The following post was written by my friend and published author/life coach, Steve Austin. See the links below the post for more information about his work!
Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
We never really talk much about Emmanuel outside of Christmastime. During Advent, we hear about Emmanuel as we look at scenes of a cherubic baby in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, surrounded by camels and donkeys, and maybe even Santa Claus, kneeling in the hay. As beautiful as the music is, and as much as I love a good candlelight service, the experience has always seemed a bit disconnected from my own life. It never felt further from the truth than the year my marriage nearly fell apart and I almost died by suicide.
I was a pastor when my world fell apart. Lying in an ICU hospital bed, looking up at the ceiling, numb from the waist down, it seemed pretty clear to me that I only had a couple of choices: get out of the hospital and figure out how to heal, or leave the hospital, and make damn well sure I died the next time.
Thankfully, I chose to live, which meant everything had to change.
Over the past seven years, since the darkest day of my life, I’ve deconstructed and reconstructed my faith and deconstructed it some more. I nearly walked away from Christianity altogether for a while, but the same Voice that called to me in the hospital room, saying, “I’m not finished with you yet,” continued to whisper hope, safety, and belonging through my dark night of the soul.
So I held on. Scared. Uncertain. Wobbly. I had faith, but it was full of holes.
In the midst of my doubts and questions, the same hope that pulled me back from the brink of death also gave me the courage to be vulnerable for the first time in my life. Sure, I lost a couple of jobs and more “friends” than I’d care to admit, but what I am finding on the other side of hell and a breakdown is a God who is truly is an ever-present help in time of trouble.
When you think about it from a historical perspective, this idea of a god who would leave Heaven, take human form, and indeed be with us, would have seemed absurd to the Greeks of Jesus’ day. The Greeks believed that the gods could come to the aid of humans, in a sort of temporary Divine intervention, but it didn’t look like empathy. It wasn’t Emmanuel. It was the momentary act of a hero, not as an equal, but more like pity. Whether you read Homer or Aristotle, it’s clear that there was a definite line between god and man.
Until Jesus, no one had crossed that barrier.
As I write this, it’s February and Christmas has long-since passed, but I still hear the whispers of Emmanuel, the empathy of God made flesh, and the one whose birth the angels heralded as the very presence of God with us saying “I’m not finished with you yet.” I wonder how we miss it so often? Is there really any other lens through which to view Jesus than one of empathy?
Jesus Christ is not remote, detached, and disinterested, nor insulated and isolated from our lives. He knows our frame; He knows that we are but dust. He can see in us a reflection of what He experienced as a man. He can thus extend mercy to us, completely understanding what we are going through.
Whether he was showing compassion to a woman who likely got drunk and stumbled into the tent of a man who wasn’t her husband, feeding a crowd of hungry followers, embracing a blind man, or weeping with grieving sisters, Jesus was a master at practicing empathy.
Even if I make my bed in hell, you are with me. (Psalm 139:8)
I’ve been as close as one can get to hell and back, and what I can tell you is that there is no wound so deep, no sorrow so great, no anxiety so high that the empathy of Jesus cannot heal. The real difference in Jesus and the reason I still have this Hope as the anchor of my soul is that God not only knows about my experience but actually chose to enter into it.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out some of Steve’s other work with Catching Your Breath Academy. I have personally benefited from his coaching and suggest you look into it if you’re looking for guidance through a difficult season or are in need of a third-party fellow-traveler to assist in tough life decisions.
For 25% off use the following link: https://iamsteveaustin.teachable.com/?affcode=59258_kssbgvkk and the discount code THANKSJOSH
Yeah, you read that right. You’re welcome.
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back. Steve is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward, and Catching Your Breath. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children. Find him online at iamsteveaustin.com.