I was splitting firewood today. I scored a pile of free wood from an arborist who needed to get rid of it, and today was my first chance to get at with, first with the chainsaw, then the log splitter.
I was reminded of how beautiful the inside of a log of wood can be. My favourite is red wattle, it has an almost checkered interior with red and white squares. It fades quite quickly once exposed to the air, but for a few minutes its worth enjoying.
It came to me that some beautiful things only get seen through pain.
Last night, my wife and I watched the film, ‘Philomena’. Spoiler alert. Philomena is an old Irish woman, who’d become pregnant out of wedlock back in the early 50’s. She was disowned by her family, and taken in by some nuns, who took her child away and forced her to work to ‘pay for her sins’. Her son was eventually sold to an American couple and she never saw him again. Years later, she tries to track him down only to discover he had passed away several years earlier. But she discovered he had come looking for her, returning to the convent where he’d been born, but that the nuns had lied saying his mother had abandoned him, and that they didn’t know where she was. At this point you want to see the nuns pay for their sins of indifference and inhumanity. In this climactic scene Philomena forgives the now aged nun who had lied. Her journalist friend who is helping her uncover the story of her son says, ‘What? Just like that?’ To which she replies, ‘No, not just like that. That was hard for me.’ And then she leaves.
It is beautiful and painful and I realise now the two are inextricably linked.
Things like forgiveness, mercy and compassion are like that.
You only ever need to show mercy when you’ve been wronged. You only need to show forgiveness when someone has hurt you. You only need compassion when someone is in a position of vulnerability before you. There is a kind of beauty that cannot be seen without brokenness. There is a part of our heart that does not come to life unless it is split open.
So Jesus goes to the cross.
Could it be that alongside all the talk about paying the price, taking the blame and being the perfect sacrifice, that we find space to imagine that God needed to suffer in order to show us something of his love we couldn’t see anywhere else? It’s easy to love when the sun is shining and everyone is playing nicely (its like the feeling I have towards my son when he is sleeping!) Its easy to forgive when the offences are trivial. Its easy to show compassion when you’re in a good mood anyway. But what about in the face of betrayal? What about in the face of denial by your closest friend? What about desertion by the rest of your friends? What about injustice and cruelty and indifference and violence? Then love would have to be something pretty special to survive. Then forgiveness would have to be out of this world to still be an option.
Yet it is. For me, as I head into Good Friday (the most awful and awesome of all days) I will be letting myself imagine that God embraced all this awfulness because there was something in his heart he could never show us unless we pierced it.
Some beautiful things can only be seen through pain.
Here’s a song I wrote a while back which seems to gather some of this up. Blessings friends.
Down down down
Sinking past the glory