“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” (Rilke)
There’s a paradox in grace. It’s in the combination of opposites. Sometimes we think that truth is in one extreme or the other, in the light or the dark. But it’s in both. Sometimes we try to find some pussyfooting via media, but we are called to embrace both opposites at the same time. God is spirit, and yet known in the flesh. The Bible is the word of people but it is the word of God. Jesus is both God and man.
And life is both “Lo, I am with you always” and “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
There’s an amazing passage in Isaiah 57:15 that combines two central Old Testament ideas about God: his transcendence and his immanence. God is above all, and yet, somehow, integral and central to the meaning of what it is to be a human being.
For this is what the high and exalted One says –
he who lives for ever, whose name is holy:
‘I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
We live in dangerous times. In fact, the world looks like a dark place. It did so too when Isaiah wrote these words. How can you believe in a God of love when such terrible things happen? Why does God allow it? People often respond with suspicion about Gods character or misgivings about the conditions of life.
On these terms, is Christianity worth it?
Here’s Isaiah’s answer. He vindicates God’s character by saying that He is “the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity.“ He encourages those who were trodden down to hold on in faith, by reminding them that real dignity is something very different from present success. God dwells with him “that is of a contrite and humble spirit.”
I have two questions: what is the greatness of God? And second, what is the greatness of man?
According to this word, God is great because He “lives forever.” He “inhabits eternity.” The greatness of God is the greatness of time.
And the imagination falters, science becomes wild guesswork and I’m dizzy and bewildered, to come into contact with something so …so huge.
God’s dwelling-place is that eternity which has neither past nor future, but one vast, immeasurable present. An “Eternal Now “where God sees time like we see geography.
And the greatness of God is the greatness of space.
Space is an eternity of geography. The first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin said “I can’t see God up here.” But did he really expect to? Our awe at incalculable space is a tribute to God’s greatness. And what is beyond? The only answer is, “A high and holy place.”
And third, it’s the greatness of character. Character is the eternity of morality.
How do you conceive of the idea of the Holy? None but the pure can understand purity. The way we grasp at knowing holiness comes from our acquaintance with unholiness! We know what God is not. Holiness implies justice, truth, lovingkindness. But how do you know what these things are?
This is what God has done in Jesus. “No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten of the Father He has made him known.”
Judgement is simply the separation between the two.
So what is the greatness of man?
Simply this: that God dwells in us: and with us …. “ but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”
There’s a distinction between what is great in God and what is great in man. To be independent of everything in the universe is God’s glory, and to be independent is humanity’s shame. All that God has, He has from Himself, but all that I have, I have from God. And the moment I cut myself off from God, that moment I cut myself off from all true grandeur.
So “Don’t you realise that you are temples of the Holy Spirit?” “In Christ you are built as a habitation of God through the Spirit.” “If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.”
So who is great? Who are the true celebrities? Those who are humble and those who are contrite in heart. Humility is the mind-set of the innocent, contrition is the mind-set of those who live repentantly, alive and alert to the holiness of God.
If you know God properly then you know yourself properly. It’s an important journey.
Pharaoh said “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” In his arrogance, he had shut himself out from a knowledge of God and ended blind to himself. No, no, said Paul: “Have a sane estimate of yourself!”
if we saw ourselves as God sees us, we should be willing to be anywhere, to be silent when others speak, to be passed by in the world’s crowd, and shoved to one side to make way for others.
This was the heart of Jesus, this is the meek and the quiet spirit, and this is the heart of the humble with whom the high and holy One dwells.
Jesus is where the paradox is resolved.