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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

God has had me thinking about suffering and persecution, again.  I’m going to be honest here; I don’t want to suffer.  Nope.  I don’t even want to be unhappy.  I want to have adventure, but I want to be able to push “stop” “eject” “rewind” and control the volume, too.  I know in my head that God uses suffering.  He makes us to know Him more, to be more like Him, to be refined from the worldly desires and crutches that keep us from the pure fire of desiring His glory.  He uses the way His people suffer (with grace and faith and rejoicing) to be a witness to the world.  But I’d still rather not go through it.  Part of me always insists that God could do those things in other ways.  He’s God.  He could do things differently.  But this is the way He has made the world, made us, written this story.  Jesus asked for another way, besides the cup of suffering.  Even Jesus went through the excruciating agony of the cross.  So it seems like God’s pretty committed to the suffering theme.  And it is actually a privilege to get to experience some things that Christ did.  This goes back to how we know Him more through suffering. 

 

Anyway, that’s the background:  I have suffered, though not much.  I know that God uses suffering.  I know it’s likely He isn’t done sending me through painful experiences. 

 

So when I’m coming up on the next part of my life, but I can’t see what’s going on, I start to seize with fear.  I get really afraid that it’s coming.  What I can’t see is something bad, something painful.  If people are keeping secrets from me, it’s probably because they’re handling things so dreadful that they are even trying to shield me, but it will affect me anyway, and everything will come out, and I will hurt.  Again. 

 

I don’t know exactly what to call this reaction.  It’s definitely fear.  And it is fueled deeply by distrust.  And what I ought to do in a situation like that is something completely different, and almost entirely absent.  On my best days I might be able to reason myself into a theology of faith: I should trust God.  I should know that He is doing good.  I should desire His glory in whatever way He wants to make it known.  But my feelings have never caught up. 

 

If I trusted Him, I would see a problem and rejoice with anticipation at how God is going to work it out.  Or I should be on the edge of my seat, maybe with my chest searing at the pain of it, maybe with tears stinging my eyes, but watching all the same for the way God is going to explode forth with a revelation of His glory (even if He doesn’t do what I would consider “working it out”). 

 

That’s what I’m hoping to see in my life someday.  I figure, objectively, this means I’ll go through a lot of hard things.  I have practice surrendering control, clinging to God when things don’t make sense and I feel so hurt that it borders betrayal.  And I think God will build on those lessons to move me deeper towards His heart, to form in me a heart of joyful trust. 

 

It’s nice, I guess, to have something you know you’re not good at, but you’re working towards. 

 

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;  And patience, experience; and experience, hope:  And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” ~ Romans 5:1-5

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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II Corinthians 1:20

“For all the promises of God

in Him are YES,

and in Him AMEN,

to the glory of God through us.”

You don’t hear it as much as you’d expect in Christian circles.  Should it stand out so much to me when I hear a friend say, “Praise God”?  The praise and worship music movement has swept the Church up.  Some of us even mean what we sing.  But outside of the songs, do we magnify His name?  Do we let our light shine that men may glorify our Father in Heaven when they see our good works?  Can we say with the Psalmists that it is good for God to have us alive because we praise Him more than if we were dead?

Grant that our friends practice gratitude.  We’re praying people and watch for answers.  When we see good gifts, we know they are from God.  And so it is more common to say aloud, “Praise God.  He answered my prayer.”

But we only tend to say that when He answers with a “yes.”  If God gives us what we want, we praise Him.  If not…

There are any number of reactions I have observed in myself.  I may become discouraged.  I might complain.  Even a good Christian is tempted to “help themselves” when God doesn’t take the initiative we want Him to.

This year, I resolved to praise my good God.  When He says “yes” to my requests, and when He says “no.”  He is acting with wisdom and love either way.

So even when I am hurt or sad or tired because of God’s “no”, I will praise Him.  Praise Him for knowing better than I do.  For denying my making of mudpies (to refer to CS Lewis) that He may bring me to the sea.

And in acknowledging God’s worthiness, may I know Him more.  May I anticipate and accept suffering, not cheating it of its purpose nor denying its redemption.  May I see with His eyes and expect the unfathomable ocean of blessings He has prepared.  He is a God of completion, faithful to make perfect that which He begins.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Why would God make a world that He knew would be corrupted by sin?  If God truly created people, as evangelicals are so fond of saying, so that He could be in a love relationship with them, and if that is why He gave them free will, so they could choose Him or reject Him… then why didn’t God destroy mankind immediately after they rejected Him, and start again?  Why not keep flipping the coin until it turns up heads?

Ok.  Love isn’t like that, you say.  God already loved mankind, and so devised a way to rescue them from the consequences of their rebellion.  He planned to demonstrate His love to them.  Unpersuaded by creation, perhaps people would choose to love God because of His merciful sacrifice of His Son.  So.  Why did God let any more people come into the world?  Why, knowing that there would be millions of men and women who still reject His grace and refuse to love Him, would He allow those men and women to exist – or if free will is still a possibility with the sin nature, why not eliminate them immediately after their first devastating choice (thereby preserving the rest of the world from much of the wickedness it has actually suffered)?

