Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Christ Figures

Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend, as my eyes pour out tears to God. (Job 16.20)

The Middleman

A number of years ago while re-watching The Sorrow and the Pity, Marcel Ophuls’ masterful documentary about Nazi-occupied France, I bumped into a character that’s become an obsession for me. Through details too convoluted to summarize here, Denis Rake—a 40-year-old openly gay cabaret performer—volunteered as a British agent in France, where he served as a go-between for the Resistance and the Allied forces. He was perfectly suited for the job, being fluent in French and an expert radio operator. But Rake’s intrepid nature was his greatest asset. Even though homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967, at a very early age he summoned the courage to live honestly by honing skills to elude arrest. The brief interview in Ophuls’ four-hour film reveals a soft-spoken man as docile as the purring cat he holds. Yet a follow-up interview with his commander remembers him as a tenacious lion. As an American, I was stunned the Secret Intelligence Service trusted Denis Rake in large part because he was gay—precisely the sort of “irregular” the agency sought out to navigate dicey situations with a cool head.

Delving into Rake’s past, I learned of two other qualities that recommended him. He was no stranger to playing the middleman. At 13, after Belgium fell in the First War, he got arrested for hand-delivering encrypted letters for anti-German agents in Brussels. Even at that age, he outfoxed his captors and joined his parents to relocate in London for the war’s duration. The second attribute, though, is more compelling. While he asserts in the film that he volunteered with the SIS to prove his masculinity—and certainly that was part of it—Rake’s compassion for his friends living under German oppression drove him to risk his life for them. He was fearless, going so far as to enter a potentially fatal affair with a Nazi officer to remain in Paris after his SIS-provided papers were confiscated. His commitment to a free France enabled him to play a critical role preparing Resistance fighters to lay the groundwork for the Normandy invasion. In the end, despite England’s dim view of gay people, it welcomed Denis Rake home as a decorated war hero.

Called to Intercede

While I blanch at labeling Rake a “Christ figure,” he comes very close to fitting the bill. He was an outsider and an outlaw who would not be thwarted by social norms and prejudices. He avidly identified with beleaguered people and willingly endangered himself for them. He knew oppression and spoke the language of the oppressed. He risked his life to free them and, in the end, opened the minds of many who accepted injustice and hatred without blinking. Everything about his life verified his purpose as a go-between. And when we look back on our lives and consider our talents, could it be we’re also Denis Rakes? Are we chosen for our “irregularities?” Are we called to intercede for those without means or courage to break free? Are we Christ figures? I’m convinced we are.

In Job we find a vivid picture of why our intercessory roles are so vital. Job’s conformist friends not only prove useless—they compound his misery by insisting his woes are self-inflicted. (Today we call this “blaming the victim.”) Chapter 16 starts with Job railing at them in frustration: “Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.” (v3-4) Unable to find one friend who understands his pain and rallies to his defense, Job looks above. “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” (v19-20) In a fit of prophetic pique, Job envisions the Risen Christ described in 1 Timothy 2.5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” This compares nicely with verse 21, where Job says, “On behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” While we’re bedazzled by Job’s prescient grasp of Jesus’s ultimate role in redemption’s plan, we can’t overlook his need to conjure a Christ figure because he can’t find one among his friends. Not one relates to his dilemma. Not one offers to intercede to the God he claims to know in Job’s stead.

An Intercessory Chain of Command

Jesus erases all doubt He ordains us as Christ figures in John 14.12-13: “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” He activates an intercessory chain of command. We assume Christ’s identity as an outsider and outlaw to identify with those bound by oppressive forces. We volunteer as their go-betweens, becoming the critical link between them and Christ, Who mediates their case with God the Father. In this sense, we are Denis Rakes—fluent conversationalists and radio operators who keep the lines open between the presently defeated and their triumphant Ally. We are their friends.

Those around us beset by pernicious forces must know we’re true and faithful friends. Their problems most likely will exceed our ability to correct. Still, we lift their hopes and anchor their spirits by bringing all we have to bear on their case. Our compassion testifies we understand oppression first-hand. Our language is real, spoken as natives who know, not smug observers who rationalize and accuse. We intercede for them to Christ just as He does to the Father, as seasoned outsiders with established credentials. We say, “I’m praying for you” with conviction, and they believe in our prayers. That’s how the intercessory chain of command works. People in trouble place faith in us. We have faith in Christ. Anything we ask of Him will be done to the Father’s glory. God wins the war. God liberates the oppressed. We serve as His agents. We are go-betweens, radio operators, and interventionists. Though we may be docile in nature, to the hopeless, voiceless, and powerless, we are lions of love—Christ figures.

As Christ figures, we are lions of love to people in trouble. We defy norms and prejudices on their behalf, following an intercessory chain of command that brings their cases to God.


claire said...

lions of love to people in trouble

Still, we lift their hopes and anchor their spirits by bringing all we have to bear on their case.

Ah, ami Tim, the Spirit speaks through you in the most wonderful way.

How very inspiring you both are! What a team you make!


claire said...

PS: I see a lion in love (can't you see his eyes and his nose?) and a monkey in faith (with a green eye and a huge grin)... But maybe this is not meant to be so :-)

Tim said...

Claire, you never fail to make me smile! Thank you for your kind words--and your witty postscript. As a fellow "team member" who writes so beautifully at the Spirit's moving, your note is a treasure.

Merci, chere amie!


Lloyd said...

I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God's blessings too you. Lloyd

Sherry Peyton said...

Oh Tim, we are each so wonderfully made. In our irregularities, we are the perfect fit now and again to do the job only we can do. Recognizing that in each other, and celebrating it is so grand. Christ is in each of us, we only have to be open to being there when we are called. Thank YOU!.

Tim said...

Lloyd, I've been by your place and found it genuine in its compassion and expression of faith. The common ground we share far outweighs our differences, and I look forward to visiting you again soon! Thank you for your kind words--they are a great encouragement to me.

Yes, Sherry, that is the one blessing we all share--how God puts our irregularities to good use. It is something we must celebrate and cherish, as we remain open to answering the uniqueness of our callings. (And I just realize I've done no more here than reiterate the point you made so beautifully... but it just feels good to say it!)

Thanks to both of you for stopping by. I'm always delighted and honored to hear from you!

Peace and joy,