“A Godly Vulnerability: The Irony of Emptiness”
There is an adage that says, “There are no atheists in the trenches.” This phrase appeared during World War I, and came to represent the idea that the unbelieving heart comes to pray when it is in peril. That the resistant mind which asserts that the divine is impossible can allow for the divine to become possible when danger is near, or when death is at one’s heels.
We do not necessarily need a battlefield to bring the unbelieving heart into acknowledging the always persisting hand of God at work in the world. It can be through any jolt which this life affords us, any jolt which brings the unbelieving heart out of its own way and into the way of the Lord. Choosing to come to the Lord for the resistant heart happens through a sort of emptiness.
It happens through a deep acknowledgment within one’s striving heart to reach up to the heavens and say, I need you God. To reach up to the heavens and say I need not the things of this world. I need not the fullness this world can give me for it has been shallow, and it has been false. The only portion I need Lord is from you. It is through this sort of emptiness that the empty is filled, and the empty is made blessed. It is through our own poverty of spirit that we come into the realm of the almighty more clearly. We are able to find blessedness through our emptiness. Whether this emptiness has always been a part of us, or is foisted upon us due to circumstances which collide with us, in the trenches or otherwise.
Jesus speaks of this emptiness, this emptying of self, often in the Gospels. In many ways it is a persistent companion, this notion of the need to be empty in order to be filled by the Divine.
A scene opens to us in Luke in which a teacher is amidst his students, his hearers. Jesus is depicted here as teacher, as a teacher who out of the abundance of his heart sets about proclaiming truth to those who come to hear him, and to be healed by him.
On a level plain he spoke to them, maybe even seated among them. He taught of the “great reversal” the seemingly impossible truth that through emptiness, through the profundity of one’s lacking one can be able to know what real fullness is. Through one’s poverty, through our supposed worldly insufficiencies we are made sufficient by God.
In that level place on that day when the Teacher taught he spoke of this— He spoke about the irony of emptiness. How through it we are made satisfied. That in spite of our lacking we are blessed.
Here before us in this text is a clearly drawn line which Luke sets up for his hearers.
On one side are blessings, on the other side are the curses. Blessings and curses. Beatitudes and woes. Luke sees fit to emphasize here in his sixth chapter the fullness which can only come from emptiness, or perhaps, from out of the depths of our willingness to be vulnerable for God. To be vulnerable to the blessings God bestows upon humankind when they are willing to be empty of self, I mean to truly be empty.
Emptiness takes many forms.
The poor… hungry…weeping, hated, excluded, reviled, spurned for loving God.
Fullness takes many forms.
The rich. The physically full. The laughing. The false prophets.
And what of the rich? Jesus says that the rich have received their consolation. He warms his hearers to not be consoled by the world or by one’s wealth. Jesus is warning us to not allow for worldly riches fill us, to stay away from trusting in the riches we store up. For when we allow our wealth, our worldly fullness to dictate our happiness, or our contentedness, we can be lost in our own false truth, a truth which leads only to a shallow place, and not the wide expansive place where God lay.
How can the inconsolable, those who think they have everything, be consoled by God? How can a full vessel be filled? It cannot.
Yes, God’s love can be imparted to all who wish to come to Him, but it is in that very act of wanting to come to the Lord, through that posture which acknowledges the vastness of God, and the finiteness of ourselves, in which an emptying occurs. Whether one discerns it or not it is an emptying of self. An emptying of a love of riches, and of feeling full by the world. It is a turning from the shallows to the wide expansive place of God.
Luke is also showcasing the idea that God has a special love for the outcast and for the last in this world. Does God indeed have a special love, or show preferential love for the poor? I ask this question knowing that it is an unanswerable question, and yet I ask it knowing full well that within us, I think we know the answer.
So, who are the empty? To be empty is often to be vulnerable, to be exposed, to maybe be on the periphery.
To be empty for some may mean needing special attention, or care, or assistance in this life. Being empty may mean always falling short. Being empty may mean always feeling as if you can never get a break in this life. Being empty may mean feeling that hopes are dashed.
When we are empty though we are blessed. That is where the irony lay. When by our own freewill even we choose to be empty, to throw off the things of this world which construct false and shallow truths around us God is pleased.
Jesus tells us that it is the poor who will inherit. That it is the poor, the empty, the marginalized, the sinners, those on the periphery who will inherit the Kingdom of God! This troubles me, as I am a person who is comfortable, a person who has things, stuff, and a person who has never gone hungry or been particularly marginalized. Yet, I still see this text as one which inspires a great hope. It reminds me that the first shall be last, that the first will not be forgotten necessarily, but that they, in the workings of God’s mind miss the mark just a bit more than the poor do. It reminds me that the poor know just a bit more about God.
And so, who are they who walk this earth who know God? Who are the ones who walk this earth full of the love of God? Who are the ones who know what the kingdom is? Who are the ones who know what true rejoicing means? Or what true reward means?
It is them that dwell in the trenches. They who are emptied of the distracting cares of this world, and are setting their eyes on the heavenly things. They who strive not for ambition but for satisfaction. It is them who while all seems to be amiss they are able to lift up their eyes and cry Holy, Holy, Holy.