People are quite often posing God-impugning questions to Calvinists.  They see our God as a cruel puppeteer, causing suffering for no good reason.  Such a God cannot be loved, for He forces those who love Him to love Him, and those who hate Him to hate Him.  Then He judges the haters by sending them to hell for His choice.  And He judges His Son for God’s choice in causing the redeemed to sin in the first place and need redemption.

Calvinists, because they believe in a God who is above their judgment, rarely pose to Arminians what are equally troublesome questions – questions that, to the created vessel accustomed to think the world was created so that God could shower love on him, also indict their God.  I wish for the Arminians to realize their contradiction not because it defeats them, but because it directs them to a view of God that brings Him worship, and a view of self that creates humility.

Another complaint leveled against the God of the sovereignists (tired of using “Calvinist” so I coined a new word) is the question of whether, when a person gets sick, it is an intentional act of God.  Is God so cruel as to cause pain and death and tragedy just because He likes some of the outcomes, somewhere down the line (it brings people closer to Him, teaches people patience or compassion…)?  But is it not more cruel to imagine a God who has the power to prevent pain, but doesn’t use it?

The God of the Arminian “sovereignly” chose to exalt man’s will above His intervention.  In the beginning, He stood back and let man choose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, there is death and pain and toil, sadness and continued wickedness.  But, we know, because it has been recorded in the Bible, that God still sometimes uses His power to intervene, to prevent or alleviate suffering.  He heals the blind and the lame.  Jesus brought dead children back to life so that their parents would weep no more.  If God can and sometimes does stop the natural, deserved suffering – why not do it all the time?  God lets a child be born with AIDS, knowing only that, being all-powerful, He will work everything for good for those who love Him.  That is a God who has no better motive than that He wants us to experience the consequences of our free will.  He is the God who is still waiting for men to love Him.  He isn’t even continuing to try to buy their love.  He made His final offer: Jesus on a cross.  If God was really trying to persuade us to love Him, wouldn’t He be more successful if He held back more of this pain and death stuff that makes life so hard?

Look.  You may not like my God’s motives for causing suffering.  You may not like that the damnation of millions brings God glory.  That’s a position I can understand.  But stop pretending that some invented God can escape those same accusations or worse.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: I really like the Wikipedia article on Arminianism.  It’s well-written, concise, interesting, and seems fair.

PPS: See also my Tough Questions for Calvinists

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Orion is out tonight, aiming his bow at the rising moon. We reunite each fall and winter, Orion and I. He is my companion in the stars, keeping the same hours as I. It’s chilly out tonight. Clear in that cool dry way that Colorado is known for.

I’ve been through a lot since last Orion and I were out together. My life is definitely patterned in seasons. Some years have had their own theme, but usually the lessons are shorter and more diverse. This year was a scattered year, learning things that built in each other but not in obvious ways. A soldier will learn to march and learn to shoot, and both are related in that they come in handy during battles, but they don’t really build on each other.

Last year when I was almost twenty-four I almost went crazy. I couldn’t believe the life I had; my life seemed inevitable, not chosen. And I didn’t know how to be a twenty-four year old in my situation. Never had my dreams imagined me here. Yet I came to the conclusion that I ought to be myself, trusting God, and not worry about what twenty-four year olds are supposed to be. So I have told myself many times these months.

I don’t miss the soul-searching that comes with autumn. It comes around each year, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I look forward to the restless questioning. My soul never seems satisfied in the fall, the season of Thanksgiving. This November opens with a focus on open-handed gratitude. That’s what I call it. Each day’s blessings are cause to rejoice, never a reason to demand more.

I don’t require more blessings, but I have learned to ask. Such was my summer theme: Hope. Do I have confidence in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, enough to discuss with Him what I want and rejoice that in Him all answers, yes and no, are yea? Will I dare holding out my heart to wait on Him? And when I did this year, oh! how the peace came in. Before, I was silly not to ask for His good gifts.

Spring was hard, an exercise in love. Love hopes all things. It holds on and does not abandon. But it speaks the truth and rejoices in it rather than in evil. Love means sacrifice in the sense of a drop everything to help attitude. It is consuming, on your mind all the time. God never promised love would be painless. Though love has to do with community, it often feels lonely.

This year has brought thoughts about truth and calling and compromise. Faith and that not-tame God have kept popping up. I asked myself what I was willing to suffer for Christ, and for the first time truly doubted that I would rejoice to risk life and happiness and all I’ve worked for. Rejection has been on my mind lately. I’m more honest about reality than I used to be: eyes open to the vanity and hopelessness apart from the work of God to grace us.

And now that I’m facing twenty-five in the next several weeks, I must praise my God that I have a life that I run after. The friends I have are ones I choose. My weeks are spent doing things I believe are important, not just floating through an existence. Though twenty-five seems to have come upon me without my consent, the rest of my life is intentional. That is due only to the grace of God. He has helped me through some hard decisions. Some of my waiting and patience has ended, and other parts remain.

