Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Not a Mystery, Nor a Misery

One of the many delights of visiting my sister in Cochrane, Alberta on the beautiful campus of Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, nestled in the foothills of the Great Rockies, was the seminary library. To a bibliophile like myself, I was overwhelmed with the wealth of books on topics I love and care passionately about. One treasure I got out of the library on the last evening there was Elizabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. What follows is an excerpt from one of many short meditations from her newsletter. It is from a devotion entitled "Ever Been Bitter?"

Elliot had been talking about hard things in your life, and times you ask "Why?" and how God responds to your honest questions and doubts. She continues that why questions are sometimes only human and natural, but that there is a distinction to be made between allowing the why questions to embitter you and using the why questions to draw you further into God's embrace and seeking Him and his will for your life:

  • "When we begin to doubt His love and imagine that He is cheating us of something we have a right to, we are guilty as Adam and Eve were guilty. They took the snake at his word rather than God. The same snake comes to us repeatedly with the same suggestions: Does God love you? Does He really want the best for you? Is his Word trustworthy? Isn't he cheating you? Forget His promises. You'd be better off if you do it your way.

  • I have often asked why. Many things have happened which I didn't plan on and which human rationality could not explain. In the darkness of my perplexity and sorrow I have heard Him say quietly, Trust Me. He knew my question was not the challenge of unbelief or resentment. I have never doubted that He loves me, but I have sometimes felt like St. Teresa of Avila who, when she was dumped out of a carriage into a ditch, said, 'If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few'" (Keep a Quiet Heart, Eliot, pg 45).

Elliot goes on to discuss Job and how she thinks he was not so patient, but always honest. She points to Job 16 as an example of how forthright Job could be with God. In this passage he complains "O God, you have ground me down and devastated my family. You have reduced me to skin and bonesas proof they say, of my sins. God hates me and tears angrily at my flesh. He gnashes his teeth at me and pierces me with his eyes. People jeer and laugh at me. They slap my cheek in contempt. A mob gathers against me. God handed me over to sinners. He has tossed me into the hands of the wicked" (Job 16: 7-11, The New Living Translation). Job is just getting warmed up in his diatribe, going on to say he had just been minding his own business when God broke him apart and made him a target; He does end by expressing his longing for a mediator, confessing he has a witness and advocate in heaven, despite the fact he will soon go "down that road" from which he "will never return."

Elliot closes by listing five Scriptures, stating the matter is not a mystery, but there are "clear reasons." She lists the following passages about suffering and joy, which I have taken from the New Living Translation:

1 Peter 4:12-13

Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very gladbecause these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.

Romans 5: 3-4
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good
for usthey help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul, speaking of his thorn in the flesh, that he begged to be delivered from on three occasions, explains:

Each time he (God) said, "My gracious favour is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.

John 14:31

Jesus facing the cross, during the Last Supper, states:

but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let's be going.

Colossians 1:24
Pauls writes to the church in Colosse:
I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am completing what remains of Christ's sufferings for his body, the church.

Hard stuff and suffering, while it naturally leads to why questions, need not end in misery, resentments, and despair, but rather in perseverance, joy, trust, and peace, knowing we have a Heavenly Father who cares enough to hear our railing against Him and His ways. How we can produce joy out of suffering and trials is a holy process that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in us, if we will ask him. 

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