Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)
This is an absolutely astounding invitation, given the nature of the parties and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, respectively.
One party is perfect in being and character, uncreated, without beginning and without end, without flaw, invisible, untouchable, undetectable by the five senses, alive in the heavens, separated from this material universe, infinite in knowledge and wisdom without having been taught, originator of absolute truth being Himself absolute, unblemished with regards to holiness, perfect in love, unbounded by time or space, having equal knowledge of the past, present, and future, unlimited in power, the maker and sustainer of all. God possesses all “glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever.” (Jude 25)
This Being, who sits on a throne of unimaginable majesty and power, invites me to draw near…
…being a weak, vulnerable, sinfully wretched human being, bound to this earth, bounded by flesh, created by another, incapable of sustaining my life, incompetent with regards to holiness, finite in all respects, blind as to things invisible, knowing much but ignorant of far more, given over frequently to doubt, ruled by my passions, loving selfishly, manifesting a flawed and finite intellect and an equally, if not more so, flawed and finite will, uncertain of the past, ignorant of the future, struggling with the present. “The nations are like a drop from a bucket… [the world’s] inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Isaiah 40:15, 22)
Reflecting on our respective natures, how can I even contemplate drawing near to such a One? There are a slew of reasons why I should be afraid to proceed. Julian of Norwich had the same sense of the situation: “It belongs to the Lordship and to the Fatherhood to be dreaded.”1 Nevertheless, for 35 years I have believed that I can walk into the Throne room of the Majesty on High, without fear, without dread, even without proper respect. Whenever I prayed, I just started right in. I paid no mind to His Majesty. I did not wait until spoken to. I pretended that I was the only thing worthy of God’s attention at the moment. I behaved like a three-year-old, never afraid to make the most ridiculously selfish requests as if I were all that mattered. As a three-year-old, I was the center of the universe; my agenda was front-and-center. I was convinced that what mattered most to me must surely matter to God, as well.
But, I was invited to draw near, was I not? And, did not the invitation state that I should do so with confidence?
Confidence about what? From the context of Hebrews 4:16, I can approach the Throne with confidence that my sins will not be exacted upon me. My blood will not be required before I can proceed. There is One who has entered within the veil to make intercession for me. (Heb 6:19; 7:25) But Christ’s sacrifice does not allow me to dispense with “protocol.” God is still who He is: awesome, awful, majestic, infinite, perfect. He is not a malevolent despot, but I cannot and should not presume upon His character, for He is “a consuming fire” and for this He must be respected. He will not stand to be trivialized. He will give His glory to no other, least of all me.
How, then, shall I proceed?
* * * * *
I expect that many evangelical Christians would say that “a personal relationship with Jesus” is the most important part of Christianity. Typical examples and evidence of a personal relationship include statements about how this relationship provokes certain behaviors and beliefs. I draw the following from my own experience:
- Because of my personal relationship with Christ, I know he will take me to heaven when I die.
- My personal relationship with Christ motivates me to go to church on Sunday.
- I do Bible Study to learn more about this Jesus with whom I have a personal relationship.
- When I pray, I know that Christ is interested in me in a personal way.
If these bullet points, or ones like them, constitute evidence of a “personal relationship with Christ,” then the concept has been taken way too far. Certainly, the invitation in Hebrews 4:16 appears to be personal. When we enter the Throne room to pray, we do not gather around the throne. We line up, one by one. We approach God as individuals, not as groups. (I am not referring to corporate worship here.) In this sense, prayer and my engagement with God is personal. But, what is the scope for relationship? In forty years of silence, I wrote:
Is it any wonder that I do not pray except when I am in trouble or have some urgent need? Prayer qualifies as the second most unsatisfying activity of my life, right after paying taxes. Who amongst us would take a friend out for coffee who merely sat across the table, never saying a word? After ten minutes, would you not wonder if your friend was interested? cared a lick about you? wished he was somewhere else? Would you not further wonder about the real nature of this relationship? If you regularly engaged this seemingly detached friend over coffee, would not the relationship naturally devolve into a selfish one? Would not such a relationship be correctly characterized as a sham?
Christ cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. How does one have a relationship with such a being? I have experience with human-human relationships. Sometimes, those relationships are very difficult, even though the involved parties are both human. What happens when one of us is not human? How does one build a relationship with One who is distinctly and categorically “other?”
Jesus was fully human, and I can relate to him on that basis.
Jesus was fully God, too.2
The disciples related quite well to Jesus, and so can I.
Jesus spoke the universe into existence. Light, matter, energy, stars, planets, life. “Apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”3 and he continuously “upholds all things by the word of His power.”4 One day, Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”5 He took upon himself the sins of the world, voluntarily offered himself as a sacrifice on the alter, died and was raised from the dead. He has “taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” Jesus has had experiences to which I can never relate, even in my wildest imagination.
We are not talking about just another guy on the street. Most of us choose as our close friends people who are like us. Good friends are not clones, but they share much in common. Sitting at the right hand of God Almighty, “having passed through the heavens,” Jesus and I have very little in common, as friends go.
Psalm 139 says that He knows me very well. Jesus, himself, said, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” That sounds pretty personal.
He knows you! But how well can you know Him, especially considering that knowing in this instance is beyond your five senses?
That’s why I study the Bible, so I can get to know Him.
Using that method, you will end up knowing a great deal about Him, but you will not know Him.
If I cannot know Him through study of His Word, and if interacting with Him is beyond my five senses, then how DO I get to know Him?
Well, that’s the $64,000 question, is it not?
1 Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love. Grand Rapids, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
2 Jesus was fully human and fully God when he walked on the planet many years ago. Whether or not he is still clothed in flesh, “having passed through the heavens,” is a question that I will leave to the theologians. The apostle Paul stated that God “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory”(Phil 3:21), suggesting that the “spiritual body” is quite unlike our bodies on earth. Discerning the nature of our bodies, though, does not answer the question of the nature of Christ at the right hand of God. Is he still fully human?
3 John 1:3
4 Hebrews 1:3
5 Phil 2:7,8