I am visiting two sick people who share the same terminal illness. Their suffering is increased by the fact that they are brothers and that a mother’s broken heart lies at the core of it all. One of them is a businessman. The other, a servant of the altar. Their mother’s greatest frustration is that her wish to take some of the suffering of her two sons upon her, to trade places with her sons, has not been granted.
I watch and listen, and, the only thing I can do is be quiet, like Job’s friends during those first seven days, especially the first seven nights. Little by little, I start to exchange a few timid words with the two brothers and their mother. It’s a kind of thinking out loud, a discussion that takes place in the last train station situated between two worlds. It is an unusual station, where coming and going occurs simultaneously. The room has the feeling of a leafless garden in late autumn. “Nicu,” says the man with the Scriptures, “from where I’m looking at life now, I can confess that out of all that a human is and does during his journey on earth, when he reaches this point, there only one thing he’s left with: Jesus.”
The businessman looks at him intensely and makes an effort to display a smile of agreement, and the mother, her heart bleeding, bows her head, probably wanting to tell God, that in her limitless pain, her son’s answer is a great comfort, the only comfort; something more precious than life itself. I listen and participate in this orchestration between an “evening and a morning” and I can clearly see how, in a place with such significance and in such circumstances, the human realizes that the destination they’ve been craving for their whole life was the journey itself, that the destination was not a certain place or world, but a Person who was with them throughout the whole journey!
Why did I have to go around for 40 years to finally get to where I already was?
I understood at that moment that the problem was not the way God had called me to walk in, but me. I was too proud for such a humble, simple, and direct way. I walked a lot, but not to reach the destination—it was right there and then with me. I had gone around for 40 years trying to get away from myself, only to finally be able to say the greatest words: “Not my will, but Your will!” and lean into the simplicity and sincerity of God’s gift, holding it in a long embrace. I lived the experience of Rabbi Eisik, who left his house in Krakow because of a dream he had dreamed thrice, went around the country and came to Prague, where, with a stranger’s help, he found out in amazement that his dream was finally materialized in the very house he left. He came back home and all was miraculously true!
From Solomon to Solzhenitsyn, and in the lives of every one of us, our life’s destination—that is, meeting with God—is not the product of a revelation, but a re-evaluation. The amazement of the apostles expresses well this experience of the soul who comes to cherish not the new thing that is given to him, but what he already had: “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Something is happening to our eyes—they have been opened, they came to see the price, and acknowledge the One we held “in low esteem.” It is something similar to the Laodicean experience from the third chapter of Revelation, the moment when Jesus is knocking at the door and wants to come in. There is a sombre aspect to this picture that we traditionally miss: How did Jesus come to be outside of the door? How was He kicked out? His presence at the door is not the cause but a consequence of things that happened before.
If these primordial causes are not understood, the obstacle that is preventing the door from opening remains.
Laodicea’s experience resembles the evangelical story about the people of Gadara. To the amazement of everyone who reads their story, the inhabitants of Gadara asked Jesus to leave. This is the unforgivable sin, the sin that rejects the Forgiver, and for which “no sacrifice for sins is left,” because the only acceptable Sacrifice was rejected. Jesus was weighed against the pigs the inhabitants of Gadara so deeply cherished and the balance tipped in an unfathomable way. There was something or someone in their lives they cherished more than Jesus. You can only despise God because you value something else more, and you cannot cherish Him without regarding all else as “garbage.”
Jesus’ crucifixion did not happen and was not possible before He was clothed with Herod’s cloak, whipped, had the crown of thorns put on His head, humiliated, stripped, and spat on. Without doing these things, the torturers could not go further and crucify the One who had committed no sin. Before hating, one must demonize, and before throwing out a thing, that thing must lose its value in your eyes up to the point that its presence or absence no longer matters to you.
One can assume that Jesus came to mean nothing for Laodicea if, in His absence, they still claimed they lacked nothing. He was kicked out of the house with contempt, and would not be welcomed back unless He was to be cherished. If a spirit of cherishing God is not reborn in our hearts, as the apostles came to understand on their way to Emmaus, neither the door nor the heart will open. Despising God is both a murderous and a suicidal act. This turned Judas the merchant into Judas the traitor. Isaiah says that the one leaving God first despised Him: “despised and rejected.”
If you feel contempt in your heart for God and His ways, know that you are ready to leave Him, bit by bit.
Going from despising God to the 30 pieces of silver is only a small step. Perhaps even now, when reading these lines, you realize this has been the way you took that brought you to where you are today. Perhaps you never thought that that road would bring you here. This is how Eli came to hear the words: “…those who despise me will be disdained.” David’s sin did not consist of the adultery and murder that followed. All these, in all their gravity, were consequences of the actual, grave sin of despising God: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”
It is not the fall or the sin that we must focus on, but the things that led to them.
The cause—the root of the sin, and not its fruits or leaves—is most important. Once we see the sin behind the sin, the even greater sin is to remain in this state. Is there a way back? Yes, a thousand times yes, says the Spirit of the Lord: “‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever.’”. To cherish is the principle of heaven, the bedrock of everything that is happening, through His life, in favour of ours: “Since you are precious and honoured in my sight.” Opening the door on which God is knocking can only occur if preceded by the opposite of what caused Him to be banished out of our lives.
Before mourning Him “as one mourns for an only child,” before Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!”, before Paul asked “Who are you, Lord?”, and before you say “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” a rebirth must take place when it comes to cherishing God. Nicodemus wants to know how this can happen, but Jesus always has the same answer: through the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious yet powerful work. The eyes that once looked at the Lord with contempt come to cherish Him—to the point of sorrow. Only in this light of the Spirit can a man see “the one they have pierced.” Only then will humans turn back to God and open the door for Him. Then they will ask what those wounds in His hands are, and they will truly understand the discomfiting answer: “The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.”
I travelled a lot and, at the end of the year, in the station of time that has passed and time that is to come, I concluded that I got to where I have actually been for a long time now: in God’s presence. I resembled Mary crying and talking to the ‘gardener’: “‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'” She was ready to do whatever He asked her to, even to give up her life (which was pointless anyway), only to be able to bring Jesus back from wherever He was.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” The same look she had on her face must have been on Philip’s face when he asked to see the Father and Jesus answered with something that can be paraphrased as follows: “Do not look so far. He is right in front of you. You are now looking at His face.” Solomon looks at himself in the mirror, then looks at us and says: “A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.”
When we are at our life’s greatest crossroads, the Lord tells us: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” It is at the same crossroads that we find “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” which, despising God’s words, urges us to take another way, an unendingly long and complicated way. Tragically, we often listen to them and turn our backs on Jesus’ words. If, in the end, all the roads arrive at the same place, where the heavens close, if the last thing I will wish for is the Lord, why shouldn’t I devote every breath to searching for the One who is searching for me? We do not need to rediscover what has already been proven in billions of cases before: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
I know thousands of ways that go thousands of places, but out of all these there is only one that is the Way.
“The voices of the world grow louder”; however, “in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Our life’s journey has a circular trajectory. The further away we are from the start, the closer we are to it. We are closest when we are weak, for “when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is the best news regarding the fleeting road of our lives here on earth, regarding which James was wondering: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Many things might change in our heart regarding God, on this road of life, but His heart does not change regarding us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” In this whole universe there is only one thing you can rely on and that thing is God’s heart. Perhaps the mountains of your faithfulness have shifted and the hills of your convictions have been shaken, but God’s heart has not changed when it comes to you: “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed’, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”