As the title of my previous post promised, this is part II of my thoughts on biblical “books and containers”. And in my previous post, there was no mention of any books, but there was of a container: the cup of Jesus. I want to explore this image a bit more. Note that the same disclaimer applies here, particularly so. If you’re following this blog to keep up with the physicalities of my cancer battle, then you need not read on, unless the subject of God’s mercy interests you.
In my very personal prayer at the end of my previous post, I referred to “the cup of man” that Jesus took up. Metaphorically speaking and tying the imagery of Jesus’ cup to that of the widow’s jar of little flour which “shall not be spent,” I described the cup of man being filled with the blood of Jesus, the most extraordinary of means through which God extends His unlimited mercy.
I didn’t make this cup up, though. Jesus, in his prayer to God in Gethsemane just prior to his capture and crucifixion, cries out “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39, ESV). But what really is in this cup? Most scholars agree that it is the cup of God’s wrath. But few want to talk about God’s wrath. I avoided it by saying that the cup was “empty of any means to overcome our brokenness”. If the cup was filled with God’s wrath, then what I said is certainly true, but there remains this issue of God’s wrath. And why Jesus had to die. There is plenty to read on this subject, and I’m not going to undertake a deep discussion of wrath and grace in a blog post. But I like to explore imagery, so that’s where I’m going.
Consider human wrath. It is scary. A source of great violence. Now consider the wrath of your Creator, with sovereign, indomitable will. The power to make and unmake. Frightening, right? Even for Christians. So much so, that morality is often substituted for the self-giving love that Jesus modeled for us. Why? Well, the bible talks often about God keeping a record of our lives. In the Old Testament and the New. Paul puts it succinctly, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12, ESV). It is deeply unnerving to think that God is keeping track of all of my actions, especially the ones I regret. So, the Christian’s temptation is to either earn God’s favor by our good deeds or to avoid God’s wrath by not committing acts of which we believe He disapproves. We become vessels of self-righteousness and hate. And for the non-believer? I suppose indifference.
In my semi-regular (while intended, I can’t honestly say daily) reading of the bible, I came to Psalm 56 a couple of days ago. And here David says something beautiful and somewhat puzzling: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (I like the NLT translation of this). While the thought of God recording all of my sins for which I will have to make an account is troubling, it is deeply encouraging to think that God remembers all of my sorrow. This sorrow could be from the trials of this life, but I think also from the effects of sin, both from the worldly consequences of it but also from the relief of guilt when we repent and are forgiven.
So I offer up another story. Those concerned with orthodoxy might raise an eyebrow at what I’m about to say, but I want to share what I imagined. Just like I would with a movie. The New Testament describes a scene of a “woman of the city” (or harlot) where “standing behind him [Jesus] at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” When I thought about my tears being collected in a bottle, I thought about this woman crying on Jesus’ feet and wiping them away. There’s something mystical to this act. I envision this woman’s tears cleansing Jesus’ feet of dirt, in some way cleansing them of the corruption of the world, something that only affected his body, since His soul was pure, without sin. Through these same feet spikes would be hammered in order to hang Him on a cross. So we have the image of Him taking this woman’s tears to the cross. I have the image of my tears being poured out on Him and taken to the cross. And here is my hope.
My pastor/brother in Christ Jared and I are attempting to memorize Psalm 25. On this particular morning, I was up to verses 1-6, but I decided to add verse 7. So, as I tossed these ideas around in my head, I read Psalm 25:7 (NLT): “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!” I remember that, as a Christian, I need not fear God’s wrath. When He looks at the record of my life, yes he sees my actions, both “good” and “bad”, but he sees my sorrows, knows the tears I’ve cried, has been with me those dark nights alone when the fear of the ultimate side effect of cancer (death) grips me. But when I stand before Him to give an account, I will fall on my knees and just thank Him for Jesus. The account of His life becomes the account of my life. When he remembers me according to his steadfast love, He will remember me in the manifestation of His love, Christ Jesus. My life taken by Him through death on a cross, resurrection, and then glorification.
Such peace and comfort here despite the groans of my body. I wish this for you all.