Before the Bema

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It’s been called That Great and Terrible Day.

I was raised to see it as a great day, or at least as if I was SUPPOSED to see it as a great day, the best day, better than a thousand days here… the day I meet Jesus face to face.  It’s a day not to fear, but to wait in anxious anticipation of… right?

The Fear of God thing always sort of confused me growing up.  I think this speaks volumes to the human love and forgiveness I have been shown in my life, especially at an early age. I just never imagined that God (the God who I knew and loved me so unconditionally) would be someone to fear, really fear.  And, you know… that’s how it should be as a baby.  We don’t come into this world fearing the wrath of our parents.  We love them with a ferocious and unquestioning love because they are our world.  They will always be there, they will always care for us, they love us unconditionally, and when it gets rough they are the ones we want.  (Some things never change… to this day, whenever I get sick – like really sick – I still just want my mom.)  We come into this world completely dependent and it’s our parents that hold us and keep us whole.

But… then there comes a moment when we, as is our very nature, disobey.  I remember one day when my son was just a little peanut and was eating happily in his high chair.  In an attempt to have some fun and perhaps test a boundary, he decided to decorate the kitchen floor.  When I turned around there was spaghetti hunks next to his chair.  I patiently informed him that the floor was not where spaghetti belonged so to please keep it on his tray and gobble it up into his tummy.

Splat.

No. No spaghetti on the floor.

Splat.

…*chuckle*… You little sinner.

Today I laugh about it.  He was testing the boundaries (which he smashed into and decided were pretty solid, as it turns out).  And he was too young and dependent still as a tiny person to really develop that conscience-driven punch in the gut brought on by the fear of consequences… but that is what comes.  We reach a point when, while loving our parents as dearly loved children, we get ourselves into situations when we just want to run and hide because we know, deep down in that pit within, that we are in for it.  That day does come when we disobey and fear is the immediate consequence.

Reaching back into my own childhood, I will tell you that, for me, it was never so much a fear of the punishment or tangible consequences of my disobedience that drove me (like grounding or the such), but I would worry myself into a dither about the broken relationship that was to ensue.  It was the disappointment of my parents, the “wrongness” of my connection with them as a result of my actions that cast the pall of fear over my entire landscape and did not lift until things were righted.  I couldn’t eat, would feel exhausted and withdrew from life in general.  And, if I’m being honest, this is all still my MO.

Can you imagine that “wrongness” or broken relationship as the image of humanity before the Father until things were “righted” on that great and terrible day?  There truly are not words to express my gratitude and relief and love for my God who forgives me and “righted” that relationship which I had broken and have no power to right.  BUT… somehow, I manage to break it time and time and time again and He did not come to abolish the law, rather to fulfill it…  to see it completed…  to see it accounted for.  Bema at Corinth

As I stood in the center of ancient Corinth in Greece, I was given a new image of that Great and Terrible Day… perhaps a sincerely accurate one.  I stood before the roman “throne” of judgement in Corinth, where Gallio the Proconsul sat in judgement of all those accused and brought before him.  The accused would be bound to the post before the bema and be judged publicly.  Paul was there.  After living among them and loving and teaching the Corinthian Jews for quite some time he is generally rejected and accused of disturbing the peace among the Jews… accused of false teaching about their God.

You know, in our culture today, I believe we see Satan as a disturber and instigator… as if we needed any help whatsoever conceiving of disobedience… but Satan is actually defined as “the accuser”.  See, on That Great and Terrible Day when I stand before the Bema of God, Satan will stand by my side and say, “See? Look!” and my inner landscape with all of it’s dark and dangerous places… all of it’s caverns, it’s miry swamps, it’s barren deserts and desolate wastelands… my entire heart will be uncovered. Projected. Laid bare. Visible, like a book to be read or a movie to be seen, it will be recognized and known.  I will be seen for what I truly am… dirty, broken, naked, helpless, unworthy, and without any excuse.

That will be a terrible day.

Bema post CorinthAnd as I kneel there, arms wrapped around that post, aware that the punishment for the condition of my heart is another more potent death… movement from atop that bema will catch my eye.  From where I kneel I will see a man step forward on the left side of the throne, dressed in a white robe belted at the chest as in the clothing of a Victor, and he will say simply, “but that one is mine, and I am hers. I know her well.”  And his own heart will cover over me, standing in my place, projecting the righteousness that I cannot… laid bare as blameless, pure and perfect.  “She has already died with me, my death has paid her sentence.”  And the verdict will be that I Live.  I will not die the second death of the Spirit, He did that for me.

That will be a great day.

You see, that Day is both terrible and great.  It is the terrible, terrible truth of my utter depravity laid bare to be seen and the reality of what it deserves when looked upon by the I Am that reveals the earth-shattering greatness of the justifying act that is the life of my Jesus and his own heart given for mine.  THAT is why I want to know that life, what he did, how he did it, why he says what he says and to whom, all of it…  and what he asks of me…. Because if I’m going to claim something for my own, I want to know it… and I want to live it… because one day that very life will identify each one of us and I want to be found IN it, not apart from it!

The Epistolarian