I am fond of saying that "the deepest reality of the redeemed heart is that we are lovers of God and others." We are sinners indeed. But even deeper is the reality that because of Jesus' death and resurrection, I, we now possess the life of God that yearns to flow outward in love to others and for God. We are lovers at heart. This is the New Covenant, spoken of by the prophets and initiated by Jesus. This is part of what it means to possess eternal life now.
When it comes to the Samaritan woman, however, Jesus seems to be calling to something deeper in her as well, something deeper than her sinfulness. But she is not redeemed, at least we assume that to be true. Yet, He does not come at her as a moralist, insisting she get her act together and stop whoring herself before He will have anything to do with her. Undoubtedly, He longed for her to live more consistent with whom she was as an image bearer of God. But what seems to consume Him more is the desire to help her identify her thirst. There is something more to her than her bad behavior and He appeals to it. Given, as I mentioned above, that she is not yet a redeemed woman, what is this good in her that makes her sinful way of life secondary, or better said, an avenue by which he can appeal to something more, something good, that truly speaks of God's mark on every person?
The answer is not profound. In fact, Blaise Pascal and others in our historical faith have properly identified it as a God-shaped hole. There is something in every person, redeemed or not, that speaks of God, that speaks of the life of God, and the desire to be in relationship with Him. This might just be the most effective evangelistic approach: to see beyond a person's self-centeredness, their ugly behavior, etc., and call to it, believe in it.
Martin Buber, noted Jewish scholar, once suggested that The greatest thing any person can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing in him, in her—to take the time and have the discernment to see what’s most deeply there, most fully that person and then confirm it by recognizing and encouraging it. Might this be true for the sinner as much as the declared saint?
Here is what prompted this direction in my thinking, and perhaps it is a bit of a jump in logic, but I was struck by it given recent events.
On the 31st of this month (Jan '15), I will be inducted into my high school Hall of Fame. It is a recognition I wish to embrace even though at the age of 53 it means something but not all that much. I am, however, honored. While working on my induction speech, I had many memories, some of which came as regrets. As I put the finishing touches on my short speech, I received an unexpected email from a former classmate and teammate named Jere. Odd timing. Curious timing. He had heard of my impending induction and wanted to congratulate me.
In the email, Jere wrote among several things, these words: It is clear to me that I am a better man today because of a relationship that I had with you all those years ago. Thanks for all the support and encouragement that you provided. As I reflected over his words, I was puzzled. It reminded me of what had happened just a few short months earlier at my 35th class reunion (the first I had attended since my 10th) when I was the recipient of two or three similar comments. It made little sense to me. As I think back over those high school days, I recall mostly failure with regard to my faith. An example: I recall standing at the water cooler in the gym and one of my buddies asking me, "Kent, why don't you party and do the things we do?" I froze. I mumbled some half-hearted, fearful response that was not consistent with the truth inside of me. Guilt flooded my heart. I had failed to "give an answer for the hope that is in you." I could mention a few other examples, not to mention some of my behavioral failures during those days. Regret. Sadness. Grief over who I was. That is what I can see.
But Jere's emailed words reminded me that perhaps God was at work despite my weakness. Understand, as a youngster I clearly possessed a sensitivity to the things of God. I wanted to follow and serve him. I just didn't do a very good job, or so I judged. But now years later, a few individuals were telling me that my faith had mattered to them. Something of God was flowing out of me when mostly what I felt and saw was self-obsession. Believe me when I say that I don't feel proud given the feedback I have recently received about my life's impact 35 years ago. What I feel is gratitude. I am humbled and I am reminded that God indeed does what he said to the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor 12: My power is made perfect in weakness. God's life and work is not thwarted by my failures. There is something of God in us and flowing out of us even when we least expect it, even when all we can see is our miserable failure and fear. It really is all about Him! He really is big and amazing! May I represent him as I have the chance to speak about this honor and those past somewhat inglorious days. Pray for me.
Peace to you. The best is yet to come…when we will be free of our regrets (which Eugene Peterson calls "the most useless of all religious emotions").