He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversityJob 36:15
‘If need be.‘ That is how Peter describes being grieved by various trials. Sometimes, if not often, God thinks it is good, right, and needed, to endure such stretching, to work out His Son in us who believe. This ‘chastening‘ can be painful, yet wounds that break us down, crucify, expose us, and bring us closer to Christ become wounds we are paradoxically thankful for.
I have been mulling over the line between grace and tolerance, hurt and pride… what I perceive to be complicated in my adult mind has a simple childlike answer: to have Christ’s mind, to be in fellowship with Him. Unconditional love does not lay a charge against another person, or even ourselves. Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” And then He tells her to turn away from sin and towards Him. We lay many charges against ourselves or each other to try to correct thinking or behavior. Yet, do we get angry at a lame man who cannot walk because he won’t attempt to walk or does so improperly? Of course not. We would never expect him to walk well, or hold him to our standard of walking, but we’d instead consider the man’s condition, a helpless one that we too have, and only through God’s grace, power, and life living within us makes us able to walk right ourselves. Instead of reacting to ourselves or people, which we do endlessly, we have the opportunity to love over and beyond the knowledge of shortcomings and inadequacies. We have the opportunity to think and see with God, who looks not upon those things, but past them to His reality: the new creation. Is this thinking delusion? I prefer to call it ‘Divine Preference.’ This divine vantage point, which if Christ lives in us we all have access to, looks beyond ourselves or the person to the ‘glory self’; who we / they are in Jesus.
The Smoky Mountains surrounding Gatlinburg, TN have always been my favorite. The personal connection of visiting every Fall during my college years in Kentucky has made it a sacred space in my heart. On one occasion I walked to the top of Clingman’s Dome during a thick fog just before dusk. The mountains were shrouded but every once in awhile the light would break through and I could see the tops of bright, golden foliage. I fumbled for my camera to capture the breathtaking shot, but not fast enough. The fog was back, but I was awed at what I saw. This is what it’s like to get to know another Christian. We catch these matchless glimpses of the glory self, the new creation, the person in Christ in whom we are and are becoming. We see in each other these brilliant moments of what we would look like outside of a sinful, fallen world and flesh. In that great block of marble we see past it to the finished sculpture within. And then, sometimes we become committed to that — the glory self in one another, and we fall in love with God in the other person, and want to be the one that signs up for the journey to see that person all the way through to who they are and are becoming in Him: their true self. This is what I have had the privilege of coming to know as truly what it means to fall in love.
When we allow His Spirit within us to love, we express Christ in us, the hope of glory. We do not need to be regulated by what our senses tell us in various circumstances and situations or in how we feel about ourselves. We defend, hide, withdraw, get upset, take things personally, weep, engage our self pity, when instead we can deliberately choose to walk by faith instead of by sight and be regulated by the Spirit, albeit, imperfectly, as we are humans and not God. But we do have God residing in us, growing in us like Christ grew in His earthly mother. We don’t have to spend so much time comparing the spirituality of others or holding them to our standards, but instead we can live in absolute love towards people and even towards ourselves, despite the pressures. It sounds idealistic and impossible, and it is, it will always be flawed, but with God it is possible.
Don’t cut off the opportunity for God’s mind to be expressed because your life is regulated by standards towards others. And don’t be surprised if God surrounds you with people where you will have to exercise this opportunity. He wants us to grow in grace and love, and see people and ourselves and the world the way He does, little by little. How often though is our life regulated by our own standards of how people should act or behave because what seems normal, good, kind, right is not being exhibited. We deny many opportunities for God’s mind to be expressed. Every disappointment, shortcoming, betrayal, offense we experience is an opportunity to express God’s mind rather than succumb to being hurt, offended, or bothered, as is so often the case in our humanity. We choose the practical delusion, which is the reality of our experience, instead of the Divine Preference, which seems like impractical fantasy, but is God’s reality — the only reality that matters.
Only an unconditional love can be the basis for the will of God to be executed. God’s thoughts are not ours. We get so moved and affected on our horizontal plain by the little picture while God lives in the bigger picture, and invites us up to catch a glimpse, just enough, to think and see with Him, like the fog lifting off the top of the mountain, like seeing into the block of marble to the glorious finished sculpture. There it is, the glory self! That person is perfect in Jesus. I am perfect in Jesus. How can I not love no matter? This is our finiteness touching the infinite — living in faith, forsaking our interpretations of what we think should be. We think we need to react in our flesh or be certain ways to make a point, administer justice, get someone to understand us, condemn ourselves for our thoughts and actions, trace back our roots, figure out our problems and why we are the way we are, but we must forsake all of that to fix our gaze upon Him, and allow Christ to transform us and exhibit Himself in us, even if, to some degree perhaps, we are continually crushed. It’s He in us who takes the hits.
When people do certain things, behave certain ways, or when circumstances come into our lives that are unpleasant or devastating or challenging, do we question sovereignty? All things come about by God’s hand and foreknowledge, yet we often panic, get frustrated, live by sight. Grief is that space between what we hoped would happen and what actually happened, and it is in that space where God wants to meet us. He wants our heart’s reliance. His sovereignty is something we cannot understand because His thoughts and ways are higher than ours, and we are not in control. Our standards fall flat on their face in light of sovereignty, and our heart and mind must surrender, submit, and succumb to it, and allow circumstances and or a person, including ourselves, to grow in the grace of life.
Let’s think about it, what would be more beneficial, to be ministered to with unconditional love, receiving grace for weakness, or to be confronted with the knowledge of inadequacy without any means of escape to the life of grace? In so many instances I have confronted with the knowledge of inadequacy, trying to shed light or correct a behavior in myself or another, to reach a standard of what I know to be right and true, instead of ministering with unconditional love towards a person, and towards myself. When we let others and ourselves receive grace for our weaknesses, shortcomings, lameness, inabilities, and disabilities and recognize we’re all children growing in grace, we become agents of His character, subduing the self-consumed flesh that bites at the bit to react.
We fret so much over our own lives and the lives of those we love, yet what we need is to see as He sees and allow Him to work in and out, in us and in others, what is pleasing in His sight.
It is because of our afflictions that we don’t readily part with God’s word and time spent with Him in prayer. Without being grieved by these various trials where would we be, and where would our relationship with God be? We can’t have intimacy with God without first losing our independence, and self-discovery comes during trials and temptations. Why is it that we ‘need’ these things, “if need be” to bring us to these places? Our tear-stained Bibles and journals record our thoughts, our conversations with the Lord, and our experiences as we perceive them, and if we allow, through the revealing light of how God sees them. If we are to receive benefit from being grieved by our trials we must radically accept situations and choose the Divine Preference, as ‘delusional’ as it may seem. Fretting does not make anything better, but prevents us from improving. The impatient horse which will not quietly endure his halter only strangles himself in his stall. Fleeing for refuge under the shadow of God’s wings we find Him, more of Him than we had previously known or seen. It’s through our afflictions that God gives us a fresh revelation of Himself, leading us to a place where, like Job, we ‘see Him.’