An engineer living in a large city in the West left his homeland for the Far East. He was away for two or three years, and during his absence his wife was unfaithful to him and went off with one of his best friends. On his return home he found he had lost his wife, his two children, and his best friend. At the close of a meeting which I was addressing, this grief-stricken man unburdened himself to me.
“Day and night for two solid years my heart has been full of hatred,” he said. ”I am a Christian, and I know I ought to forgive my wife and my friend, but though I try to forgive them, I simply cannot. Every day I resolve to love them and every day I fail. What can I do about it?“
“Do nothing at all,” I replied.
“What do you mean?” he asked, startled. “Am I to continue to hate them?“
So I explained: “The solution of your problem lies here, that when the Lord Jesus died on the Cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that unforgiving you who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the cross and there is nothing left for you to deal with. Just say to him, “Lord I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.”
The man sat there amazed and said, “That’s all so new, I feel I must do something about it.” Then a moment later he added again, “But what can I do?“
“God is waiting for you to cease to do,” I said. “When you cease doing, then God will begin.”
(from Sit, Walk, Stand, by Watchman Nee, Tyndale House, 1957, p 10.)
* * * * *
Do you see the penchant for law-keeping, as a fundamental approach to life, in this story? Do you see the radically different solution that Watchman Nee proposes?
In The Matrix, Trinity is being chased by local police and “agents.” During her escape, she jumps from the top of one building to another, where the buildings are separated by the distance of a street, down below. After watching this feat, one of the officers, with big eyes, says very simply, “That’s impossible.” Do you have the same response to Watchman Nee: “That’s impossible.”? How could we call ourselves Christian if we did not at least try to love people or forgive them or be patient with them?
Jesus said, “Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is now open to all.” (Matt 4:17, paraphrase by D. Willard). I have a choice to make. I can go on living my life like I always have, knowing that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Or, I can choose to enter into this new entity that Jesus called the “kingdom of heaven.” But that will require rethinking my whole approach to life, what I value, who I am, who God is, why I am here.
My leaving the Elder Board in 2007 was a palpable indication that I can not go on living like I always have. Everything must change. I realize that rethinking my life will not be easy. Brutal honesty will be key. As Jim Collins puts it, I must “confront the most brutal facts of [my] current reality, whatever they might be.” Fact number one is that obedience to the law has been my sine qua non of becoming a good person and I, like most everyone else, am committed, psychologically, to law-keeping. Just like the man in Nee’s story, law-keeping as a strategy for living just feels… right.
Am I ready to throw out a whole way of life? to take on another radically different approach? Does Jesus, the smartest man on the planet, really know what he’s talking about? Does Jesus speak only to the religious amongst us, or does what he have to say really mean something substantive to the rest of us? And, where do I start? What happens if I get scared? What happens if I don’t think I can do it? In fact, what do I do?
The answer to the last question cannot be, “Nothing,” because Jesus was constantly telling his disciples to do something. It’s just that what he told them to do seems to have little to do with what we typically think of as “being a good Christian.”
And wasn’t that Watchman Nee’s point?