I have been reflecting recently on the process of tearing and testimony;
on the way in which God interrupts our lives, in order to speak into our lives:
to reveal something of his identity, and activity (doing) or passive presence (being done to) in the world –
and of what that means for our identity, and activity (doing) or passive presence (being done to) in the world.
The nature of tearing is that something is done to us, in which we are powerless. The thing done may be honouring or harming, but we are the object – the one being done to – not the subject – the one doing. In these places of vulnerability, we may hear God’s voice.
The purpose of the process of tearing and testimony is to bring us to a settled place: to the place where the testimony we have heard is a settled matter.
So in a place of tearing – a voice from heaven intervenes in his actions; and a ram is provided to sacrifice, which he had not brought, Genesis 22 – Abraham hears the testimony that the Lord is his provider (YHWH jireh): that Abraham is invited to experience the Lord as his provider: and challenged to be one through whom the Lord provides for others.
So in a place of tearing – Aaron and Hur hold up his weary arms, Exodus 17 – Moses hears the testimony that the Lord is his battle-banner (YHWH nissi): that Moses is invited to experience the Lord as the one who fights for him and wins his battles for him: and challenged to be one through whom the Lord fights for those who have no-one to uphold their cause.
So in a place of tearing – cousin John baptises him, even though John thinks that Jesus should be the one baptizing John – Jesus hears the testimony that the Lord is his Father, who loves him: that Jesus is invited to live as the beloved Son: and challenged to be one through whom the Lord adopts others into his family.
The metaphor of journey is a dominant one for those who follow after Jesus – think Pilgrim’s Progress. We are on a journey of discovering God and discovering ourselves. But the metaphor of settling is just as significant. God’s ancient people were given territory – allocated by tribe – to conquer, to settle, and to hold on to. In the same way, God has a territory for us – an identity to take hold of – which must first be taken...but then, having taken it, we must nurture it, develop it...and fight to keep hold of it.
The place of settling is not the end of our adventure: it is the beginning of a new adventure.
Through the process of tearing and testimony we discover things about God that have a consequence for our lives – that he is our provider, our banner, our father, etc. And God will continue to bring us to places of tearing, and to speak testimony in that place, until the lesson is learnt.
But once a lesson is learnt, something changes:
it does not need to be learnt again; it needs to be lived-out, and not surrendered.
That is what settling means. Once we learn that God provides, we can go deeper in that, discovering his provision in more and more ways, or we can forget. That is why in the Old Testament, when people encounter God in this way they set up an altar in that place, a memorial, a marker-stone, so that they can go back to that place in order to move on from that place: not to re-learn the lesson, but so as to not forget it. And that is why, when the markers were neglected, the people did forget, gave away settled territory, again and again.
There are places in my life where I am on a journey, towards a settled place. There are other places where I am settled: and that is the goal God has in mind: that more and more of my identity in him is a settled matter, until I am completely secure and able to know life in all of its intended fruit-fullness.
It will help me to keep the territory that with God’s help I have won (YHWH nissi, my battle-banner) if I am able to set up markers: to record the story of each tearing-place, and the testimony that was revealed there: “this is how I discovered that...”