Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“For He cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7

living waters matisse

Just a couple weeks ago, I saw this print by Pierre Matisse gracing a statement wall in my friend, Julie’s living room. Knowing the story of the Woman at the Well, I was struck by Matisse’s handling of the immoral Samaritan woman. He portrayed her as dignified, secure, and saturated in provision. Matisse’s interpretation couldn’t be further from how I had previously thought about the Samaritan woman at the well. But, his interpretation couldn’t be any closer to the truth of her story.

 

Today’s Instruction on the Care of Your Soul is to cast your cares on Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well portrays better than anything why we can trust Jesus with our cares.

Typically we think of our “cares” as earthly needs for provision and protection. Perhaps you, as I, separate your “cares” from your “burdens,” with burdens having a more emotional connotation.

It makes sense that we’d parse definitions this way being that even alternate versions of the Bible translate “cares” as anxieties or worries.

The context in which 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to, “Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you,” is an exhortation to humble ourselves to God’s sovereignty– His “mighty hand.” We are to allow Him to be the one to take care of us no matter how our life circumstances look. We are to believe beyond belief that He is in control of even the most chaotic situations. In this framework, we cast our cares on Him.

Putting ourselves under the execution of God’s mighty hand is scary. It is scary when you aren’t certain that He cares for you. This shadow of uncertainty in God’s care is darkest when you are a person with a guilty conscience.

When you carry a burden of guilt the fear of punishment, feelings of shame, and knowledge of judgment makes it very difficult to trust God with anything physical and emotional, temporal or eternal. Guilt erodes our belief that God is for us and cares to sustain us through life’s trials.

The cares of this world and emotional burdens get tied together by a guilty conscience. The result is an inability to cast our cares on the only one who can take care of them.

Enter the Woman at the Well.

The Woman at the Well was drawing water in the heat of the day because no one else would be there at that time. She wore the scarlet letter. She was judged by others and had done everything they gossiped about. In the middle of the day, she was avoiding all the other women in town who’d come draw water once dusk cooled the day.

Uncomfortably for her, this woman with a terrible reputation found herself alone with a man at the very time of day she was trying to escape her reputation as a seductress.

Truth be told, I feel really sorry for the Woman at the Well. She had had five husbands. The sixth guy didn’t even marry her in an age when cohabitation was not a thing. And within two minutes of conversation with this stranger, Jesus displayed His supernatural quality to the woman by telling her that He knew these secrets and sins about her. Oddly, it was kinda her miracle. Some people understood Jesus’ identity after a healing or receiving forgiveness, the Samaritan woman’s miracle encounter with Jesus was just Him stating the elephant in the room— that her life was dominated by sexual impropriety.

As far as I know women couldn’t divorce men at that time. A women caught in adultery would be killed. So, I’m not sure what she did, but I am guessing her husbands left her, not the other way around. And the sixth took advantage of her sullied history to the extent of not having the decency to accept her as his wife.

The Woman at the Well had experienced a lot of rejection! Those rejections had greater implications than just emotional insecurity. A woman who wasn’t legally married in that day had no legal rights or inheritance. She had no security of future provision.

I have been discovering lately that guilt, rejection, and a deprivation mentality are clandestine bedmates.

When I think of rejection I think of feelings of being unlovable or overlooked or insufficient. Until this week as God has been working things out in my own heart, I never even considered how an abiding sense of guiltiness under the law could be a platform for a pattern of rejection in my life.

A sinfulness complex and a rejection complex are twin specters in our lives.

Rejection is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Particularly because we can perceive rejection where it really doesn’t exist. Our response to fictitious rejection often culminates in real rejection as people’s limited grace for our insecure oddities runs out. At the root of it, we expect to be rejected because we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves.

Worse than any rejection we can suffer at the hands of parents or parental figures, employers and mentors, potential lovers or actual lovers, is the rejection of God. Rejection by God implies death. Where God rejects there is not just pain but utter deprivation.

The law lets us know that being rejected by God is not just a possibility it is an inevitability. Unless we receive the Holy Spirit, which is the Living Waters from Jesus, we will be cast out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– a place of consuming anxiety and cosmic wanting (John 7:37-39; Matthew 22:1-14; Hebrews 10).

I am one of those people who has an unfortunately sensitive conscience. My conscience is easily piqued. The awareness I have of the righteous requirement of the law expands far beyond its natural bounds. I lay a heavy burden on myself much like the Pharisees did to the people in Jesus’ day (Matthew 23:4).

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” Matthew 23:4.

 All growing up I had an abiding sense of guilt. I felt inherently immoral. I was always waiting to get in trouble for something even though I almost never (seriously) did anything that could get me into trouble.

