Walking to the corner market from your house on a calm summer day, you walk past a ragged drunken bum keeled over on the curb. Lifting his head and wiping his chin with his sleeve, he struggles to ask you for some money to buy food. You know he wants booze, but your compassion and empathy incline you to give him money. You may or may not actually give him money: that’s for you to decide in the moment. But you do think about the bum’s life circumstances and what kind of pain he is going through beyond the immediate pain that is before your face. Where does he live? Does he even have a place to live? Does he have friends or family? If he does, do they know what his life is like right now? Does he have a job? How long has his life been like this? How did he get like this? Is anyone trying to help him? Then you enter the corner market and your stream of consciousness forgets about the bum.
Usually, in circumstances like these I don’t give any money because I am selfish or think that the bum should get his act together and find a job. Grace and mercy are not my gut reactions. But in some rare instances I offer to give the man money or buy him a meal. But almost never do I actually take time to get to know the bum and establish some kind of relationship with him. For example, there is a local drunk in my neighborhood. His name is Al. I have bought him some food before and given him some of my old clothes, but I have never made any attempts to actually know Al and things about him.
Whenever we come across these situations we have three isolated decisions to choose from: (1) walk by the man on the curb and dismiss his request, (2) give the man money to buy food, (3) or stop for a little bit and chat it up with your neighborhood drunk.
Now the point of this is not to convict you to give money to the poor and help them in their needs. You and I should stop being selfish and give money to the poor, but that is not my aim in this article. Instead I would like to make a comparison by replacing us with God and replacing the bum with us. In every sense of the word we are the ‘bum.’ However, we are not like Al. Instead, we are horribly worse off in our circumstances and attitude toward life. We hate everyone around us; we need to be helped, but are too proud to ask for or accept help. Daily, we indulge in substances that make us delirious and cause us to puke our guts out. But because of some perverted desire for pleasure we keep indulging in life inhibiting behavior. This is the reality of our makeup. This is your human condition.
God also has the same three decisions to choose from. I’ll only focus on (2) and (3) mentioned above. For God as we know him, did not walk by us, the bums. God as we know him, has actually done a spectacular deed; although, God could just ‘know us’ and not actually help us in our need, or he could just give us food to eat and leave it at that. Thankfully for us God has not just done one or the other, He has done both: He has known us, and He has met our need for life out of death.
You see, to be a Christian is to have eternal life by the death of Christ. To be a Christian is to be known by Christ. These two facts, which mark the core identity of us as Christians, are mutually exclusive and independent of each other. Nothing in our human experience tells us that to be known is to have our basic needs met, or to have our needs met is to be known. Yet if we examine our hearts we will find that we desire to have our needs met and to be known as if they were one; for what two lovers ever exchange gifts without yearning for their lover’s company? (But meeting needs and knowing someone can help enhance the effectiveness the other.) What is it about us that makes us desire to be known and to be fulfilled in our needs as if they were one?
Christ, for certain, does both. The God who spoke creation into existence, ruler and architect of all things seen and unseen, whose might is too great to be compared to an atom bomb or even the power of the sun, chooses to look on humanity, the ants of the universe, and give us life and chooses to know us, personally and intimately; better than we know ourselves (1 John 3:20).
If we are honest with ourselves, would you go beyond giving the poor man some food and also take the time to invest in a relationship with him? I know I wouldn’t. God has done more than just save us from our self-inflicted peril. In tandem with the death of Christ, He has done something inexpressibly greater. He stopped and looked at us, the poor man on the curb, and said “Beloved come. Buy food and drink, and eat without price; for I will be with you always.”
In the movie “7 Pounds” we see Will Smith’s character, Ben Thomas, go off on a sacrificial rampage to donate personal belongings and even his own body parts so that other people can survive and live: he gives away his California beachside house to a broken family, donates bone marrow to a little boy, part of his liver to an old woman, and donates one of his lungs to his brother. He even goes to the length to kill himself so that Emily Posa, played by Rosario Dawson, who has congenital heart failure can have his heart and live. One may think to his/herself Ben Thomas is nuts and no person in their right mind would ever do what he did. And you’re probably right.
