Continuing with my alliterative names for God project (see yesterday’s post), I found myself in as much difficulty on B as I had on A. I did come up with Bountiful Benefactor, based on Psalm 116:7 & 12, but I had already decided on Generous Giver (for the letter G), which means much the same thing and uses words more common in everyday conversations. I also thought of one phrase I won’t use: Best Buddy. God graciously offers us friendship, but He is not our “Buddy.”
From Hebrews 2:11 and Romans 8:29 we understand that Jesus is our older Brother, but the phrase “Big Brother” in English has become too closely associated with another meaning that has nothing to do with a trusted and admired older male sibling. God is Blameless, and Hebrews 3:4 calls Him a Builder. But I find that when I think of the phrase Blameless Builder, the next thing I think about is tornados and hurricanes and all those other deadly aspects of the world we live in. I do believe God is a Blameless Builder, and these “natural evils” do not negate that. But I prefer a phrase that doesn’t get me bogged down in thinking about theodicy.
I finally settled on Burden Bearer. At first I wanted to stick to the pattern of adjective + noun that I was using for most other letters of the alphabet (I didn’t do this in alphabetical order, although I am posting in that order). But after going through all the B words I could think of (if you have trouble getting to sleep some night, try it), I concluded that this was the best phrase I had thought of. (And anyway, my sister’s email to me that got this started used the example “foe finder.”)
I did have to ask myself, though, is it accurate to say that God bears our burdens? We are invited to
Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
But saying that God takes the burden from me doesn’t necessarily mean that He bears it Himself. Many of my burdens are only weighing me down because I am thinking about things the wrong way (worrying about the future, wondering what someone else thinks about me). There is really no burden there to bear, once I have relinquished it to God. And even those that are true burdens (physical problems, having been harmed by another person) are not burdens on God.
Or are they? Isaiah 53:4 says that
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
A footnote tells me that the word translated “sorrows” could also be translated “sickness.” And that is how it is used when Matthew quotes the passage: This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:17)
Certainly the Son of God bore our many burdens of sin on the cross. I remember wondering, as a young Christian, whether a sin I had just committed had retroactively increased Jesus’ suffering on the cross. It seemed a paradox that something I did in the latter half of the twentieth century could have an effect on what happened almost two millennia earlier, but then it wasn’t any easier to think of it as Jesus having already suffered for a sin that I was at that moment tempted to commit but hadn’t yet made up my mind. (I finally decided that kind of speculation was not productive, either at understanding redemption or helping me resist temptation.)
But surely that suffering of His is over. Paul can tell us in Romans 6 that we are free from sin and death because of Christ’s victory. Not because our sins were merely transferred to Jesus, but because He “died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” So whatever burdens I cast on God are not being borne now, but were borne then and now have no objective existence, once I have given them up.
So should I perhaps say God was our Burden Bearer rather than putting it in the present tense? But what God is, He has been and always will be. That is the mystery that surrounds the Incarnation, that a God outside time could enter time. And that’s where I will leave this, because when I start trying to think about time and eternity, and what eternity really means, my mind staggers and yet still tries to comprehend the incomprehensible, and pretty soon my skin crawls and I am shaking, and I have to force myself to back away mentally and deal with something more manageable. Like tomorrow’s post…