By many standards this year has little to show for it. I still have not written a book or started a successful business. No prince charming has swept me off my feet. Like Orion, I’m back and rising over the same horizon. But those who know astronomy realize that relative to the rest of the firmament, Orion’s position has changed. He will move among the stars and planets like he has not done in my lifetime. And a new year is here: the Hunter is chasing life down.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Shadow over Kiriath opens with a conversation between Hazmul and a lesser demon, plotting to ruin Abramm and defame his God, beginning on the day of the grand coronation.  The demons have been spiritually attacking Abramm in the months since his victory over the Morwhol, also attacking his friends so that they will be unable or unwilling to help strengthen the king against the shadow-attack awaiting him. 

I was interested to notice how it affected me to know what the bad guys plotted.  I sat on the edge of my seat, fearing when things went the way the demons wanted.  Then the coronation happened, and when everything looked to be going over to the Shadow, the bad guys were thwarted by the grace and might of God alone, whose ways are unpredictable.  As the story progressed I learned to judge things not by who was getting their way, but by whether decisions were made out of love and faith and based on the truth of God.  Even if a character was having the worst day spiritually, in a single moment of humble request, God would come shining through, proving again that we are much less dependent upon our own performance than we would like to think.

Strange for a book about suffering to so emphasize the grace and sovereignty of God. 

For Shadow over Kiriath is about suffering, asking of its readers the questions Abramm had to struggle with: Does God restore what we sacrifice for Him?  Is suffering easy when we do it for the right reasons?  What does it mean when we read that all those who follow God will share in His sufferings?  If we lost everything, would we still trust God? 

From the coronation, the entrancing story flows into a dark attack from Beltha-adi, Abramm’s wrenching courtship and romance, attempts to relight the ancient guardstars in fortresses around Kiriath, and the seditious plot of the Mataians to take back the kingdom.  I found myself very involved in this book, relating to the questions asked of God and the huge difficulty of self-denial to do what is right – and desperate for everything to turn out ok for the characters, especially the unconventional Princess Maddie: royalty, detective, and friend. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Ravi Zacharias’ apologetics ministry recently sent me “Just Thinking,” containing two excerpts from books by staff of RZIM.  The second one was about doubts and suffering.  Stuart McAllister wrote of his experience in a Czechoslavakian prison after he and a companion were caught trying to smuggle Bibles through to Poland.  He was an enthusiastic young missionary, who knew the potential risks.  The missions organization had trained him to respond to difficulties like this.  Additionally he had a confidence in the existence and purposes of God that could not be shaken. 

 

After a day or so in prison, however, he began to realize that he had expectations of God that were not necessarily consistent with what he believed.  He wanted to experience God’s immediate, physical intervention in the form of a quick release from prison.  He wanted to be aware of God’s purposes in allowing the prison term: something like a chance to preach the gospel or some great revelation.  In the very least he had accepted the supernatural peace and grace for circumstances that others had reported.  God did not grant any of these, so Stuart began to doubt. 

 

He wrestled through the idea of suffering, through the reality of suffering, searching for a reason for suffering.  God was real.  That never changed.  God was present, yes, that too was sure despite appearances.  Did God have the right to do this to him?  Did God ask such serious consequences of His followers?  Had Stuart too long ignored the theme of persecution in the Bible?  What examples did the Bible afford?  Did anyone else doubt?  What answer did God provide? 

 

At last he had to surrender his expectations.  There was nothing inconsistent in the character of God if He chose to leave Stuart McAllister in prison for years.  He had to give up his sense of control.  And then he had to focus. 

 

This experience might be equated with believing you may soon die.  When faced with a cancer diagnosis, or any other terminal illness, one is forced to examine just what demands he ought to make of God.  God will act in accordance with truth.  Knowing the way things really are can prepare us to cope with what comes. 

 

In any case, I think that the sincere surrender to the rights of God over our own, to the possibility of long suffering and of never receiving what we want, is as good as actually experiencing those things.  Some do.  Others are rescued. 

 

Stuart McAllister left prison after eleven days of not knowing.  But he left as matured by the years he had imagined and accepted. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Usually by 24 hours after any news, I have come to terms with not worrying about it.  Tonight I was praying for the pro-life issues about which I blogged earlier.  Don’t think I’m caring less.  But God can handle all the details of petitions and campaigns and schedules, and changing hearts, and making abortion illegal again.  I’m not much good at deciding those things myself.  They’re in God’s hands. 

In fact, even the wicked abortionists are in His hands.  They are sinners in the hands of an angry God, just like I was.  Jonathan Edwards was one of my first exposures to the answer to suffering in the world.  So he borrowed his theology from Jeremiah and the rest of the Bible-writers.  From him I learned that God is actually being gracious to us by just keeping us out of hell – for now!  Aside from the pain, and aside from the future, God is being gracious to every person alive.  When I realized my complete un-deserving-ness of even life, it sort of turned my view of what God did for me right-side-up.  He whom I owed, who owed me nothing, gave me everything. 

The sermon isn’t too long.  Read or re-read Jonathan Edwards’ classic: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  And praise the God who let you live long enough to read it.  Don’t make that grace of no effect. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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