Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lifting God's Burdens

         Perhaps to teach us all a lesson, Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help bear the burden of God Himself, the cross on which He died.  In so doing, Simon enacted a deep truth about Christian spirituality:  Just as God took upon Himself the burdens of our sin, we can take upon ourselves some of the burdens of His love, burdens that, in His grace, He deigns to share with us.  Not that He needs our help, and not that He cannot do the job all on His own.  Of course He can.  But He is a sharing God, and He rarely does all on His own things the doing of which He can share with his creatures.
         To say that, like Simon, we might share in the Savior’s burden and help lift it in the way that He shared ours and lifted it, is not to imply that in any way there exists between Him and us an equality.  There does not.  I speak not of equality but of mutuality, of the exchange of love between unequals, indeed between those who are unequal in every way.  Inequality does not prevent mutuality.  Inequality is simply the context in which the mutuality of love between God and us is worked out in all its historical details.  By means of this unequalness in love and exchange, we are in much the same relation to God as a dog might be in licking its master’s face when it knows the master is hurting.  Of course, the master will pull through even without the lick.  But still, in its own peculiar way, it helps.  The unequalness in that lick is part of the beauty and depth of the relationship depicted or enacted.  A bridge of affection spans the gap not only between dog and human, but also between human and God.  We look up to God and see His suffering, and offer Him our version of a gentle lick; and from it He somehow derives Divine pleasure.  To be sure, He, not we, built the bridge of mercy that connects us to Him.  But we are free to cross it, and to offer mercy in return.  When He draws us to Himself, and when we obey that drawing, it gives Him joy. 
         Picture a large and strong man, bearing two, three, or even more, heavy bags of produce on his stooped shoulders.  Standing near him, his child, seeing the father’s burden, and loving him, says, “Daddy, can I help?”  The father, understanding well the child’s imperfect love and meager strength, but loving the love that prompted the offer, says, “Yes, child; take this potato.”  And with more effort than would have been expended bearing it all himself, he shifts the tiniest of burdens onto the child, and both he and his child are heartened in the exchange.  The image of it all is captured well in Wordsworth’s beautiful poem “Michael,” wherein the child Luke’s effort to share his father’s work turned out to be “something between a hindrance and a help.”  Yet, meager as that help was, Luke received his father’s praise, and the father received joy.
         I am saying, among other things, that the strange and alien notion of an impassible god is not something we learned from the Bible.  In both Testaments, we learn of his anger, his pleasure, his love, his suffering, his frustration, and even his mirth.  Such feelings, such passions, are not anthropo-morphisms in Him, but theo-morphisms in us.  We feel them at all only because He felt them first and made us like Him.  We would have known that about God and ourselves all along if Greek philosophy had not spoiled us.

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