I had an epiphany yesterday morning while reading one of my favorite books in the world, The Valley of Vision. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. As the preface to the book describes, “these prayers are drawn from the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations, and aspirations. They testify to the richness and color of evangelical thought and language that animated vital piety in an important stream of English religious life.”
I find them extremely inspiring and centering seeing as how I live in a culture in which self is elevated to the highest possible position and truth is relative. Far from being offensive or irrelevant, prayers with phrases like “abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence, open in me a fount of penitential tears” shock me out of my apathy: help me to actually feel and see how much I truly need Jesus.
I opened it up randomly to a poem called “Confidence” and read these words:
O God, thou art very great
My lot is to approach thee with godly fear and humble confidence,
for thy condescension equals thy grandeur
and thy goodness is thy glory…
I’d underlined the phrase shown above in bold and so before I read on, I took a moment to pause and contemplate it again. In this context, condescension doesn’t mean that attitude or behavior exhibited by people who think they’re more [rich, beautiful, whatever] than other people. Instead, it describes a “voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior” (merriam-webster.com). This condescension evokes sacrifice, tenderness, and great love. And as I soaked in the mental picture of a God in heaven condescending to come down to earth—attempting to grasp the depth of his grandeur—I had a strange thought.
You see, the day before, I’d been studying for our first Challenge B seminar. We study the lives of famous scientists in the first semester of our research strand and Archimedes is one of the first. I’d heard his name before but didn’t know anything about him, so I enjoyed reading the legend of how he was able to help King Hiero figure out that he had been cheated by his goldsmith. Legend has it that the king had commissioned a crown to be made and gave the goldsmith a bar of gold to make it. When he received the crown, he was awed at its intricate beauty but had a suspicion that the goldsmith had cheated him by substituting silver for some of the gold. He turned over the problem to Archimedes and asked him if there was any way to determine whether the crown was solid gold aside from destroying it. This is how Wikipedia describes what happened next:
[Archimedes] reportedly proclaimed “Eureka!” when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose—he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. He then realized that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem. He is said to have been so eager to share his discovery that he leapt out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked. (Wikipedia)
Because of this discovery, Archimedes was able to come up with a simple formula that allowed him to correctly assess that the king, indeed, had been cheated. The crown did not have the same weight as the bar of gold from which it was made.
So instead of a man lowering himself into a pool of water, displacing some of it and realizing that the displaced water was equal to his weight, imagine a holy God displacing himself from heaven, coming to earth in the form of a baby, and dying a thief’s death on a cross:
The cross still stands and meets my needs
in the deepest straits of the soul.
I thank thee that my remembrance of it
is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword
which preached forth thy deliverance.
The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls,
bring afresh into my mind the remembrance
of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,
of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am.
There is no treasure so wonderful
as that continuous experience of thy grace toward me
which alone can subdue the risings of sin within:
Give me more of it.
(“The Dark Guest”)
What kind of an impact does that kind of descent make? How heavy is the weight of glory? Close your eyes and imagine the condescension of Messiah Jesus, the living water, his blood spilled over an entire world.