TO BOLDLY GO
There are many places we cannot walk into in this world and others make sure we know that. Yet the place we belong to the least is one we can walk confidently into without expecting a hand on the shoulder.
We have a great fear that others can see through us and will identify our inadequacies, as if we are the one person sitting in an orchestra who can’t play the instrument in front of us. In reality, we are so busy obsessing over our own adequacy that we don’t notice the other person who is obsessing over theirs, which is a form of ironic good news for all of us. But what if we could see into the heart of another person?
Let’s put that another way: what if people could see into our heart? What would they find there? On one level, we might feel some relief. There is a tendency for us to judge others by their actions and us by our intentions. If only others could see what we mean, they would be kinder to us. Yet the fact that only a few people know us intimately is an indication that we do not trust others to know everything about us. It would be a brave person who submitted to others’ knowing about their deepest thoughts because there are seams of unpleasantness and weakness which could be exploited.
This makes the argument from Hebrews 4: 12-16 all the more compelling. It begins with the unsettling suggestion that the word of God pierces us with such brutal precision that no defence can be knitted together to protect our integrity; it is like watching a butcher peremptorily chopping up meat on a board. This violent imagery shocks us into the assertion that ‘all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account’. For those who comfort themselves with the gentle promises of scripture (which is pretty much all of us) this is a summary and unsparing judgement. It suggests that all those devious and self-justifying trains of thought we use to bolster ourselves at the expense of others will be shredded, eviscerating us and leaving us defenceless before a God whose holiness is unspeakably awful.
And then, just when we might expect the final blow, we hear this: ‘for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses’. God has looked into our hearts, in all their darkness, and had pity on the turmoil he sees. I do not know what you are dealing with in the secret places of your heart as you read this, any more than you know my concerns, but there is someone who knows us better than we know ourselves and his instinct is for sympathy and kindness. This is yet one more beautiful thread of the incarnation. This God is not impassive and indifferent to our distress; he has experienced it personally. Much of the sympathy we offer one another is compromised by the sense that we cannot do anything to change the situation. There is a lingering sense of helplessness in some pastoral encounters because all we can offer is a listening ear. Yet here we are encouraged, in our fear and our anxiety, to approach the throne of grace with boldness because there we ‘find grace to help in time of need’.
Some newspapers like summarising complex news stories in two or three sentences to help people who are too busy or too confused to understand them; if a news editor were at work here, it would say: The bad news is there is no escaping from the scrutiny of God and he knows everything there is to know about us. The good news is he still loves us with an everlasting love and he wants to fill us with his grace and power to help us cope with the things that we are afraid of in life.
The exhortation in Hebrews to approach God with boldness is one of the most arresting phrases of scripture because it encapsulates the Gospel we believe. There are many places we cannot walk into in this world; we do not belong in them and others make sure we know that. Yet the one place we belong the least is the one we can walk confidently into without expecting a hand on the shoulder.
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