inscribed on tablets – first written by His own hand in the stone, the instructions; and then after that Law was immediately broken, literally broken, written again by the hand of Moses, adding in curses and consequences? Wasn’t the thing the finger of God tended to write in stone, inevitably judgment? You have been weighed and found literally Not Up To Scratch. Disaster follows.
But Jesus is not writing in the stones gripped by the vengeant. He is writing a new testament in the dust from which we are formed. He is writing the woman’s IEP. Perhaps His inner ears are ringing with the words of His Father through Ezekiel: “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh; then they will follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.” Because you can’t love God and your neighbour from a heart of stone, and that was the core of the Law in the first place. There was absolutely no neighbourly concern going on in that court at that moment. And if there was devotion to God, it was buried under a mountain of red tape. The first commandment is incomplete without the second: faith without works is dead, and love for God must overflow into love for those He loves. Jesus is looking forward to a time when this woman and the man she was with and all of us like them, would be described thus by Paul: “You show that you are a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” The new testament was a return to Eden, to the first man and woman in their purity, dust made flesh with beating hearts and options, Deeper Magic from before time – and law – dawned. Relationship parameters have been reset. It is once again up to the human heart to decide to follow Christ: it can’t be mandated.
Does God not know that human hearts are fallible? Is He ignorant of what His makings are made of? Yet this is what He has purposed. He doesn’t want to present the world with only a photograph of Himself. He wants to present the world with art. He knows the brush strokes our lives draw Him with will be flawed. That is their beauty: that when the paint has dried out on the brush and the lines are sketchy and the perspective’s a bit wobbly, He will still be recognisable, despite the imperfections of what we are, as His DNA is slowly unpacked and extrapolated in us over a lifetime. And each portrait will be unique and it will be beautiful and He will be there in it. It will be layered over again and again as our revelation of Him grows and the details are filled in and corrected. It is as much our portrait as it is His.
Your mess won’t always become your message. Not every test will become your testimony. Some trials are just trials and or random happenstance and you won’t always get the victory. Because sometimes we screw up. Sometimes, we get screwed over. And sometimes we just have a screw loose! The thing you can cling to in those moments is not the well-meaning motivational poster on your wall, which may or may not apply to you, or the ten memes you saw in your newsfeed today, some of them patent nonsense or contradictory. The thing you can cling to is the character of God, whose loving, living finger is writing your Individual Education Plan as we speak, for all times are Now to Him. And let me tell you about God.
God is kind and He likes you.
God doesn’t blow hot and cold.
God understands what you’re made of, and He is not frustrated but empathetic.
God will never leave you or forsake you.
God knows the end from the beginning and will write ’til the last stroke.
He is the Living Word and the last word.
Life will be partly engineered and partly random, but God will not drop the ball.
God will not give up on you, no matter how badly you stumble, because He has ordered your steps and is always ready to lift you to your feet again.
If you have an ounce of faith in you, then that’s His gift and it means you are chosen, you are marked for loving adoption. God will not let you go. He will pursue you. A good parent’s thoughts are never far from their child and their senses alert and prickled for danger. He will come for you when you wander, He will stalk you if necessary, He will sit with you when you crash and burn, and you will always have a room in His home and heart. Love that permits itself to be crucified might be patient, but it is not tame. This is not insipid, passive love. You are wanted, from your mother’s womb. This is forward planning, adaptable on the fly, at-all-costs, go get ’em, do and/or die love. It is the only love you will ever know in your life that sees right to the core of your being, appreciating every single one of the hundreds of small beauties and fascinating quirks, seeing clearly the template of His own image, yet knowing also all the smeared corners and rotten basements, still willing and eager to say, “That’s My kid, that one there, Mineminemine!”
So the safest place to fall down in moments of shame, is at the feet of the One who alone is qualified to stone us, but who refuses to. He is the only one entitled to be the Author, but rather than write us off, He chooses to also be our perfecter. He would far rather write a new story in the dust that we are, than sentence us in stone. He is hope, He is grace, and He is there. Look up.