Knowing The Father and The Bridegroom
In 1350, a Belgian chaplain named Jan Van Ruysbroeck who had devoted his life to soaking in the presence of God wrote the following paragraphs as part of an introduction to a book on the spiritual life:
“The Bridegroom is Jesus and human nature is the bride, made in the image and likeness of God. In the beginning the Lord set this bride in the highest and most beautiful place in all the earth, gave her dominion over all creatures and glorified her with His grace. But Satan deceived this bride of God with false counsel, and she was driven from the garden into a strange land where she was filled with misery and oppressed by her enemies. But God had mercy on the suffering of the bride. He sent His only begotten Son who searched for us in strange countries and taught us the ways of Heaven, showing us how to live in perfect faithfulness to Him. Through His blood He made us free, enriching us with His grace and His gifts for one reason: so that we might approach Him through virtue and meet Him in the house of glory where we will enjoy Him forever in eternity.”
I appreciate this rather non-traditional restatement of the gospel because it does not limit its scope to the fall of man and the need for salvation.
Instead, it contextualizes our experience as Christians as a journey from a place of alienation to a place of intimacy. It is a journey which is animated by passion and culminates in purity, a journey in which the revelation of the Father heart of God and the love of Christ, the Bridegroom, play a central role. You don’t have to be in the River long to realize the prominence of these two revelations in this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When I first came to the River, it was not the Father, but the Bridegroom that I was pursuing.
Wounds resulting from issues in my own life were preventing me from dealing with the Father, so I mentally categorized the Father heart of God as a parallel, but separate, revelation to that of the Bridegroom. Recently, though, I am seeing how closely interconnected these two revelations are. Working together, I believe, they are the means by which we cast aside the shroud of the self-life and take our place at Jesus’ side as His radiant bride, clothed with His righteousness.
Our True Home
The language of the book of Hebrews and 2 Peter makes it clear that this world is not our home. We really are strangers here, looking for another kingdom, a place that we can truly call home. That home is nothing less than the heart of God. Whatever heaven turns out to be like, what will make it truly ‘heaven’ is that we will be immersed in the fullness of the love of God without any hindrances. The last nine years have shown us that we don’t have to wait until we die to experience this; we can taste it right now as we open our hearts to the advances of the Holy Spirit. Some spiritual writers refer to this as a foretaste of the joy of eternity which not only can but should fill our hearts in this life.
The divine love that flows out of the very nature of God is selfless and extravagant.
It pours itself out recklessly on the object of its desire taking no account of the cost. An in-depth study of the scriptures reveals that all three members of the Trinity are locked in an embrace in which they sacrificially lay down all that they are in order to bring glory to one another. When we are able to receive and express the same sacrificial divine love which has been flowing between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity, we begin to experience what it really means to be the bride.
It is quickly apparent that the love which is in our hearts by nature cannot equip us to participate in this relationship. Even on our best days, comparing our actions with the divine love described in 1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear how far short our natural love falls from the love which is from God. The day-to-day expression of the ways in which we fall short of living out of this divine love is what is called sin.
To become truly holy, then, is not just a matter of ‘cleaning up our act,’ but of freeing ourselves from the things which prevent the love of God from being expressed through us. The reason why we are often so ineffective at combating sin in our lives is because we treat sin as the problem when it is, in fact, only a symptom of the real problem: our hearts are turned away from God. But on an individual level, that child is born in each person who receives the gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit, the “deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance,” comes to us from Jesus as an engagement ring, marking us as people who will one day be married to Him.
This identity is part of our spiritual DNA as Christians. In other words, we were born to be lovers, not servants. We were made to be animated by passion, the foretaste of the joy of heaven. Without it we are easy prey to discouragement, burnout, and physical and spiritual addiction. I believe that the reason why so many people who were “at the end of their rope” spiritually have been so powerfully transformed by the River is that it has caused them to come alive, perhaps for the first time, by the understanding that they were truly made to receive and reciprocate the supernatural love of God.
Now even though I jumped into the River because I was seeking this revelation, it took several years of soaking before I was able to really begin to come into a place of intimate communion with the Bridegroom. These years of struggle were followed by a “hothouse” season where I experienced His love and learned to become vulnerable to Him.
Knowing The Father
As my heart began to unfold in the Bridegroom’s embrace, I found that Jesus was at work behind my back removing the emotional barriers separating me from the Father. When I asked Him why, the answer I got was not the one I was expecting. Having listened to other people’s testimonies, I knew that the revelation of the Father heart of God is the world’s best antidote to the feelings of shame and unworthiness that seem to hang on us as a result of the fall. But Jesus was up to something different, which He explained to me by directing me to John 17:26. “I [Jesus] have made You [the Father] known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them, and that I Myself may be in them.”
In all of creation there is only one who loves Jesus with the kind of passionate, abandoned love which He deserves to have in a Bride, and that person is the Father Himself.
I had previously marginalized the revelation of the Father because I considered it incidental to my pursuit of the Bridegroom. In doing this I was, in fact, cutting myself off from the very thing I needed to mature in that pursuit. In light of this, I asked Jesus to take me to the Father so that I could learn from Him. This was a hard step having struggled so long to enter the “garden of intimacy.” I was very reluctant to “switch channels” and focus on the Father, who was at that time, a comparative stranger to me. To my delight, though, I found that the intimacy which I experienced with the Bridegroom was not at all “set aside.” Instead, it grew with each step which I took towards knowing the Father better.
Several months after I prayed this prayer, I saw myself in a vision approaching Jesus, lying down at his feet and falling asleep. As I slept I saw myself growing younger and younger until I had the appearance of a six-year-old child. At that point, Jesus picked me up, carried me to the throne of Heaven, and placed me in the arms of the Father. As the Father received me, He placed His right hand on my heart and spoke these words: “Now let Me tell you who you are.” Since that time, I have been discovering a third revelation which is part of the Father heart of God: the true understanding of who the Father made me to be.
The Father is the author of all creation, the designer and creator of time and space.He knows things about the design of the world that are hidden even from the Son. God has fashioned each one of us to be a particular expression of His love and creativity. The seeds of our vocation, our anointing, and our place in the Kingdom are sown into us when we are conceived. They lie dormant in us throughout our lives, waiting only for the rain of heaven to bring them to life. The devil, however, heaps shame, fear and false responsibility on us until this potentially fertile field resembles an asphalt parking lot. Tiny shoots of green poking up through cracks in the blacktop are the only hints we have of the destiny which lies within us.
Fortunately for us God is in the business of shattering illusions with reality. A side-effect of drawing near to the Father is that we begin to see what lies dormant in us beneath layers of false identity. As we apply the jackhammers of repentance and forgiveness to break up the illusions that wrap our souls, He speaks to our true identity and causes it to spring to life. This is a critical but often painful part of our sanctification, and it is here that the passion which we experience in our relationship with the Bridegroom becomes the joy set before us by which we buckle down and walk forward regardless of the cost to our self-life. This purifies our love from its natural selfishness, and opens up our lives so that the Father’s love can flow out through us towards one another and towards Jesus. As we grow up into the reality of who we are, the Father fashions us into vessels which can be perfectly and uniquely filled with the Father’s love for the Son.
As we travel this road toward sanctification fueled by the revelation of the Bridegroom and the Father, we will walk in humility and simplicity as Van Ruysbroeck wrote,
“...to meet Him in the house of glory where we will enjoy Him forever in eternity.”