The blare of sirens broke the lunchtime crowds and noise of the city streets as two engines flew full force to a building whose alarm echoed back a similar refrain. I thought of those firefighters inside the vehicle, uniforms on, skills honed, attention sharpened, ready.
Standing on the ground of a country and state prone to devastating, unforgiving, literally all-consuming fires, these firefighters are truly courageous.
It seems the fantasy of the firefighter as a child is more about the truck, the power, the idea of being a hero but it contrasts with the reality.
The firefighter is a self-sacrificer. In a culture that feeds self-addiction and preaches a me-first mentality the firefighter offers us a picture we don’t often see. The idea of entering a building with the express purpose of saving a life at the risk of your own.
How often do we wish ill on a person who cuts us off in traffic? How often to we blame and shame and mutter judgements about strangers under our breath? In the firefighter we see a person going into an inferno for the sake of a stranger. They do not stop to question if that person is a good person, if they’ve paid their taxes, sponsored children in third world countries, whether they are kind to their spouse, what their driving record is like… they enter an intensely uncomfortable situation in order to save.
Then they stay around to ensure no-one else is damaged in the aftermath. They contain the destruction and devastation. They redeem what can be redeemed.
So often our concept of God is the law enforcer – the one who is watching to see if we get it wrong, the one who is ready to judge us – fine us, berate us, imprison us. We’ve got so obsessed with the idea of being indignant about, condemned by, and defensive of judgement that we’ve missed the point.
Jesus says – I didn’t come to judge the world but to save it.
Jesus enters an intensely uncomfortable situation in order to save us.
Yes, there is judgement and justice but
we have made God the law enforcer hiding in the shadows of the street ready to jump out and write us a ticket like he has some cosmic ‘ticket target’ to reach.
In Jesus we see a firefighter.
One who entered the inferno, whose flesh was seared, whose body still carries the scars of self-sacrifice.
We see the One who raced into the building to rescue us when we were helpless to rescue ourselves.
Like a child who played with matches in an oily garage we are consumed by a blaze of our own making that will destroy us…. yet, at extreme cost to himself, Jesus entered.
The redeemer came in.
He bore the brunt.
He retrieved us, by his own selfless love.
In Jesus we see the ultimate, comprehensible (in human terms), picture of the character of God…
And what do we see?
The law enforcer or the firefighter?
Jesus holds out the scars of redemption to Thomas and invites him to touch.
The rescue mission cost God. It is writ large on The resurrected body.
As Timothy Keller puts it, Jesus lost his friendship with the Father in order for us to have that friendship.
The heart of the trinity torn to invite us in.
So next time you feel condemned and your heart sings that awful childhood Sunday school song ‘be careful little eyes what you see’, (Which always felt like some kind of passive aggressive warning to me, be good or you’ll get fried – it probably wasn’t meant that way, but such is the interpretation of this child!) stop and change your metaphor from law-enforcer to firefighter.
And when your heart no longer carries the awe and wonder of the cost of your redemption stop again to survey the scars that tell the picture of something that cost everything and more.
We are rescued by love, Love which became fully torn apart in order for us to be fully restored and included.
We are bought at a price.
** as an aside
It’s tempting to always be talking about God using the masculine pronoun, it’s not always helpful for us to stick too long in one semantic pattern when it’s not actually an accurate reflection of the character and nature of the One we speak of.
Our language and understanding is limited.
It’s the same with metaphor. Ultimately metaphor should help us to grasp an aspect, it should add nuance and layers to reveal more and different characteristics. No metaphor is a complete description or a total depiction but they are helpful for us as we seek to extend our understanding.
Our language and understanding is limited.
Our limits do not lessen the Love that is lavished on us, that we should be called the friends of God.
Today may you know what it is to be loved – wide, deep, high, limitless – because you are, because I am, because we are.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus, John 15
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.