…our context, our canvas…

In reading through Job and then creeping up on being half-way through the Psalms the last several days, I have been compelled by what seems to be a trend throughout the poetry literature in the Bible. There is a very real faith that is displayed in the pens of these authors, an authentic and courageous belief in things that don’t seem to be tangibly true in the moment of the writing. And while that may not be very unique a perspective, it occurred to me that these authors were penning their hearts’ cries in a way that we rarely do.

Job’s dialogue is not delivered in a vacuum, and David, Korah, and the other psalmists are by no means isolating their words of prayer, anguish, and praise. Job is talking, out loud it seems, to his friends; it is a long conversation, or really debate, that he is having with them. Every bit of counter-cultural craziness that Job seems to be clinging to, every syllable that flies directly into the face of the current, accepted theology is on public record with at least three witnesses to corroborate and rebut. The psalm writers, at the beginning of many of their songs and pieces of prose, will designate the verses to be adapted to a certain melody or to be given to the choirmaster for public singing. Maybe you are saying, “of course they did, they were writing songs”, but you don’t have to read very far into Psalms before you begin to see just how scandalous this practice could be. Consider a nation singing Psalm 51 and scanning down the scroll for the author’s name and seeing that it was their own beloved King David that had been wicked, sinful, and at risk of losing his relationship with the God of a nation a mere two generations removed from a Theocratic government system. That is more than somewhat grimy.

These authors weren’t jotting down honest thoughts in their prayer journal, or in the margins of a Bible they might leave to their children after they went to their grave. No, these authors were laying everything in them onto the Hebrew highway for every friend, foe, family member, and foreigner to see and scrutinize. But the issue that struck me so strongly this morning wasn’t so much that they were confessing sin as much as speaking things that flat-out seemed untrue.

Job’s situation is one of the classic faith stories in the Bible. Everything he knew about himself and everything he knew about his present situation were at violent odds with each other. He knew he was as righteous as a man could be, and he knew that he was being tried and tested and even “cursed” in such a way that only the unrighteous should have to endure. So he called out to God for a hearing, a trial, a court date. But Job didn’t do this, it doesn’t seem, to find out if there was anything sinful in his own life, he did it to hold God accountable for His actions. That’s about as bold a thing as any man has ever done. So God obliges and shuts Job’s mouth, re-calibrates his pride, and does it all without ever really answering Job’s specific questions. For thirty-ish chapters Job releases and vents and moans and aches and taunts the God of the heavens – all in an open, public, and undeniable way. We prefer our God-ward frustrations to be slightly more private don’t we?

David wrote many Psalms of God’s goodness, rescue, strength, and victory throughout one of the most exhausting periods of injustice in the Old Testament narrative. The lame-duck monarch, Saul, was chasing David for no viable reason other than the king’s desire to hold on to the throne for a little while longer. David was run out of his homeland, separated from his parents, brothers, sisters, and wife all because he had done most everything right. And in the decade of living his life like one of the ancestors of the Dukes of Hazard, he wrote song after song after poem after poem about the Lord’s salvation and the righteous vindication of the King of all Kings. How many of the “mighty men”, the scruffy band of outcasts that had flocked to David during his stay at the Cave of Adullum, were confused and frustrated by their leader’s tendency to write things that just didn’t seem to be true? David put everything on the line through his songs, he gushed with praise one minute and depression the next. He swung from the ascendant edges of glory to the darkest depths of despair and agony. He was a schizophrenic’s schizophrenic. He was the most sane man they’d every known to act so insane.

My point is simple. Both of those men, and many others throughout the ages, have lived their lives in such a way as to tear down the dividing wall of what is and what they believe will be. For men and women of that type of faith there really is no such thing as time, spiritually speaking. There is only promise and reality, and they staunchly believe those two things will collide as soon as God is ready to put them together. These mystics are constantly reaching into the unknown and grabbing onto hope and beauty and grace and rescue and love – but as they draw back their arm into the world of reality they find that there is only an echo of those things in the present moment. And that isn’t necessarily unique in itself. What is mind-blowing is that with only those echoes in their hands they are able to stand up and walk through this life as if they already possessed those things.

Men and women of that kind of faith are able to paint pictures for the rest of us, but not ordinary pictures. They paint pictures of unseen things using colors that we think we’ve seen a million times before. They are able to take the things that we know with our head and make them real in our heart. Those kinds of people speak words that seep through our ears, leave the residue of truth in our brains, and then drip slowly into our hearts. Their confident assurance in things hoped for pools up in our dusty souls and compels us to suspend our disbelief for a few precious moments and dream about what might be…what could be…what will be. They give our faith wings by intimately connecting us with the story God has been telling since Genesis 3. Some of them are old, some are young. Some are wrinkled and lean on canes, some wear Justin Bieber t-shirts and eat milk-shakes for dinner.

Maybe the most profound thing about this, to me anyway, is that God has told us all that there is a place for us in that circle. There is room for every one of us at the next meeting of what AW Tozer called “The Fellowship of the Burning Heart”. We often numb ourselves with nonsense or stifle the urges to embrace it, but for those of us who have been to the cross, who have, with Bunyan’s Christian, taken off the backpack of burden, who have felt our heart’s ache at the thought of feeling the rush of air as the Master passes by, who have thought our chest would explode from swollen moments in the glorious presence of His Spirit – for us the invitation has been given. We cry hot tears and kneel down in strange places. We seek hard after the heart of our Designer and know that at any given moment He might embrace us because at every moment He loves us deeply.

This kind of faith changes worlds, alters reality, suspends injustice, and knows how to pray.

This is our context, this now is our now. But His now is forevermore. I don’t even know if that makes sense to whoever might read this, but right now, for me, His forevermore makes a great deal of sense and seems very close. And this is my canvas today. I attempt, though perhaps poorly, to paint you a picture of what I have not seen with colors you might be able to comprehend.

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