Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Man of Sorrows – Are You One?

Isaiah speaks of one who is a man of sorrows, and who is acquainted with grief. This phrase is often tied to Jesus' scourging and crucifixion. In fact, the notes in one of my study Bibles limit their commentary to these two closely-linked periods in the last days of Jesus' physical life. It seems though, that this phrase likely has a broader meaning including at least the disappointment and frustration experienced by Him as he moved to Jerusalem and lamented her reluctance to accept His welcome, shelter, and life. I suspect we could also extend the thought to Jesus' reaction to Martha and Mary after the death of Lazarus. Or perhaps when we're told that the people wander like sheep without a shepherd, we get a glimpse of the sorrow of God.

It also occurs to me that if we follow our God as we say we do, we also should be people of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. If not our own, surely that of others. I speak here not of the mourning with others or of sharing sorrows with a grieving widow, or a now childless parent, but of more mundane or perhaps all too often routine experiences of life.

I see people almost on a daily basis who are not happy, who are angry, who are afraid of various people and things. Couples who are arguing with one another and who can't seem to quit, or individuals who are so angry they push everyone else away. If these were normal ways of living I suppose it wouldn't be so bad. The problem though, is that people need people. Oh there are some that claim they don't, but that claim simply doesn't stand up to the evidence – or their desire to be alone is itself an accommodation to some underlying fear or hurt.

It can be frustrating to see people who so much want to be accepted, seemingly go out of their way to defend themselves and in so doing push those closest to them away. Causing further anger and frustration in those around them, they keep themselves imprisoned in their own frustration and isolation.

Scripture provides clear (OK, not so clear for those of us who like to major in minors, and argue over details) teaching on how to solve most of life's interpersonal (and intra-personal) strivings and hurts. It is simply to trust God – even if it looks like He doesn't know what He's doing, and live concerned primarily for others' well being. We are told in Scripture that God will set us free. This freedom is not just from the penalty of sin, or the demands of an ancient law. No, it is freedom from ourselves, from the need to look out for Number One; the freedom to give to others no matter the circumstances.

I used to phrase this freedom as "God has your back, now go do God stuff," but that isn't quite right. The most appropriate way to visualize this idea is to understand that as we mature, we actually come to see the world as God sees it. We cannot really, be overly concerned with ourselves because we know that the best approach to life is to focus on others – just as our God does.

Not surprisingly, modern psychology understands the same principles. Since our minds are created by God, it seems reasonable to expect that the findings of psychology (if not every interpretation of those findings) support the teaching of Scripture. Psychological dysfunction is largely due to some sort of defensive behavior and the world view underlying the behavior. That world view is often one that is based in fear of some sort. Fear of our safety, fear of being abandoned, fear of being made fun of, fear of being embarrassed.

Nor is it surprising that the psychological cures (other than medications, directly) for many if not most maladies include engaging with others, asserting your own needs, and changing thoughts and stories from those that keep us isolated to those that draw us into competent associations with others. These treatment aspects eventually lead to a world view that says "I'm safe, competent, and valuable," and that facilitates an understanding that I can acknowledge a hurt and yet let go of it at the same time. Psychology seeks to nurture the same sorts of people that Scripture describes – those who are free to both be themselves and allow others the right to be flawed people. Admitting and accepting my own failures and yours, and not letting them come between us is key in both psychological health and Christian faith.

God wishes for us this type of freedom, this type of world view, and it is frustrating and sorrow provoking to see folks who simply don't know or who remain so unsure of themselves and their world that they cannot grasp and follow through with simply letting go of their defensiveness. It becomes more sorrowful when we realize that we are not big enough to simply move them into brighter light, into a world that isn't so demeaning and mean.

A Man of Sorrows? Yes, that appellation fits both our God and His followers who see the world through His eyes.

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