The other day Bill said to me, “I don’t relate to the Psalms.”
“Whaaat?” I sputtered, “we’ve been married however many years [I can’t count when I’m upset] and you’re just now telling me this?”
Seriously, this might have been a deal-breaker thirty-five years ago.
“I didn’t say I don’t like the Psalms,” Bill said without a hint of defensiveness, “I said I don’t relate to them.”
“What do you relate to then? Leviticus?”
“The Sermon on the Mount.”
Okay, I said, in so many words, I absolve you of what I thought was surely some kind of heresy. And once again I realized that although Bill and I share a love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for us meets us and transforms us in completely different ways.
Years ago, Bill told me the one character in the Bible he related to most was Lazarus. One morning he read Jesus’ words spoken, full volume, at the mouth of a stinky, stopped-up grave and he heard them at the mouth of his stinky, stopped-up heart:
“Lazarus, come forth.”
And then, as if waking up a dead man wasn’t enough: “Unbind him and let him go.”
Power from heaven came to my husband in those words. See, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t relate to the Psalms because they are so messy and emotional and dramatic. He is none of those things. He is naturally neat and logical and restrained. But something supernatural happened when Jesus said “Bill, come forth” followed by “I am going to unbind you and let you go.”
My husband’s fundamental personality did not change (for which I am grateful), but a change began to percolate inside of him, and he began to experience the freedom that only grace can offer. Then the Sermon on the Mount, that high calling which none of us can ever fully attain, became a place to which he, no longer bound, could soar. He was becoming free through an intimate message straight to his heart. Not perfect by any means, but free.
When he shared this with me, I thought, “Which biblical character most reflects the way Jesus speaks to me?” Because I knew I was not a Lazarus. Most days I do not need to be unbound and let go. I’m already free enough as it is. It’s my freedom that gets me into trouble. It’s my freedom that causes me the most regret and makes me wish for the one quality I lack most: self control. Like the Psalms, I’m messy and emotional and dramatic. So, other than David, what person in the pages of scripture most reminds me of me?
It wasn’t long before I figured it out. This is not an attempt to one-up my husband in humility, I promise, but I see myself in the demon-possessed man Jesus met “among the tombs” who “could not be restrained, even with a chain.” (Mark 15:3-4)
Restrain this guy? No way. Mark tells us “No one was strong enough to control him.” But restraint was exactly what he needed. Not chains or ropes or, as in Lazarus’ case, a long swath of grave muslin. He needed the kind of restraint only God can give, the kind that heals and restores.
Jesus’ words to me have often been along these lines: “Allow me to pat your arm as a wife does her husband’s when he is angry or tense” or “ Would you let me stroke your back as a mother calms a child in the throes of a tantrum?” or even the practical “Maybe it would be best if you didn’t say that right now.” Gentle reminders that I’m teetering on the edge of spiritual insanity, and only God himself can bring me the miracle of peace. The end result is that I am, like Bill, free.
This is why I love the true stories the biblical writers saw fit to record. They make God’s grace real. If he can unbind a rotting corpse and restrain a crazy homeless guy, then I have hope when the more didactic passages tell me in less dramatic terms that he will do this for me.
And they make God’s grace real to me.
Our children’s elementary school principal once calculated that his children would have approximately fifty teachers in the course of their education before college, which meant there would be a few teachers they adored or who adored them, and there would be a few teachers they disliked or who disliked them. His point was that parents shouldn’t protect their kids from “bad” teachers, because it was likely they’d have a few among so many along the way. Like the variety of real live people God sovereignly places in our lives, God has given us this vast array of biblical characters, real live people whose stories are recorded for us to either relate to or, in some cases, not.
This is not about marriage between two very different people, although I guess it could be. Mostly it is about the stories and the people God uses to say his grace out loud to us when we need to hear it most. These stories—at least the two I’ve referenced here—take place in a graveyard. I take this to mean God likes to find us when we don’t have a pulse, when we are hopeless to do what we need most, to be unbound or to be restrained, and when we are least able to work up a sweat in order to earn the gift of that grace.