Holy Love conquers all things

Michael Jenson is experimenting with a new book idea here. It’s called YOU and aims to be a a popular level book that carefully and sensitively addresses questions and contributes a Christian theological voice into the discussion. His latest post is on Leviticus 15 and is entitled ‘The Ooze’. It invited a lengthy response from me that I’ll reproduce here for the sake of my blog readers but moreso to encourage you to go on to read and contribute to Michael’s project. I wrote:

It seems to me that Leviticus 15 serves, among other things, to remind us that because God is love, and because his love is holy love, when he sees anything that defiles his creation he must do something about it. It must be judged and ultimately either sanctified or destroyed. And when he sees evil in us it is no different. God is not squeamish.

The problem is that we don’t see our own evil to be as evil as he does. It’s only when we see ourselves at the cross that we see the enormous horror and hideous, deceitful, evil of our own hearts. Karl Barth once said, ‘God’s attitude in (his fellowship with us) is characterised by holiness, exclusiveness, the condemnation and annihilation of sin. The holiness of God thus involves peril to the man with whom he has fellowship…. As sinful man he cannot stand before God. He must perish’ (Church Dogmatics II/I, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985, 364).

In Mark 7, the Pharisees criticise Jesus’ disciples for eating without going through the proper hand-washing rituals. They seem to have forgotten what purpose these laws served, and turned them into a system of trying to get right and then stay right with God. And so Jesus lets rip. He calls them hypocrites and accuses them of nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions. And then Jesus redefines uncleanness (Mk. 7:20-23). Isn’t that a great thing … that Jesus knows exactly what our hearts are like! So how can unclean people like that, people like us, people under the wrath of God, approach a Holy God not only without being struck down on the spot but approach the throne of grace with confidence?

Mark 5:24b-34 recalls the story of a woman. This woman dashes onto the NT stage for 10 verses. She’s got no name. She’s got no idea of who Jesus really is. He represents for her the last straw in a long line of doctors and miracle workers that she has spent all of her money on and over a decade seeing. She has been treated like a leper in her community for 12 years. She has been tormented by guilt and anxiety. She has been untouched … and untouchable. She has been unable to hug her kids. She has been unable to make a cup of tea for a friend. No one has invited her to their home in 12 years. Now she doesn’t want to know Jesus. She’s not seeking a relationship with him, but she wants to be healed. She wants to be restored to her community. She wants to be able to go to her kids’ birthday party and make love with her husband. She wants to be able to prepare a meal for her family and enjoy a day out with her friends. And she hears reports of this guy in town who heals people and so she goes along to check it out, and she moves in on Jesus from behind … anonymously in a crowd. This is the man who deliberately touched unclean lepers and corpses. This is the man who made a point of eating with prostitutes and calling ‘sinners’ his friends. This is the man who deliberately went out of his way to do almost everything that the OT prohibits us, and especially priests, from doing. But would he allow this woman to touch him (remember Lev. 12), to pollute him, to make him unclean? Would he allow this woman to place him under the wrath and judgement of God?

C.S. Lewis said, ‘Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger’ (Quoted in Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 152). To hear the Word of God takes a miracle. It takes God! It takes the gift of a new heart! And so if we’re proud, if we’re self-righteous, if we can look at our life and see ourself as someone who is not only bleeding but dead, then we are going to find it very hard to know that God has touched us and healed us and indeed made us alive in Christ.

Helmut Thielicke once said, ‘There is no wilderness so desolate in our life that Jesus Christ will not and cannot encounter us there … There is no depth in which this Saviour will not become our brother … He comes for us wherever we are … For that is his majesty’ (How To Believe Again, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974, 60, 63). In Jesus Christ, God bore all our sins, all our uncleanness, and all the wrath of the holy God in his own body on the tree. Do we believe that? Do we believe that from the moment we’re born right up until the moment of our death, that on that Cross he entered into our history, into our mind, into our conscience, into our memory, into our acts, and he took into himself all the judgement, the pain, the shame, the loneliness, the burden, the confusion, the guilt, the fear, the darkness, the hypocrisy, the terror? Do we know that on that Cross he actually experienced our life, and that he left nothing undealt with? And that as God’s High Priest he sanctifies everything that he touches… and that he has touched us? Do we know that? Do we know that as far as the east is from the west he has removed our sins from us, and he will remember them no more because there is nothing for him to remember.

Conscience – a poem by Grant Thorpe

Ah conscience tutored in the ways of
Practised in the ways of
Raging still until each aberration
Is made good
And raging too until
Each thought is
Pure and steady

Ah conscience never satisfied
Working on until
The flesh is limp and
Mind exhausted
Urging on to kingdoms that will
Compensate and camouflage
The lack that still remains

Ah conscience
Meet your Master
Even God
Not with face all stern
And whip in hand
But in the face of Christ
Sin bearer

See there the
Thefts, adulteries and murders
And many lesser crimes
All lovingly embraced and borne
Before the Father’s holy love
Not one wild deed
All atoned, all washed
Not one thing left to lurk or spoil
The reconciliation

Meet your Maker
Who decreed that love
His love
Be motive all alone
To move the race to duty
And to zeal.

Make me acknowledge only
My great need of
Exposure to the very heart of God
Pulsating with affections
Great and tender
Tell me when I err
In this respect alone

Do not
Stir up to
Greater deeds to
Compensate, annul or
Catch up with the past
It is against my God
I sin
‘Gainst him alone
And sin against
His loving me
And ‘tis to move against his love
To look for other
Things to change

Ah crime of deepest import
Ah deed of greatest shame
To have thought his love austere
His pleasure hard to gain
And to have turned
To idols
Enamoured so with idols
That his love laid

Tell me of this
Alert me at first sign
And turn your vigilance to
Any wandering from grace

Ah conscience
Be you tutored by the cross
Of Christ
Do not presume to have
A charter outside this
Call sin what God calls sin
That sin to death
Which spurns his grace

Alert me then alone
To seek outpourings of
That love—none else
What business do I have
With deeds which merely satisfy
Or my longing for
Relationships—patched up and thin
With no true love?
Require of me alone that
I ask, receive, be thankful for, and give
His love.

© Grant Thorpe, July 1991, August 2002