I approached the seminary season with great hopes of having all of my questions answered. I ask a lot of questions…so much so that my husband calls me “The Riddler.” Much to my surprise, my questions would birth new questions, deeper questions…questions that have left me feeling as if the very foundation I am standing on is weak. Instead of the newfound confidence I craved, both for myself and for my ministry to others, I have been left with newfound insecurities. I feel like my marriage to Jesus has somehow reverted back to the awkward dating phase, “So…Jesus, tell me about your family. Your favorite color. How you grew up…” It is a bit frightening and I am left vulnerable; vulnerable to answers that I don’t expect, vulnerable to being wrong about something I was so confident in before…vulnerable.
Yet, how would Jesus define my foundation? Would he define it was “thinking rightly” about him? In the same way, how does my husband define the foundation of our marriage? Is it defined as knowing everything about him? Is there room to “rethink” things I thought I knew about him that end up being wrong?
In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks about our foundation, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The variable in this story is the one who either does or does not do the words that he/she hears. Each one hears, yet the emphasis is not on “hearing rightly,” the emphasis is on the doing. I would argue that right hearing leads to right action, and is very important. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t subject myself to a grueling 3 year intensive study of the Scriptures. However, for the sake of today, Jesus equates the one possesses a strong foundation with the one that does the things that he/she hears.
If I equate my foundation with “right thinking,” I am certainly on shaky ground. This perceived vulnerability has led to a wall in my relationship with Jesus – “If I can’t be sure about you, Jesus, then why should I come to you at all? Why should I trust you, if I don’t even know if I’m trusting who you really are?” The one person I can rely on and put full trust in has made me with limitations in my knowledge. As a result, certain parts of him are veiled, beyond my reach. He has chosen to reveal himself in time to humans made from the dust, rather than in one moment of full clarity.
The reality is, my foundation in marriage and in relationship to Jesus is seen most clearly in covenant actions – first and foremost, actions or vows made on my behalf. The very foundation of Christianity is on the actions of God in history. Jesus not only “thought rightly” about me, but he chose certain actions: humbling himself and taking on the form of human flesh, resisting temptations and dying on my behalf. He certainly thought well, yet earned his “well done, good and faithful servant…not, “good argument” or “good analytics!,” but “well done” on the basis of his actions. Because he obeyed the greatest commandment to love God and love neighbor, he stood strong against the most destructive of storms: betrayal, shame and even death itself.
With Jesus as both my foundation and example of true humanity, I build on the foundation of love with which he loved me. Even in my wrong thinking, he loves me, and beckons me come. And because he loves me, I know love and am free to love. He is more concerned about my building on his unshakeable foundation of love – trusting him in the things I do see of him and loving my neighbor in the ways I ought – than my abstaining from love because I don’t fully know and can’t fully see. He waits for me to come, to hear, and to respond.
Raise your support in 100 days!
We came out of the training ready, expectant. The promise (ok, my heart twisted it into a promise) made me excited. “We’ll go through half of our savings and still feel like we’re “trusting God” while maintaining a position of control. Yes, Lord, I want my faith to grow! No, Lord, I don’t want to go “too far” with this test. Don’t lead me to the point of true surrender, the point where I don’t know where the next day’s manna is going to come from.” Maybe I wasn’t saying (or thinking) these words exactly, but it is where my heart was. It was exposed on day 1.
Right after David retired from the fire department, we got his “cash out” check and it was half of what we expected. He called and after hearing the department’s reasoning, he answered everything calmly with “Well, this is very disappointing…very disappointing…” Meanwhile, I was on the opposite couch and gauging from the conversation and his body language, I knew. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. When he got off the phone, I was angry with him, that he wasn’t more mad on the phone (Christian wife A+). They needed to know how much this hurt us. They needed to know that our well-being, our very manna, was at stake. Or so I perceived. David responded calmly, “God knew this would happen, this is not a surprise to him.” Back to the drawing board – we would have to do this in shorter time than we thought.
Again, on day 100, I got angry and…scared. First, the anger. What started as a gentle nudge, “David, how many people have you called today? Who is your accountability partner?” turned into endless questions dominating my mind’s space. I couldn’t sleep. And for those of you that know me, I sleep. A lot. I was consumed. His answers, however incomplete, gave me some sense of control. “If he contacts 10 people every day, and 50% of those return his call, and 50% of those support us, we’ll be done in 2.5 months!” I couldn’t stop my heart’s own madness. I had never struggled with anxiety more than a fleeting thought, and here I was – drowning in it.
Then, the promise in the midst of the testing.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Seek first the kingdom of God, don’t be primarily concerned with manna! Every time I was faced with a tempting thought to withhold generosity: to cancel our monthly charitable giving, to make the woman we were ministering to day and night pay for her own meals, to stay at our free apartment even though we didn’t have time to do the ministry that came with it…again, “Seek first…” echoed in my mind and heart. Give it up, give it all up for His kingdom. He will take care of you.
(Excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas)
Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.
Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn’t so “peace and love”?
Bono: There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.
Assayas: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.
Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?
Assayas: I was wondering if you said all of that to the Pope the day you met him.
Bono: Let’s not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church here. The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there. The physical experience of being in a crowd of largely humble people, heads bowed, murmuring prayers, stories told in stained-glass windows
Assayas: So you won’t be critical.
Bono: No, I can be critical, especially on the topic of contraception. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier.
Assayas: But you met the man himself. Was it a great experience?
Bono: [W]e all knew why we were there. The Pontiff was about to make an important statement about the inhumanity and injustice of poor countries spending so much of their national income paying back old loans to rich countries. Serious business. He was fighting hard against his Parkinson’s. It was clearly an act of will for him to be there. I was oddly moved by his humility, and then by the incredible speech he made, even if it was in whispers. During the preamble, he seemed to be staring at me. I wondered. Was it the fact that I was wearing my blue fly-shades? So I took them off in case I was causing some offense. When I was introduced to him, he was still staring at them. He kept looking at them in my hand, so I offered them to him as a gift in return for the rosary he had just given me.
Assayas: Didn’t he put them on?
was completely intact. Flashbulbs popped, and I thought: “Wow! The Drop the Debt campaign will have the Pope in my glasses on the front page of every newspaper.”
Assayas: I don’t remember seeing that photograph anywhere, though.
Bono: Nor did we. It seems his courtiers did not have the same sense of humor. Fair enough. I guess they could see the T-shirts.
Later in the conversation:
Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?
Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.
Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.
Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.
Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.
Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.
Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.
Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?
Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched
Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:
Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.