read John 12. Have you ever poured out your heart to someone, only to be met with indifference? Have you ever explained how deeply you love them, only to be told in a cold voice that they don’t love you back? We think the solution is to never be that vulnerable again. But God asks us to be this vulnerable all the time — with Him and with others — if we want true joy. In other words, the thing we think is the worst possible thing, is actually the best. Here’s what I mean:
In John 12, we find Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume at a dinner party in front of all the other guests: “The house was filled with the fragrance.” Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Mary displays the vulnerability to God to which we are all called.
The Psalms articulate the desperate, honest vulnerable cries for help that Mary’s actions imply. “From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.” (Psalm 130:1). “I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.” (Psalm 77:3). “O God, why have you rejected us so long?” (Psalm 74:1). “Rescue me from the mud; don’t let me sink any deeper.” (Psalm 69:14). “I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head.” (Psalm 69:2-4). “From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.” (Psalm 61:2.) “My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.” (Psalm 55:4). “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2). “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be.” (Psalm 42:4). “Why am I so discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” (Psalm 42:5.) “My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.” (Psalm 38:10.)
David and Mary know the secret to living an abundant life lies in becoming vulnerable to God. Judas criticizes Mary for wasting money that could have been given to the poor, but Jesus praises her for doing “a good thing.” See Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50 (it’s probable the Luke account is of a different anointing). Jesus had earlier also praised Mary for sitting at his feet listening. He says she chose the “only thing” necessary, Jesus said. Luke 10:38-42. Similarly, David spent so much time alone with his sheep on the hillside as a young boy, that he stormed onto the battlefield armed only with a slingshot because He trusted the “living God” to help him defeat a giant named Goliath. When you spend this kind of time alone with God, you learn that God looks down on humans with love and understanding: “He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.” Psalm 33:15.
We, on the other hand, don’t understand our hearts. We can see evil in others, but we have a lot of trouble seeing it in ourselves. That’s why God asks us to pour our hearts out to Him. He knows that if we do so, He’ll expose our hearts. He doesn’t expose them to condemn us but rather to heal and transform us. It’s also why God asks us to read the Bible. The Bible is called the Living Word. It cuts between bone and marrow. The Bible exposes our heart. Here in John 12, for instance, the vulnerability of Mary is contrasted with the greed of Judas who steals from the disciples; the flightiness of the crowd who worship him with palm branches only to turn on him and scream “crucify him” a few days later; the religious leaders’s desire to kill Christ out of envy; and peoples’ fear of admitting they believed in Jesus, because they “loved human praise more than the praise of God.”
In other words, the light of the gospel exposes the human heart in its greed, infidelity, jealousy and weakness. But the gospel doesn’t end with our darkness. It exposes the darkness in our hearts for the very reason that God wants to give us His light instead. The only requirement is our honesty, vulnerability and humility. The only requirement for receiving God’s help is asking for it. That’s why David can cry out to God with such vulnerability. The only way to receive help is to admit our need of it.
The pivotal verses of this chapter are Jesus’ terrifying words: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” John 12:23-25. Jesus is talking about His own sacrificial death, in which He died for our sins. He is also talking, however, about gospel living. He’s talking about a life in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God and others. He’s saying that true fulfillment doesn’t come the way we think it does –through our striving, achieving, conquering and acquiring. True joy and fulfillment come through sacrificing ourselves for others. It comes through being vulnerable even to those who reject us. It comes through pouring out ourselves for others, and trusting God to fill us back up.
I don’t know about you, but while I can write that, and while I know it’s true, I can’t do it. It’s terrifying. It sounds like it will hurt too much. The good news is that sometimes God brings all of us to the place where we have no choice but to die to ourselves. He uses the circumstances of our lives, especially our places of woundedness, brokenness, disappointment and rejection, for good. We are all completely and utterly reliant on God all the time –but we fail to realize this. When bad things happen, we turn to God, as David did in the Psalms, with our fears, trembling, despair and brokenness because we have nowhere else to go. We discover no friend, no doctor, no medication can fill the deepest longings of our hearts, and so we cry out to the living God…
and He meets us right there in our place of deepest emptiness. He gives us His strength in place of our weakness. He gives us His love in place of our selfishness. He gives us His joy in place of our despair. He gives us His hope in place of our hopelessness. It’s God’s nature to give, because He is love. And so that’s why being vulnerable feels like the worst thing but is really the best.
We discover our complete reliance on God –and since God is love, we begin to rely on the best thing we could ask for or imagine. When our hearts break, we find God’s love right there to mend us. Broken hearts hurt. But that very brokenness that we hate and dread, brings us to a place of such vulnerability that our hearts finally melt with compassion and love when we encounter other people. We stop seeing people as competition to be feared, and instead see them as fellow servants of the Living God, who are just as needy, thirsty, hungry and afraid as we are. We can embrace others in love, not needing anything from them, because our hearts are overflowing – our cups runneth over – with the love of God, a love that we find only when everything else in the world fails us. This is abundant living. And it’s the only way to find joy. When circumstances and other people hurt us, and we start to live dependent and vulnerable to God out of our brokenness, we discover that our whole houses become filled with the most expensive perfume of all – the fragrance of God’s love.
And when we feel like we can’t do it, and we don’t want to be vulnerable, and we’re too afraid to trust God – we can remind ourselves that God became completely vulnerable to us. He died naked, abandoned, and alone on the cross. Even God turned His back on Jesus on the cross, so that Jesus could experience hell for us. If God didn’t scorn the shame of the cross, who are we to be ashamed of anything? Just as the cross is ugly, and yet God transformed it into the most beautiful thing, so our shame, rejection and vulnerability seem ugly to us – and yet if we bring them to the foot of the cross, God can transform our weakest ugliest most shameful places into sources of transcendent beauty.
posted by Caroline Coleman on May 17, 2012 xoxo in carolinecoleman.com
Note: you can subscribe to this blog and receive an email about once a week which goes through a chapter of the NT. Or to receive a short, daily email from me, in which I am currently going through the gospel of Luke verse by verse, you can subscribe to my new blog, a verse a day.
Lastly, if you want to support my blogging the fun way and/or see vulnerability in action, you can buy my historical novel LOVING SOREN. It tells the true story of a woman who saved her marriage by becoming vulnerable to her husband. Deborah Norville called LOVING SOREN: “a beautifully written love story.” Set in Copenhagen and the Danish West Indies, it tells the true story of a woman who loved the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. It’s ranked #832 in religious, historical novels. In kindle or paperback.
also available in paperback: