I have become very interested in asking myself what it actually means when we talk about people, and Christians in particular, being positive in situations that are generally supposed to be negative.
Positively deserted, Positively distressed, Positively frustrated creatively, Positively fed up with your own dismal limitations, Positively in pain, Positively confused and unsure of what to do next etc. etc. Does this kind of positive approach happen in the Bible? Perhaps. Some evidence.
In Gospel of John :
Jesus : positively devastated by having to leave his friends - points out that he must go back to his Father so that the Holy Spirit can come. Also tells the disciples he must go in order to prepare a place for them.
Paul : positively pierced by a thorn in his flesh. Well, that particular weakness did allow God’s strength to be made perfect, and that contributed to his amazing ministry.
Mary : Positively landed with the job of being the mother of the Son of God? Not easy for her to find much that was positive in all that - No B & B at Bethlehem / A sword will pierce your heart (Simeon) / Losing him in the temple – ‘Son, why do you treat us like this?’ / Turning up to take him home (‘Your mother and brothers are outside’) / watching him being laughed at and being flogged and racked with pain and finally dying on the cross.
THE CRUCIFIXION. NOW THERE’S SOMETHING THAT’S GENERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE.
THE OLD RUGGED CROSS
BEING CRUCIFIED WAS UNSPEAKABLY HORRIBLE / HOT-GAROTTE-BUNS ETC / A DISGUSTING INSTRUMENT OF TORTURE
SO – HERE’S A SILLY QUESTION. IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A POSITIVE VIEW OF CRUCIFIXION?
Well, ‘The life of Brian’ Helped when it first appeared by squadrons of churchgoers campaigning against it outside the cinemas. People flooded in, presumably on the assumption that if christians were objecting so strongly, it would almost certainly be worth watching. And it was worth watching.
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESE-MAKERS
WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS EVER DONE FOR US?
HE’S NOT THE MESSIAH, HE’S A VERY NAUGHTY BOY.
Slightly more problematic : ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
A ludicrous attempt on the part of the monty python team to see the positive side of crucifixion. Heard of it used at a funeral service. Would Jesus have laughed? Who knows?
So – the crucifixion. Could there possibly be anything genuinely positive about the crucifixion? Other than the trivial fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus has made it possible for us to go home to the God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. That’s quite a positive aspect, isn’t it? But what about the crucifixion itself? How did Jesus handle that three hour experience. Here’s something I find fascinating, and perhaps very helpful.
The Bible records seven things Jesus said from the cross.
7 words from the cross
Luke 23 : 34 Father, forgive them, for they do not know not what they are doing.
Luke : 23 : 43 I tell you the truth, today you wil be with me in Paradise
Matthew 27 : 46 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
John 19 : 26 – 27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’. From that time on this disciple took her into his home. John 19 : 28 I am thirsty!
John 19 : 30 It is finished
Luke 23 : 46 Into your hands I commit my spirit
Amazingly, three out of the seven things spoken in the course of this terrifyingly painful experience solved problems for other people. And a fourth one presented whole generations to come with an immense privilege.
Three key messages from the cross about Christian responsibility.
1 Pray to God for those who are your enemies, the ones who get up your nose, the ones who have hurt you, the ones you would rather push out of your life. You will be held responsible for the way in which you deal with these people. No-one, least of all God, says it will be easy, but then, it never was.
2 As Jesus says in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Wherever you are and whatever is happening to you, look out for those who need the YES of God, because yours may be the only suffering face of Jesus that they see when everything else seems helpless.
3 Be actively loving and caring to those who are specially yours to look after. Your family, your close friends, people who are practically and emotionally dependent on you.
4 Remember that Jesus has been there, ministering in the middle of suffering, a suffering that included the intense loneliness of believing that his Father had deserted him. He doesn’t ask us to go anywhere that he hasn’t been himself.
And the central message may be that, for followers of Jesus, being positive in the midst of difficulty, pain and frustration is not a matter of redefining the situation. The crap will not become positive crap when the right spin is put on it. A crucifixion is a crucifixion, and that’s that. Human optimism doesn’t really help either, nor does ‘making the best of it’ whatever that means.
So, if I want to be a true follower of Jesus there is one positive aspect of situations that are hurting me, if I am willing to adjust my mindset. They are mission fields. They are places in which, despite what is happening to us, we are called to watch carefully for opportunities to facilitate the specific, ingenious work of the Holy Spirit.
We cry out, Lord, I’m being crucified here!
And God says, ‘I know. I know about crucifixion. I’m watching your back - and your soul is safe in my hands. Hold your nerve. Expect anything and everything. Don’t give up. Help me, there’s work to do.’ Amen