At church this morning, someone from the congregation spoke to us about Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and the fishes in Matthew 14:13-21. He noted that the story opens with: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (ESV). Crowds then followed Jesus to where he was, and Jesus had compassion for them, healed their sick, and later multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed them.
But the preacher this morning asked a question: What did Jesus hear
that caused him to withdraw? The answer is that Jesus heard about the
death of John the Baptist. Jesus withdrew because he was sad and wanted
to be alone, or perhaps because he thought that Herod Antipas would try
to kill him next. The preacher’s point was that, notwithstanding
Jesus’ pain, sadness, or troubles, Jesus still took the time to be
compassionate towards others and to minister to their needs.
Some of the songs in this morning’s service were along the same lines. We heard one song, “Below My Feet,”
which is by Mumford and Sons. I had to read the lyrics a couple of
times to understand them, but my impression was that they were talking
about Jesus reassuring us, strengthening us, and helping us to serve and
to learn. We sang “You Are My Vision,” and
it had a line about God being our vision, whatever befalls us. We may
be burned out and wounded, but we can still find comfort in God and be
compassionate towards others.
I was reminded of a post that I read recently, Sarahbeth Caplin’s “Bitterness: The New Religion B-Word.” The last paragraph said something that especially resonated with me:
“These suggestions aside, I still have unhealthy bitterness in my
heart. I pray not to get rid of it, necessarily, but to mold it into
something productive. Some of history’s most successful revolutions grew
from bitter unrest about the way things are.”
I was wondering if this could apply to my bitterness. Can God mold
that into something productive? I can see bitterness about social
injustice leading to social change, which is something productive, but
what about my bitterness about feeling or being rejected, or
loneliness? I believe that God can turn that into something productive,
as well: compassion for others. I can feel compassion towards those
who are rejected or lonely. Of course, the opposite can occur, too: I
can become so absorbed in my own feelings, problems, and pain that I do
not think of others. But that is why I need to ask God to mold my
bitterness into something productive.
One may point me to biblical passages like Ephesians 4:31, which is
critical of bitterness. Does that contradict any idea that God can mold
bitterness into something productive? Well, such passages do express a
desire for peace among people in the body of Christ. Inner peace is
also a desirable goal, plus we should take heed lest we dehumanize
others by hating them. I especially need God’s help on that last one!
Still, I do believe that God can mold a person’s bitterness into
UPDATE: Samuel Tee has important reflections about suffering and whether that builds character. See here.