There’s a lot of caring to be done in the community of faith. Spending a couple years as a pastor-principal at a serious Christian college reveals just how much sin, conflict, tension, hurt, and suffering exist even among God’s children. Enough to make sense of the cross.
In the last three weeks of school I probably led twenty discipline or counseling situations of one degree or another. Some were very serious; others simply called for a basic exhortation and some practical advice. Either way, strangely, it’s something I’ll miss.
People sometimes ask me what my relationships are like with students who’ve come through my office, which, because of my title and function (“Dean”), is often thought to be located directly behind the campus woodshed. My answer has always been that I consider them all my friends. People who really know each other know each other’s dark sides. Once that’s been exposed, and grace is applied, you can really get somewhere in a relationship.
Not that I’m able to be close to most of the students whom I’ve corrected or exhorted or counseled or even dismissed. Time and responsibilities don’t allow for that. And sometimes, sadly, people don’t repent, either in the short-term or the long-term. Yet still, in my heart and through my eyes, there’s something of a relationship there. I really do feel that they’re some of my better friends.
Because they didn’t just come through my office. They came through my life.
If those 14′ x 10′ walls could talk, they would overflow with the gospel that’s filled that little room over the years. They would peel back redemption in all its layered glory. They would say, “I’ve seen sin, and I’ve seen a marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe.”
This is why it’s been no small privilege to spend time with students in their darker hours, to confront the rebellious and correct the wayward and comfort the downcast, even when their overcast skies are painted in the dark tones of their own sin (and I understand sin; it’s been both a close friend and a close enemy).
So many students through the years do not seem to have been shepherded through sin, confession, repentance, and restoration. They have come to expect truth without grace, or grace without truth. Or discipline without instruction, or instruction without love, or love without consequence, or consequence without mercy, or mercy without discipline, or discipline without relationship.
I think this is partially because most of us want to see the breaking of the dawn, or at least carry a heavy-duty Halogen, before stepping into someone else’s darkness. We want to make sure that things are going to work out well before we really get involved. We care, in the most basic way, but it’s not a staking-myself-next-to-you-in-the-storm kind of care. No, I want to know the two-week forecast before I put down stakes.
Why do we do this? Why do we run from each other when we see sin in each other’s lives? Well, coming face to face with your sin is a frightful thing, and coming face to face with another’s sin can be almost as frightening. God has designed the cosmos and the conscience to operate with a sharp and clear sense of consequence. Sin –> guilt –> shame –> punishment.
So we see our sin and we run, we minimize, we blameshift, we rationalize, and we hide. We give our best-sounding reasons first, and our real reasons only when cornered. Anything to ignore the sin, escape the guilt, cover the shame, and deflect the punishment. And so we sink deeper and deeper, and darker and darker.
I’ve seen a lot of this depth and darkness, but have realized that often it’s just because the well is deep, and it takes time to bring the bucket, hand-over-hand, up to the stone opening — to daylight.
Which is to say that people — including myself — just don’t get it immediately. It takes time. The heart is complex, and deep, and deceptive. The stiffarm, the furrowed brow, the list of excuses, the tepid “I-understand-what-you’re-saying,” the “I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it,” the surfacy agreement just to get out of it — these are all ways in which we’ve learned to bloody our hands and knees crawling back to our own merits instead of standing with bowed head and full confession beneath the bloody hands and feet of the Son of God.
But life with God is not meant to be a long circular journey around the ancient garden, cresting the hill opposite Eden only to gaze shamefully toward the blazing angelic sword before trudging on in regretful remembrance of all that’s been lost.
The way has been opened, and life has come to life again. The tomb is empty, and the wake of Jesus’ life and message continues to spill relentlessly over geographical borders and relational walls and hardened hearts. It even soaks the carpet and water-marks the walls of the Dean’s Office. Are you in trouble? Temporarily. Do you have hope? Absolutely. Christ has come. We can be different.
And if we can be different, then we have hope, and if we have hope, then we can care for one another. We don’t have to walk away or bury our heads in the sand or lash out or give up. We can care for one another, with mercy and perseverance — even long before the sunrise.