Transformation through the Face of Jesus
As I walked past my library shelves a recent addition a title caught my eye — "The Revelation of God in Human Suffering" by Wayne Oates. The book had been acquired through a retired pastor's library and had more or less escaped my attention despite having gone from box to bookshelf. I pulled the old hardcover off the shelf and slowly began the collection of sermons.
I am early in the book but there are some very interesting points presented by Oates. In the second chapter/sermon, entitled "Jesus and the Reality of Suffering," Oates points believers to the face of Jesus Christ as the purest form of revelation of God,
"The core of truth in the revelation of God is that he, in Jesus Christ as Lord, has himself entered the arena of human suffering." (26)
"The awareness of God apartment ability to redeem ourselves to find our own way, or to chart our own course was revealed in the suffering face in Jesus Christ." (32)
Though perhaps a mild exaggeration, suffering—particularly the suffering of Christ—brings us to the core of redemption. God is best revealed in His work to redeem us. And this redemption is found in suffering. So Oates looks at the faces of Jesus in His work of redemption. Early He speaks about Christ being "open" — Christ was not a persona but a true person, the person of redemption. He was no mask wearing Savior.
Addressing the church as the suffering community who reflect Christ, Oates turns this into a slight refutation of his society which he claims has taken on the mask of being irreligious. Writing in 1959, Oates said,
"The new hypocrisy of the twentieth century — appearing more irreligious than we really are." (29)
A very different time indeed. And yet, I wonder if it does not remain true that the church continually fabricates a "Pharisaicalism" in order to repent of their religiosity and seem more like the world. Yes, Christians are as much sinners as anyone else. But the Christian "religion," and the most historically firm liturgies, are built upon confession and repentance. These are the marks of deep religious conviction. The Christian church proudly resides and proclaims "saint and sinner" in equal proportion. But does it always? I think, as Oates implies, each generation of the church must battle against being less "religious" than the generation before — we can not afford to fake repentance over true piety.
Second, and quite related I believe, Oates talks about the silence of Christ's face in the midst of suffering and judgment. He states in contrast to the perfect Son of God,
"Men's defensiveness and need to justify their behavior appearing anxious long-winded talkativeness. The weaker our case is the more we have to talk to our own anxiety and to bolster the weaknesses of our position." (31)
Though Oates could certainly not anticipate the present application of this, I find this to be a helpful idea in the modern social media age. Men prattle. And some do it with no end as they seek to justify themselves in their own mind. The silence of Christ in the face of judgment over His righteousness stands in contrast to the ever pressing need we feel to justify ourselves in any number of social arenas.
Discourse, defense, and dialogue are essential to the church. Discussion of doctrines and publication communication are important. But attempted self-justification is what sparks the tirades and inability to continue healthy discussions. We speak first and foremost to defend ourselves. This reveals we, in fact, doubt ourselves.
In closing, Oates does not suggest some improvement in our moral integrity. He does not encourage more effort on our part. But instead, that we should state more lovingly at the face of Christ,
"We become like that which we love and are changed into the image of the object of our adoration...We shall always different. If, indeed, we invest our faith in him, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (33-34)