My guilt burden, or sinfulness complex, resulted in an expectation of rejection. I had this weird “un-fantasy” when I was young that I would do something bad and that my parents would abandon me for it and then I would become homeless. To me, homelessness was the end result of rejection for your sins. Of course as it happens, I was born genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness closely associated with homelessness. As Job said, “The thing that I feared came upon me” (Job 3:25).

I carried an inflated burden of guilt that fortified a stronghold of rejection that gave a throne in my heart to a spirit of deprivation. A spirit of deprivation manifests as: cares, worries, anxieties, want, lack, scarcity, torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We must receive the forgiveness of our sins and the atonement for our guilt that Jesus offers, so that we might also receive the rich provisions of His mercy. We cannot have relationship with God without the removal of our guilt. Otherwise, our rejection stronghold will make us unable to feel the love of God; and a pervasive belief that we are chronically deprived will make us unable to receive the saturation of His grace.

The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan. When she met Jesus she had an immediate expectation of rejection because of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. She was born the wrong kind of person– she had inherent guilt.

Jesus engages with the Samaritan woman despite her being the wrong kind of person morally and ethnically; and He engages with her in a very generous and intimate way.

In John 4, there are three references to the woman’s response to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her multiple sexual partners:

  1. First, she says to Jesus: “I can see you are a prophet.”
  2.  Second, she tells the towns people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?”
  3. Third, the narrative explains that the Samaritan townspeople went to hear Jesus themselves because of the testimony that she gave: “He told me everything I ever did.” They came to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world because of both what she said and that she encouraged them to go listen to him for themselves. 

The Woman at the Well’s response to Jesus grew from “You are a prophet” to “maybe You’re the Messiah” to “You are the Savior of the world.”

Jesus defied the woman’s expectation of rejection by requesting her hospitality

Jesus disabled her guilt by taking the veil of secrecy off of her sins.

Jesus also dispossessed the woman’s spirit of deprivation by telling her to ask him for the satisfaction he had available to her.

Her problem was sin and shame, but Jesus addressed her cares– her need for satisfaction.

First, He addresses her profound thirsts. Then He shares with her something he shared with very few people. He shares with her the mystery of God– that Jesus came to offer salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to the half-breeds like her (Ephesians 3:5-6). He tells her the secret that God’s plan is to make right even the people who were born wrong. He offered her knowledge of Himself and His life’s passion. 

This is how Jesus handles our cares too: He requests entry to our hearts, removes the secrecy from around our sin, tells us to ask Him for satisfaction, and then resolves all of our ambivalence toward Him into perfect peace by revealing intimate information about Himself to us.

This is relationship with Jesus. Not only does He know us, but He assures us that our hearts are safe in His hands by entrusting to us privileged information about Himself.

It’s hard to describe what “a personal relationship with God” means in practical terms. But here’s my best guess: Relationship with Jesus is realizing that Jesus is a person who knows the secret of my sins and let’s me know the secrets of His glory.

The transformative power of casting our cares on Jesus is that He cares for us. Paternalistic relationships are one way. But Jesus displays His tender care for us by knowing us and being known by us.

The power center of my testimony is the way that Jesus cares for me.

Sharing our testimonies grows our satisfaction and our conviction that Jesus is the Savior who is able to handle all manner of cares. Again- the Samaritan woman’s conviction about Jesus’ identity grew from prophet to possible Messiah of the Jews to Savior of the whole world in the course of two days by sharing her testimony.

Her testimony— “He told me everything I ever did,” unfettered her from guilt under the law and released her into dignity. It removed her cloak of rejection and clothed her in security. It filled her up with self-replenishing, life-giving waters.

My instructions to you for taking care of your soul’s cares is to share your testimony. It’s the most tangible action step in the effort to psychologically cast your cares on Jesus.

Tell anyone and everyone about the One who knows everything you ever did and extended an offer of friendship to you anyway. And– sharing your testimony isn’t really to evangelize anyone else. That’s just a byproduct.

Sharing your testimony is about evangelizing yourself. It is about growing your capacity to cast your cares on Him because you know He cares for you. In such your capacity to receive from Him also grows. Your capacity to feel love grows.

When Jesus first asked the Woman at the Well for a drink of water, she said, “but you have nothing to draw it up with.” He replied, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask me for living water and you would never thirst again.”

Look at the image of the Matisse above— It can pour down rain, but unless you have a jar to draw it with, you are not living well in living waters.

Let Jesus remove the guilt that keeps you from dipping into the well of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Your sin is not a secret to Jesus. You don’t have to worry what He’ll do if He finds out.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”