“A Shard of Glass in Your Gut”
For most of this fall, our church’s worship has spent time dwelling in a handful of chapters from the back-end of Matthew’s gospel. This stretch of the first gospel (ch. 22-25) contains long, at times unbroken stretches of words out of the mouth of Jesus. Words to the religious leaders of Israel, words to his disciples, words to the hovering crowds. Words of clarification and confrontation, words of offence and judgment. Words that jolt and alarm and cause the scratching of heads. Words about vineyards and virgins and landlords and kings, and screwed up systems where the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime. Words about wasting opportunities, about not paying attention, and suffering the ultimate consequence. Words about weeping and gnashing of teeth, words about darkness and the eternal fires prepared for the devil. Words that sometimes draw us to and sometimes repel us from the One who speaks them. I have been struck throughout our trip through this portion of Matthew at what an enigma Jesus can be, at times. At how hard his words can sometimes be.
It can be tempting to retreat from Jesus, especially when his words are hard. It can be tempting to take (illusory) refuge in the vague spiritual platitudes that abound in a deeply confused culture that is always running away from God. It can be tempting to avert our gaze when Jesus speaks his hard words, when he grabs us by the collar and looks us in the eye with his piercing, knowing stare. It can be tempting to apologize for Jesus’ hard words, to downplay them, to dance around them to seize upon the words that we find more palatable. But the Christian conviction has always been that those who want to see God truly must look squarely at Jesus. Even when—perhaps especially when—we don’t particularly want to.
Today I happened upon a brief conversation about poetry between Eugene Peterson and Christian Wiman. After watching it, I pulled Wiman’s magnificent little book called My Bright Abyss off the shelf and read these words:
Modern spiritual consciousness is predicated upon the fact that God is gone, and spiritual experience, for many of us, amounts mostly to an essential, deeply felt and necessary, but ultimately inchoate and transitory feeling of oneness or unity with existence. It is mystical and valuable, but distant. Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying, I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God. To walk through the fog of God toward the clarity of Christ is difficult because of how unlovely, how “ungodly” that clarity often turns out to be.
Yes, to walk through the fog of God to the clarity of Christ can certainly be difficult. But I am convinced that the person of Christ is, indeed, where God cries, “I am here.” And whatever else I want in life—whatever confused cocktail of misplaced desire and longing happens to be operative on any given day of my life—I know that the deepest, truest, most durable and lasting want that I will ever have is to be where God is.