“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.”
It seems so contradictory to me that we read that verse but in reality we feel as though life is this heavy, heavy burden that God has placed on us. I really don’t have a simple answer for why things are so difficult, except to say that I believe that all of us are in a state of suffering because this world has fallen and people’s lives are affected not only by their own sins and choices but by the choices of others even in the sense of generations of dysfunction being passed down. Even the physical issues we have are a result of the fact that we aren’t in perfect bodies, and our whole beings – mind, body and spirit- have been impacted by the fallen-ness of this world.
There’s a vicious cycle which seems to happen with us, though, and I think this is where we experience most of our difficulties and problems. The relationships we experience growing up – as children, as teenagers, as adults – all influence our perceptions about God. Our first ideas about who God is and what he expects of us come from how our parents treat us. Our feelings keep being changed and impacted by the people we encounter and we end up unintentionally with a skewed perspective. Rather than pulling our view of God out of what He has said about Himself, we pull it from what we have experienced in our relationships with fallen, flawed human beings. We expect that since humans treat us a certain way or have certain expectations of us, God will be or do the same.
Most of the time this feeling is increased or we feel like it is confirmed because even when we come to God, we feel like we don’t get the response we wanted. We think that God will (and should) fix all the problems around us in the world, or will take us out of our circumstances and give us new ones, or will be able to somehow send people to us who aren’t fallen and won’t hurt us. When this doesn’t happen, and we are hurt by others or our situations don’t change, we become angry and frustrated, and we can’t understand why God doesn’t just step in and save the day, or at least take us out of the situations.
I really think that the essential problem is this: we do not truly understand the truth about God and the truth about our world. All of our thoughts about God have become impacted by people, have been flawed by our human relationships, and have so often come from what others have told us about ourselves or about who they think God is. Even those of us who have been in church our whole lives (sometimes us especially) are not able to see God clearly because so much has influenced us, and so our expectations about who God is and what our lives are “supposed to be” are completely upside-down. At the same time, we have ideas about what our world is and what it ought to be or what we think life should look like if it was “right” and most of the time those have been twisted, too.
If there is any solution to the feelings of discouragement, doubt, pain and anger that we experience, I think it is this: we have got to begin to set aside everything we think we know, everything we have been told, and go back to the Bible to find out who God says He is, and what He has told us about what life is meant to be.
For me, the last couple of years has been an experiment in doing that. I have been trying to put aside everything I was taught and told up until now and study the Bible for myself to find out what the truth is, and I will say this – I think that the most important thing that we can do to change our thinking about our lives and who God is, is to read about, learn about, study and fall in love with Jesus. No matter what our perceptions about “God” are, the person of Jesus is absolutely beautiful, and I think our attitude toward Him is what in the end allows us to understand God better.
The funny thing is, Jesus spent his whole time here on earth telling us how hard life is going to be. I know we say that sometimes and kind of ignore it, but it’s true. Jesus consistently told us that life would be hard, that people would attack us, that they would try to persecute us, that we would be hurt by others and despised for who we are. He himself experienced those things – he came from a background that was practically on the bottom of the totem pole in his culture, no one in his hometown respected him, tons of people betrayed him, even the ones closest to him, and his own family thought he was insane. Jesus had human emotions just like we do, and he felt the pain of those things just like we do. Just because Jesus was without sin, that doesn’t mean he was without hurt. The incredible thing about Jesus becoming human is that he placed himself in the line of fire in this fallen world. Because he loved us so much he came down and chose to experience all the same pain that we do – the rejection, the hurt, the anger at unfair treatment, the pain of loved ones saying and doing hurtful things.
The beauty of the incarnation, Jesus’ death and the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus left earth is this; it gave us a chance to find a place of wholeness through a restored relationship with God. The first thing that was impacted by sin was our relationship with God, and it is our capacity for relationships with each other which is most easily destroyed and twisted and harmed by sin.
The thing that the incarnation did NOT do, however, is provide an instant fix for every problem of our fallen world. The impact of sin still remains. Because Jesus came, we have the ability to accept a healed relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean that the consequences of thousands of years of sin were removed. Generations continue, sins are repeated, and the emotional, mental and physical results of sin are still factors that impact us. They are still a part of our world, and so we will always have to deal with them in one form or another.
When we begin to understand who Jesus is, and through that who God is, what starts to change is not our circumstances or our situations. What changes is our perspective on those circumstances and our ability to cope with them. Truly grasping who Jesus is means that we realize how much he loves us, that we recognize that he always desires for us to live a life full of joy and peace. Again, though – this is a joy and peace that do not have anything to do with circumstances. The relationship we have with God gives us confidence, power and strength to cope with whatever circumstances come our way. Our world is always going to be fallen, and we are always going to be faced with that problem, but when our relationship with God is whole and healthy we are equipped to face the problems.
I know that a lot of this is stuff you’ve heard…probably all of it. And I realize that when you’re discouraged and in so much pain most of this kind of thing sounds like white noise. The main thing I want to say is just this – if you can’t do anything else, if you only have strength for one last thing, just go back to the Bible and start studying Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the key for us not only as we try to deal with life but as we attempt to understand who God is and who we are in relation to Him.
“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”