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July 31, 2015

when God is heavy

[Sometimes I look back in my files and see an almost-finished post. This one's from Asia, in 2014.]

It's a quiet weekend morning and I'm stretched across the foot of my friend's double bed, staring at the delicate pattern in her white curtain. I'm listening as she slowly divulges a dark story about her friend's poor decisions. Disappointment makes her voice drop and scrape as she talks about what is a heavy topic for a lazy Saturday morning. She swears me to secrecy about the weight she's carrying.

Not long later, I'm sitting on a second friend's bed and the story she tells me is similar in its gravity. Her neighbour literally chose his "neighbour's wife" over his own. Her tone is disgusted and distraught as she recounts the lurid tale, her eyes dark and fretful. "This is wrong! It's wrong!" I listen, and agree: it is wrong! (But what makes it wrong? How does she know it is wrong? Who says?)

I sit on a lot of beds; it's normal here. Our deeper conversations often take place in a female friend's room, her relational sanctum-sanctorum, if you will. One friend even laughed at the idea that we would sit and visit in the living room; she wanted us to visit in her bedroom. Something else is normal here, too, and it's not as laughablefriends carrying heavy burdens.

I hear statements like, "I am OK with one affair, but to have three or four affairs in quick succession? Now that is wrong!" Or, "I don't lie...except when it's a situation that I just can't escape without lying." As I shift on the end of the bed and listen to the sad stories unwind, it weighs on me to see how little distinction there is between truth and lies.

I shouldn't be surprised, because at times a friend mentions how his father taught him to lie about his age, or how her mother laughed off her small thefts as a child. Their confusion about truth is intergenerational, and its no wonder that they can't quite distinguish truth from error, when a clear, unchanging Standard was never taught to them. (And this is the case in homes all over the world, not just in Asia).

Something's missing. 
And that is "the knowledge of the glory of the LORD."  

Just one of the yummy meals my friend spoiled me with on her bed.

"Glory" comes from a Hebrew root word that denotes heaviness, and speaks of importance. It's translated so many ways in the Good Book because it seems to connote so many things. But I like to just go back to the root, "heavy, weighty." It helps me to understand: God is heavy. He carries weight. That's ultimately what we mean, when we talk about His glory. He is a big deal. He is the big deal!

If you've grown up in a home where truth was taught, and you haven't wandered particularly far from it, perhaps you (like me) have sometimes felt you have no story to tell. No dramatic tear-filled conversion, teenage pregnancies or prison stays to report.

"My parents taught me about the true God.
I believed, and still believe."

Kind of boring, right?
Won't draw a crowd, will it?

Sometimes I've even thought that my story of finding rest in gentle, humble Je'sus from a young age would be something people of other backgrounds couldn't relate to at all. It almost made me wish I had a more dramatic darkness-to-light testimony to share.

But one day, as I thought about this phrase, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea," I realized the eternal significance of a believing parent's work. A parent who raises his child with the knowledge of God is creating on a small scale the future earth that God speaks of here. He is structuring a mini-society in his home, where God is honoured (or "heavy") as He should be, and where truth cuts a straight line between wrong and right. 

That parent knows that when the child faces life on earth in its current condition, truth will be fallen in the street. But in his home, he seeks to create a solid base, full of the knowledge of Him, so his child is ready to make decisions grounded in who God is and what He has done.

What the wise parent knows is that when we don't allow God to be heavy, we end up carrying a lot of heaviness of our own, on our own.

What I realized is that my story wasn't boring; it was the kind of story that ideally everyone would have. God meant for every human's ideas to be shaped by truth-telling mediatorial authorities (like parents, teachers, elders) who let Him, as ultimate authority, have sway in every area.

I was raised with the knowledge of the glory of God, and by God's grace, accepted it early on—and my life has had a kind of lightness and straightforwardness to it that others who have come to know Him later have not experienced. That does not mean that I have had no problems, but I just mean that when we realize His weight at thirty or takes a lot more soul-scraping to change from seeing things our way to seeing things His way.

The story of Rosaria's discovery of the glory of God is one of my favourites, because she is so articulate about the enormous worldview shift that came about when she came to know Him in her thirties:
"I discovered that God isn't just a narrative we pick like summer berries or leave for the next person; nor is God a set of social conventions tailored for the weak of mind, nor is God a consumerist social construct to exist in the service of Christian imperialist ideologies and right-wing politics. Rather, I discovered that God through Jesus Christ exists, the triune God…exists, whether we acknowledge him or not. I discovered that God wasn't very happy with me."
She goes on,  
"This wordconversionis simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreak that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God.... When I became a [follower], I had to change everythingmy life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts....."
As Rosaria discovered, God was, is, and always will be weighty. He doesn't become glorious when we discover Him; He always has been. But the question is, do we acknowledge Who He really is? Or will we be bowed with our own burdens forever?

When He gets heavy in our own hearts, life changes. The general distinctions between truth and lies fall firmly into place. When God is heavy, we know the Standard: He is the standard. If we're willing to call wrong wrong, and right right, He gives us power to walk in the right and not the wrong. 

A few years ago I heard a wedding reception speech in which the father of the bride said that he had begun to pray for his children before he even had a wife. I knew that he had sought to raise His children to know and love God. And on that day, as he watched his daughter marry a man after God's own heart, his eyes shone and his joy was full. The baton was being passed in the relay of truth: another home where, by God's grace, they could perpetuate a legacy of preaching God as the heavyweight in all areas. Their home could be as full of the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as any home on earth could be.

But if you were raised in a family tree with amputated limbs, by a mother with a wandering eye, or by a father who didn't acknowledge the truth...there is just as much hope for you as for anyone else, though learning the knowledge of Him does take time. It takes time to rethink life, to let Him be heavy, to acknowledge His glory in every area of your life. 

I sat many times on a third bed in Asia, hearing out a third friend as she described the changes happening in her soul after she realized who God is, and started letting Him be the heavyweight in her life. The process was and still is difficult for her, and for anyone who lives in light of His glory (whether raised with the knowledge of God's glory or without).

But it's far better than the alternative. Because when He's not heavy, everything else is. 

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 

"For the earth will be filled 
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, 
as the waters cover the sea." —God to Habakkuk

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." —J'esus

"Throw all your worry on Him, 
because He cares for you." —Peter

"Give your burdens to the LORD, 
and He will take care of you...." —David

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