If not everything that we can later attribute to Jesus from the Old Testament is prophecy, if Jesus truly has taken the stories, the very hearts, of some of the Old Testament characters to the Cross, then how can we tell the difference between stories that carry us to Jesus and stories that Jesus carries for us?
The answer is rather simple, but it is of critical importance for those of us who still face this question today.
The basic principle is this: if what you're reading is surrounded by heart, it is a story that Jesus carries to the Cross. If what you're reading is surrounded by information, it's probably prophecy.
Returning to the example we've been using this week from Psalm 22, we see that these words pour forth from the heart of David. They are surrounded by a very real, very personal emotional stress that David is experiencing. It is highly unlikely, given how much God loves us, that God would ask David to set aside his broken heart for a minute and scribble in a few words of prophecy about a promised Messiah who is coming in some future time and is of absolutely no benefit to David in this particular time of distress, a few words of prophecy that David could not possibly understand on a good day, let alone a day in which his heart is troubled. Can you imagine such a scenario? Of course not. That's not how we believe God works.
Except this is exactly how we believe God works.
That's why this lesson is so important even for us. We have come to believe that this is the very thing that God does, that He just goes about interrupting the very real depths of our troubled hearts in order to interject a few words, a promise, a hope that doesn't even make sense to us in our time of distress. How often have you heard a Christian grieving, only to stop and say something about how Jesus restores their hope? How often have you heard a Christian struggling, only to stop mid-heart and declare that Jesus has conquered our suffering? How often have you yourself done something like this?
We interrupt our most authentic moments of the heart and try to interject them with the hope, the promise, the mercy of God. But God never interrupts a heart. Never. Not even in the book of Job does God interrupt a heart, even when Job's heart is spinning deeper and deeper into itself, into its own despair. God allows Job to finish speaking, and then He replies. Job is permitted complete thoughts, and then God answers.
It's true, obviously, that some of our Old Testament writers seem to bounce back and forth between their own aching hearts and the reality of the promise of God, but when they do this, it's never to present new information, nor is it to interject some words they do not understand. They bounce from despair to hope because this hope is written into their very hearts, as well. It's part of who they are. It's part of the process of being in their heart - they feel the despair, but they cannot forget the hope.
What's different between the way the Old Testament writers do this and the way we often do this is that for them, hope does not cancel despair. They are able to feel both, to hold both simultaneously. They know how to grieve without letting go of God. We...are not so adept at this sort of thing. Often, when you listen to a Christian speak, they bounce back and forth between hope and despair as two completely separate feelings, as two completely unrelated hearts. We speak as though we cannot possibly be troubled and believe in God at the same time, as though one of these things must cancel out the other.
It's just not true. The Old Testament testimony makes that very clear. Only for us, it is slightly different even when we do it well - because our hope has been fulfilled in Christ. We don't just know that God will handle our broken hearts; we know that He has. We know that Jesus has carried our stories, the very stories we are telling right now in our grief, in our distress, in our trouble, to the Cross. So when we experience this back and forth between hope and despair, it's the tension between our cares and the Cross. It's even more intimate an experience than the Old Testament writers had.
So why are we not so bold in our testimony?
So why are we not so bold in our testimony?
I think it's because we don't understand this line of Truth and tension, or what we might have called prophecy and heart in the Old Testament. We don't understand that our hearts speak truth even when we don't deliberately speak Truth, that we're saying something about God even when we're not saying something about God. We don't get it. God gets it. That's why He never interrupts a heart.
Neither should we.