I wanted to do something special to honor God on Good Friday this year. Normally I participate in the Cross Walk in my town, in which people from the churches in the area carry an 8-foot high wooden cross about a mile through town. But this year I decided that it would be a lot more meaningful for me to spend the day completely focused on God at a silent retreat.
So around 9 on Good Friday morning, I hopped in my car for the one-hour drive to the silent retreat center. It was raining, and that took some of my excitement away, since I usually walk outdoors a lot at the silent retreat center, and if it rained all day, I’d be stuck inside, potentially with a large number of people. And six hours cramped indoors with a bunch of silent strangers is not the best environment to stay focused on God. But I also sensed God wanted me to go, so I went. It turned out that the rain kept a lot of people home, so the attendance was light. It also didn’t rain the whole time, so I got to walk outdoors for close to two hours, which was quite a blessing, given how comfortable the temperature was.
I don’t normally go to silent retreats with questions on my mind. I am normally content just experiencing the intimate Presence of God and following his lead in the conversation. But this time I went with questions that I had been thinking about for a few days. I had been thinking about Good Friday, and Jesus being crucified. This led me to think — believe it or not — about the original sin in the Garden of Eden, about the wrath of God, about why Jesus had to die for us (instead of God just forgiving us without Jesus’ death), and about the passages in the Bible that talked about the potter and the clay.
I knew that having a lot of questions didn’t guarantee getting a lot of answers — though many of my deepest questions have been answered on silent retreats. But I also sensed while I was driving there that there was a certain order the questions should be addressed in. And by that I mean that there were certain Bible passages that pertained to the various questions, and I had a general idea what order to read the verses in. Which gave me hope that God was going to do something special. But I was completely shocked out how special the time was, and how much I gained significant insight into some of the issues on my heart.
I hope to share more detailed responses in forthcoming posts, but let me just give you some highlights now. The first major thing I learned came from the story of the original sin in Genesis 2 and 3 It became clear to me that the story is one in which Adam and Eve exchanged living focused and dependent on God, not being conscious of their flaws, for taking on the responsibility of trying to be right in their own strength — which they were never designed to do. This is exactly what Jesus reversed by triumphing in his death and resurrection.
The second major thing I saw — primarily from Romans 1 and 2 — is that God’s kindness keeps holding the door open for people to choose to follow him — and that he keeps appealing to people. Yet those who don’t follow him will rightly be subject to God’s wrath, because they have chosen to reject him. Furthermore, those that sit in judgment of others are in the same boat — subject to God’s wrath.
Third, I saw that your righteousness comes not from what you do, but why you do it.
Fourth, I started thinking that one of the things Jesus accomplished on the cross — propitiation — which means to appease or placate — may very well be best applied to Jesus appeasing the Law, rather than Jesus appeasing the Father. One of the complicated things about seeing the propitiation as appeasing God is that it give the impression of “angry God, nice God” for the roles of the Father and Jesus, who we know are One God. That sometimes causes people to think of God as being angry and about being not safe or trustworthy to approach. This creates a wall — which Jesus died to break down — between God and the person who believes this way.
Finally, I was always troubled by the passage about the potter and the clay in Romans 9. On the face of it, it appears to suggest that God designs some people to be eternally condemned. But Jeremiah 18, another analogy of the potter and the clay, suggests an alternative: that a person always has the option to turn to God and not be condemned.
So much good stuff! I am grateful that the Holy Spirit was speaking in very clear ways — and that there was so much I learned today that helped me love and respect God even more than ever. Now I understand more completely how any religion that focuses on performance rather than relationship and trust is leading a person away from God rather than closer to God.