I Don't Want Relief
by Jeffrey Snell
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Have you ever considered why life is such a struggle? I mean, everyone asks some form of that question at one time or another; I certainly have, especially on those days - you know the ones I mean. But the answers I've received from godly men, while theologically correct, offer little comfort and do not satisfy my new heart.
A typical response might be to state the fact that we simply live in a fallen world. This is undeniably true. Sin's corrosive presence has devastated creation, slowly but inevitably eating through the fabric of the world and its inhabitants. This is truly the source of not only pain and suffering, but also confusion, doubt, fear and the suppression of truth. (Jn. 3:20; Rom. 1:18-19; 1 Jn. 4:18) You might even sum it up with a common worldly expression: That's just the way it is.
Another explanation often cited is human beings' own stubborn refusal to relent to God's will and way. This, too, is a reality evident to anyone who examines their own choices with intellectual honesty. Every human being has, regardless of conscious awareness or acknowledgment, sensed the Holy Spirit persuading toward God's path at one time or another. Unbelievers or "seekers," (as I recently heard another author describe the world) detect His voice even in ignorance. Some invent other names for the nudging presence they notice, may even entertain Him for a time, until His direction clashes with their own desires. This is the pivotal and repeated testing which many reject and few respond to with repentance and faith in Jesus. (Mt. 7:13-14)
At the risk of being perceived sacrilegious, I find these explanations, while true, to be insufficient answers to the question. I sense there is more. After all, who tempted Eve and, through her, Adam? Satan, the deceiver. And isn't Satan also under the command of God Himself? (Job 1:9-12) Had God so chosen, He could certainly have refused the serpent from tempting Eve to violate her relationship with Him, effectively preventing sin's birth and the death of His magnificent creation! Have you ever asked Him why He didn't?
Mankind's stubbornness, while plainly manifest in the history of Israel, not to mention my own life, is an equally dissatisfying cause of life's struggles, since it is essentially predicated on the same idea - the existence of sin. Those of us who have turned to Christ have made our choice, have we not? Redemption is ours! While our flesh drags out the stubborn attitude at times and we do sin, we have the Holy Spirit living in this temple to remind us of His promise to never count it against us and to lead us to choose love instead. (2 Cor. 5:16-17; Rom. 7:21-23)
As I contemplate these ideas, I feel a headache coming on. Nonetheless, the nagging push from the Holy Spirit to go deeper (He is the perfect nag) is irresistable. And it occurs to me these attempts to explain the mystery of struggle spring from human minds in the midst of that struggle. In other words, though based in God's word, these explanations are still driven by man's attempt to discover a concise, direct reason for life's difficulty.
At times, we all seek to better understand our existence, to attain a higher grasp of the holy. Why? I suspect in many cases, this is driven by an overarching desire to obtain even a little peace in this world. The world clamors for the same constantly, and it's difficult to not succumb to that message. After all, I can't deny at times I long for relief from the daily onslaught of difficulties, stress, demands from others, and my own sense of inadequacy. Yet Jesus, including a quote from Micah 7:6, tells me plainly in Mt. 10: 34-36: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" (My emphasis)
So my efforts to obtain peace with this world are not only doomed to fail; they are an unfaithful pursuit. There will always be friction, for that is the nature of what is taking place - what has been unfolding since sin was born and will continue until the final reconciliation with God.
Feeling nonplussed? Maybe even disheartened? Me, too. And it is here where we begin to find the answer. The ever-present friction, the day-to-day fight with temptation and with others' expectations of me, disillusionment with my own performance: They all are leading me to the same place, the same person - God Himself. Is there anything, any event that occurs in all of His creation, which God does not see and allow? (Jer. 10:2,12; Mt. 10:28-30) The Father is not capricious; He does not play games or act without a purpose, and His purpose will be accomplished. (Ps. 33:10-11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:9-10) What then is His purpose? Why is living in this world such a struggle? Startlingly, the very question begins to reveal the reason.
We make certain fundamental presumptions which are simply not true. We presume God desires for us to be at peace in this world, which I've previously addressed. We allow ourselves to be deluded into accepting the false premise that conflicts, battles, and discomfort are out of place in the Christian life - that these are signs we are doing something wrong. This is the world's sneaky influence showing up in our thinking again. God's word deals with this idea definitively; in fact, He flips it on its head: "... for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Pet. 1:6b-7, my emphasis)
Whoa! Did you catch the purpose? The struggles of life are the heat and pressure of a purifying furnace, employed to make sure our faith is real, all to bring greater glory to Him who rescued us! And these tough times are not merely to be tolerated, as a means to an end: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (Js. 1:2-4) He calls us to celebrate the struggle!
What begins to take shape in my heart and mind is this picture of the layered purposes of our Father. He works to purify our faith, testing its authenticity, and build stamina in our spirits, all with two destinations in mind: Our complete maturity as brothers of Christ; and greater honor and glory to the One True God. Praise Him! In my heart of hearts, this is truly what I want, above all else.
These are the days of grace, but they are also the days when the eternal destinies of all are being established. With His love in my heart, His passionate desire to reconcile all men to himself floods my senses. I feel His truth resonate and remember His promise to never let His children go. (Jn. 10:27-29) I recall the consistent message in His word that all of these difficult, chafing, oppressive struggles will end - but not yet. (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Now is the time of battle and struggle, the time when He calls us pursue faithfulness and to, yes, fight for the lost with Him through our days with word, action, prayer and evidence of Christ in each step. And I suddenly grasp how I've been chasing the shadow, confused by the contradictory desires of flesh and Spirit into mistaking relief from war for true peace.
There is indeed a peace to be found, but not the one I've been seeking. With tears of thankful joy, I remember one precious bit of knowledge Jesus gave to me through my brothers: "In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God... I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:26-27, 33)
Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
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