The amazing thing about Thomas’s actions is not just his mere behavior, but the emotional and relational attachments and affections he made with his recipients. He was intentional about the ones he pursued to receive him and his belongings. He took the time to know them. He took the time to really understand their hardships and what they need; the power of which can only be felt or seen by the quaking expressions of compassion portrayed on Thomas’ face. And with Miss Posa he not only knew her but he allows himself to be known by her personally and intimately. This is amazing! Why? Because who would do that!? Thomas is already putting himself through the excruciating pain of donating his vital organs; which is awe inspiring in its own right. But then he goes further and becomes familiar with his recipients pain. He physically and emotionally takes on their struggles and concerns and lifts their burdens. And then to see the reaction of Miss Posa after she is told about the sacrificial act of Thomas; it composes the heart to recite a Hallelujah Chorus of bitter-sweet symphonies. She knew the price it took for her to live; the life of the man who knew her and was her friend.
A conflicted heart resides in chest,
And pines for he, who gave it rest.
His ripped absence brings much sorrow,
So his yearning love can fill my marrow.
In the same way Ben Thomas loved Miss Posa, Christ has loved us: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ not only died for us but he knows us; he knows you. In this present moment, Christ knows every turn of events that got you here. He knows the joys and the sorrows you feel right now: and He feels what you feel. He knows who your family is; who your friends are; the first thought you had this morning. He knows what you dreamed about last night. He knows your struggles. He can number the evil thoughts and deeds you did today. He knows the depths of your darkest secrets. He knows your regrets and guilt. He knows you in your nakedness and great reasons for shame. He knows your strengths. He knows the glory, that personally awaits you at his return. He knows what you like and dislike. He knows how you want to be known. He knows who you are. So much so that he knew you and the kind of person you would be before you were born. He knew you before your parents were born; before your grandparents were born, and before their parents were born. Christ knew you before He himself was born into this world as a man. He knew you before Moses led the Jews out of Egypt. He knew you before Abraham was. He knew you before he spoke Creation into existence. Despite our flaws he stands before us and looks us in the eye saying “I love you because I love you. You are mine to cherish and behold. I am going to die so that you will live.”
Ben Thomas is a man who does not even exist. Christ is the God-man who died and defeated death. How much more well-loved are we vagrant ants, to be cared for and provided for by the person who has most cause to walk past and ignore our pleas to escape death?
And yet, amidst every trial and magnificent circumstance, He stands at your side as the faithful companion He is. When Jesus call us his ‘friend’ in John 15:13, he is really calling us his ‘beloved.’ It would be a mistake to hear the word ‘beloved’ and associate it entirely to a feeling of over-zealous romantic affections two lovers can have for each other. Christ’s affections for us are not pure emotion only; they certainly are not less than this, but we cheapen his love for us if we qualify it solely in fleeting emotions. When Christ calls us His beloved he is calling us his most precious. We are His treasure. You are most dear to him. As a husband would suffer the worst to protect the honor and dignity of his wife, Christ adores you in his heart. As a father would defend and provide for his children, Christ embraces you with his arms. We cannot begin to fathom how much Christ yearns for us.
The reason why we desire to be known and to have our needs met is because we were meant to be pursued by our Creator, we are meant to have our needs met, we are meant to be wooed. God did not create Adam perfect with the intention for Adam to be independent of God. God created Adam perfect so that God could pursue his creation uninhibitedly. Adam was made perfect so that he could receive and partake in God’s awesome wonder. Christ’s death, therefore, is a means for us to enjoy God’s ineffable opulence as we were made to. Christ knew that if he wanted to pursue us he had to pursue death, in order that we might be his forever. Christ’s intimate relationship with us preceded his death of life. And now, as we recline in the arms of grace, we will spend an eternity discovering how much we are really loved.