Mara: bitterness

This wrinkly thing below is bitter melon a.k.a. bitter gourd. It tastes awful. (I think so, and I’d eat almost anything digestible.) Bitter melon is actually quite good for your health.

Here’s the story:

She moved to a difference country with her family. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She had no grandchildren, and only her daughters in law were left. A troubled immigrant who had everything taken from her, with reason to bear sorrow.

She said to her daughters-in-law, “My daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.”

When she and one daughter in law arrived back in her home province, she said to those who remembered her and greeted her, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” [passages from Ruth, HCSB]

——

It would seem that Naomi is a bitter woman because of her bitter life. It would seem that she has had unfortunate things happen to her, and that she is a victim of misfortune. We are, however, informed of a few things that could suggest otherwise. This happens historically in the time of judges ruling Israel, which is a time when men did whatever was right in their own eyes. There was a famine in the land of Judah, possibly a sign of judgment about the wickedness in God’s people, purposed as a wake up call. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, moved their family to Moab, a pagan land far away from people who worshipped God, to escape the hard times. Their sons married women who did not worship God. There’s quite a bit of disobedience and lack of faith and trust amongst the family.

The deaths (and the rumour of food back in Judah) ultimately caused Naomi to return to Judah with Ruth. When Ruth ends up marrying well and bearing a son, there is no record of what Naomi says.

——

So the LORD’s plans at the juncture of the deaths and returning to Judah appear to be a bitter hand dealt to Naomi. However much of this was her fault is irrelevant; even if Naomi’s personal sin was not a direct cause of this entire bitter fate, Naomi is also not a mere victim. She was bitter, mara, vexed, provoked, annoyed, irritated, angry. Many years earlier, the Israelites had grumbled to Moses about the bitter water, and the LORD’s lack of provision in the desert. They were tested. They discovered that they needed to obey and trust, and not to complain. [Exodus 15:22-27]

——

At the end of Naomi’s tale, the other women in Judah say to her, “ ‘Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him.” She has nothing to say now but does seem to treasure what God gave her eventually. Her life was bitter for a time, but hindsight is 20/20. You see things so much more clearly as you reflect and look back than while you were in the middle of it; and yet we hold on to the past as if we knew better.

In time, the Lord who is good will provide, ultimately in eternity but also somehow in the land of the living. In the meantime, we must be blind to take unsavoury situations with annoyance, irritability, anger, vexation or bitterness in our hearts. God is at work, and we must keep up with Him, being ready to change our minds, change our behaviour, and change our desires. Not easy for change-resistant breeds like us who think we know better.

Sympathy

A friend and I have recently suffered similar losses. We have both found some comments from lovely and well-meaning people to be maddening. Many a wise thought we acknowledge, understand, believe and even trust, but we do not feel. Sometimes, even those dearest to us and most respected by us cannot sympathize with our state of mind and heart. Or it may be that even if they actually could, we still do not perceive that they can. We only feel akin to those who are in a similar state or can clearly recall being in a similar state. This sympathy is so precious. It also legitimizes the love and thoughts you receive from that person in a way that similar love and thoughts from others cannot compare. They just don’t understand — are not moved in their gut the same way.

That precious gift of sympathy reminds me of the precious gift of sympathy followers of Christ have. We know that our God is perfect and on high, and yet STILL, because he was made flesh like us, subjected to trials and temptations and still found to be perfect, He is a God who can sympathize with us in our weakness. In our moments of self-loathing, of doubt, or of hopelessness over all manner of situations, He understands how one gets to that place, though he emerges perfect through all such trials and temptations. He is not just lofty and immaterial, but also walked the earth and was subjected to its darkness and senseless sorrows, as well as enjoyed its loveliness and joys. The One who judges and has mercy and sacrifices and saves and shows grace is also one who sympathizes and comforts. How worthwhile to follow with loyalty such a leader! And how much more precious His commands to us, given this sympathy.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children [we] share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-16

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

An Intriguing Song – Joy (Page CXVI)

Listen to this song, “Joy” sung by Tifah Al-Attas, and see if you laugh or not!

The dissonance between the words and the melody/demeanour sounds ludicrous at first. But once you understand the sort of struggle it is to have an attitude of joy amidst intense grief, it isn’t so funny. It’s strangely identifiable. You find yourself at peace with how things are, but also overwhelmed with loss, and you can’t pretend that everything will be alright in the end, but you can know that God is working purposefully, if for no purpose you can see.

Read Tifah’s story of loss behind writing this song: http://blog.pagecxvi.com/post/683764188/joy

Alternatively, you could watch this video of a live performance where she explains the song to her audience first.

Alas, I do not laugh anymore when I hear this song, for I understand its artistry too well now.

No victory of mine…

This is more of a personal post, but can one read the passage describing Jesus going to the garden of Gethsemane to pray after his last supper with his disciples and not be moved in the slightest?

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

(Matthew 26:36-45 ESV)

When Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane and his soul felt sorrowful, no sympathy from anyone could take it away. Pain, sorrow, and grief is a heavy burden to bear, for no person can take it away for you, however much they love you, and however close they are to your heart. The burden is a lonely one.

Jesus, divinely man, knew what was appealing as he prayed in that garden. It was appealing not to have to suffer death on a cross, being forsaken by God, and bearing the sins of all people. Nevertheless, he desired what God willed.

I have little claim to knowing the immensity of Christ’s pain, sorrow, and grief, nor his loneliness as he lay dying. For some reason, despite not paying that price, I am free to share in his victory. What am I, Lord, that You should have thought of me? And that you should be with all who are bearing lonely burdens?

Somehow, my victory is not to overcome my sorrow, grief, or pain.

My victory is to glory in the victory of Christ Jesus over death and all the powers of darkness. Help me, LORD, to know what “glory in” means as a verb there. I know it appears in Philippians, the Psalms, and 1 Chronicles*** the way that I am using it here, that is, to exult, rejoice, boast, and be proud of. How does one find the energy to exult, rejoice, boast, and be proud of anything in the exhaustion of grief and sorrow?

My father shared a timely piece of scripture with me, and some thoughts. He is indifferent towards Romans 8:28 alone, which talks about all things working for the good of those who love God. It is subject to a subjective interpretation and assumptions about what we think is good. He likes the next verse, Romans 8:29, far more, because it clearly says that the ‘good’ is to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. “The good is as simple as that,” he finished off to me, ” so … be like Jesus.”

K thx, Dad. I always knew you had high expectations of me. Asian parents…

I am indeed thankful for the assurance in this passage:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(Romans 8:26-30 ESV)

*** Philippians 1:26, 3:3, 3:19; Psalm 105:3, 106:47; 1 Chronicles 16:10, 16:35