Burning Alive

“…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Psalm 103:13-16 (ESV)

The Apostle Peter had a slightly different spin to Psalm 103:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for:

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:22-25 (ESV)

I write these “meditations” a day ahead, so who knows how I’ll be doing by the time you actually read this, but as I’m keyboarding this message, I am very much aware that “all flesh is grass,” (Isaiah 40:6) here one day and gone the next. I’m not feeling very “imperishable.” It’s not a perfect world. Today, it doesn’t even seem to be a particularly good one.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued another call Sunday to free Jonathan Pollard. His appeal came shortly after Pollard was rushed to a hospital.

“The time has come to free Jonathan Pollard. The Jewish people’s holiday of freedom should become his personal holiday of freedom,” the Prime Minister declared.

-by Maayana Miskin
“Esther Pollard: Don’t Make Me a Widow”
First Publish: 4/8/2012, 3:25 PM
Arutz Sheva News Agency

This is only one example of an injustice occurring during one of the most holy times on the Jewish calendar (and I suppose on the Christian calendar too, though Easter has just ended). My “calendar” isn’t exactly filled with joyous rapture these days either. Lots of reasons, though none that I’m prepared to disclose. I wonder if that’s the point, though. Is faith and trust in God, let alone in ourselves, supposed to be dictated in terms of circumstances? Not according to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (appropriate last name for this Passover, don’t you think?):

Why do we kick ourselves so hard when we make a mess? Because we pat ourselves so nicely on the head when we succeed. As though success and failure is all in our hands.

Yes, we believe. We believe that it is not our talents, our brains, our good looks and hard work that brings success, that everything is in the hands of heaven.

But when we walk out the door into the cold, real world, we leave our faith behind in a world of fantasy.

If we would chew on it a little and allow it to digest before we went through that door, if we would let it sink into our minds and our hearts, then it would be more than faith — it would be a vision, an attitude.

It would be more real than even a dollar bill.

Although Freeman’s message is more oriented toward comparing the spiritual to the commercial (hence the “dollar bill”), the fact that we kick ourselves when we’re down and pat ourselves on the back when we’re up seems to show how the center of our reality is us rather than God. If, when life deals us harsh blows or when life grants us lush blessings, we were to consistently turn to God in praise, the condition of our lives wouldn’t really matter, would it?

Then why do we still feel pain and sorrow? Shouldn’t true people of faith be immune to “situationalism” by now? Is that why all the “real” religious bloggers only talk about their lives in upbeat, positive terms, because either nothing bad ever happens to them or bad things never affect them?

It’s often why I take inspirational blogs, religious or not, with a grain of salt.

But speaking of which, another of Rabbi Freeman’s messages states that, “In the heavens is G-d’s light. In the work of our hands dwells G-d Himself, the source of all light.” God is not (supposedly) hiding from us up in Heaven, but He’s right here with us, occupying everything we’re doing, every experience we are having, and perhaps even everything that we’re feeling.

But instead of listening to me kvetch, God has something to say, and He wants me to shut up long enough to hear Him.

There are questions to which G-d says to be quiet, to be still, to cease to ask. The quietness, the stillness, the abandonment of being, that itself is an answer.

-Rabbi Freeman
Be Quiet

It’s tough to abandon my being when the pain from the splinters in my soul and psyche keep bringing me back to myself.

All flesh is grass, especially mine.

Peter failed the Master by denying him three times publicly right before the crucifixion. The disciple upon whom the “church” would be built came to his lowest ebb at that time and in the days that followed. The resurrection of Christ still didn’t heal his wound, and Jesus himself added to Peter’s pain:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. –John 21:15-17 (ESV)

Maybe you don’t see this transaction the same way as I do, but try to picture the scene. Peter is humbled and humiliated at having denied that he had anything to do with Jesus as the Master was undergoing his false trial. His betrayal and shame could only have gotten worse in the hours and days that followed, as Christ was tortured and then slowly murdered upon the cross. No wonder he and the others among the core disciples went into hiding.

Of course Peter ran to the tomb on even the slim hope that Jesus had been resurrected three days later, but that wasn’t going to fix the problem. Yes, the return of the Master from death was a joy beyond measure, but then, as we see recorded in John’s Gospel, Peter had to face his “accuser” again, the man he had horribly abandoned.

The Master asked, “Do you love me?” I wonder if Peter asked this question about his love of the Master. I wonder if he said, “How can I say I love him when I am so guilty?” How could Peter say, “Lord, you know that I love you” in response? How could he love even God when he must have so loathed himself?

Unlike Peter, in my current circumstance, I can’t say that I really failed. I only feel responsible because I’m involved. No one has failed, but when someone you love is hurt and in need, and you struggle to find a way to help and can’t, it still feels like failure. It also creates unbidden tension in other relationships, which serve as a reminder that after all, you’re only human.

I’m only human, and I am grass, cut and thrown into the fire, withering and turning to ash, even as I write.

I am on fire and soon the fire will be gone, and there will be only hot ash and smoke. And then that will cool, and the cold, dry ash that used to be me will be caught up in the breeze, become airborne, and scatter, carried by the four winds.

Even that would be a comfort, but I can’t let that happen because I’ve still got so much to do and have too many people who depend on me.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him… –Job 13:15 (ESV)

But God is gracious. As miserable as things can seem sometimes, He can also lighten the load. A little while ago, God relaxed the pressure He was putting on my skull with His thumb and I’m really grateful that He did. The fire is beginning to die down and I’m still here and in one piece. We may be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), but there’s only so much we can take before we break, or God, in His mercy, takes us off the altar.

Like Icarus, my wings have melted and I’ve fallen to the ground, but my ashes are cooling and pretty soon, I feel like I might be able to rise up from them again.

Maybe this time I’ll get a new set of wings, or maybe God will just heal the old ones.

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6 thoughts on “Burning Alive”

  1. Excellent writing…..always worth stopping here each day! I’m thankful, I’m not sure I can put it into words why! Straight to the heart! Shalom 🙂

  2. Hi Steven. For some reason, my “heavier” blogposts seem to be more inspirational than my inspirational ones. I think my struggles resonate with a lot of people out there since most religous blogs are either strictly intellectual or all over the “life is always happy” message. If you’re among the faithful but aren’t always a walking, talking smiley face, it’s hard to sometimes relate.

    Fortunately for me (and probably my readers), God really did take His considerably heavy thumb off of my spine at the last second, enabling me to add a more optomistic ending to this missive than it had originally.

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