"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country ----a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-16
Dan B. Allender, PH.D, identifies four types of 'pain handlers' in his first chapter of The Healing Path: How The Hurts In Your Past Can Lead You To A More Abundant Life. One, which I think I can most readily identify with, is the paranoid. The one who avoids pain (as much as is illusionarily possible) by seeing it everywhere and with everyone. Avoiding disappointment by never being surprised by sorrow. The fatalist, who accepts pain as normal and part of the 'luck' of life, is too far from what I think. I don't believe pain is normal, though it seems to be on intimate terms with me and my life.
The hero, I think, is most like a friend of mine, who avoids pain by seizing it as an opportunity to show how tough they are, growing beyond the requirement (again, illusionarily so) of acknowledging need or weakness. The optimist, as Allender says, is most of the 'churchy' crowd….where if pain exists it must be dispelled by seeing the 'good' in everything else.
Allender seems to have the cost of pain down too, where it saps at our God-image as human beings; hammering cracks in the bowl of faith, hope, and love to the point where our faith shatters upon the impact, our hope grows dimmer in the waiting, and we shutter ourselves from the cost of human love.
Christ said that to follow Him was to suffer, like He did. To gather up our cross and lug it down the city streets towards that hill where we can see the beginnings of our own crucifixion….the gathered crowds, the soldiers with hammer and nails, and the smell of decayed dreams scattered in the stiff breeze. We know its coming, at least the paranoiacs among us do, and can already feel the painful piercing of those nails.
Funny how we have just celebrated the remembrance of that journey, ending after three years of powerful ministry and works…..so powerful that the Pharisees moved after His death to make sure that 'lies' were not enduring through the apostles' thief of the body and don't see beyond the crucifixion in our own lives. Beyond that sectionalized part of Christ's suffering, Isaiah wrote this of Him:
"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3 ESV)
We often talk about the duality of Christ; fully man and fully God. But we never talk about how that perspective applies to us.
From the H.I.M. Change class I just attended, (www.h.i.m.org) when we have a conversion (coming to Christ for the salvation gift), it leads to holiness which God causes additions to our faith because of the given new nature that leads to godliness, so that we can be an example for those around us. Godliness is part of the process in which we walk towards in this journey to our new country, a kingdom where a city has been prepared by God for us. So we obtain, in Christ, godliness and holiness, within the salvation gift. But, do we truly understand that godliness, even comprehend the holiness which is our new birthright?
Christ was human, born of a virgin and raised as a Jewish carpenter's son. He suffered the scraps and bruises often associated with childhood, He saw the joys, fears, and pains of those who He called friend in the context of the moment, who He called neighbor in the community of man. He stood within the oversight of the Roman government, watched His earthly father suffer through business contracts failing, I'm sure, as well as times of profitability. He saw family pass away and saw marriages good and bad. He experienced life, with the power of God harnessed to the will and timing of His heavenly Father. What kind of conflicts did He experience, knowing that He was fully God, while being fully human?
He was acquainted with grief, He knew sorrow beyond the time surrounding the Cross. And yet, He kept on….going about His Father's business and subjecting Himself to His Father's will. To the point of death, and beyond.
To get to the Resurrection, He had to go through the suffering and sorrow of the Cross. To gain salvation , He had to pay the price of mankind's sinful nature. To bring about redemption, He suffered the life of a man, fully, while being fully God.
Paul told us to consider it pure joy to suffer for the sake of Christ. What truly does that suffering look like?
I think I am beginning to find out.
There has always been struggle, conflict, pain, and sorrow in my life; like a constant companion that never truly goes away. A father who left at five, a mother who abandoned at six, broken marriages, sibling conflict that escalated to physical, a wife who decided that someone else deserved what she had given to me, and loves unrecoverable from the circumstances of life. Life hasn't ever been something to live, but something to endure. And hope for a short span.
Where is the holiness, godliness, love and example in that? Did Jesus experience such pain and sorrow in His human life? Situations may have been different, but the sorrow felt was more than I've ever had to endure.
And I have endured badly.
If we are to follow Christ, if we are to expect and experience sorrows such as our Savior did, and to endure those sufferings with the same determination and hope that Christ taught us and modeled for us….what would that look like and how, in our duality of nature; corrupt sinful old nature against the spirit of the new nature, are we supposed to show such devotion…to the Father's will and the Father's plan?
In the deserts of our lives, where the harshness of the sun becomes a searing enemy and the dryness of the landscape quenches even the heartiest of faithful servants, the foolishness of our own authority and power lay naked upon the yellowed ground stripped bare by the grittiness of the wind-blown sand. Our hearts, broken yet again, unfulfilled and unquenched, cry out in the fullness of pain. And we stand wishing for the hope that sustains us comfortably in the goodness of life's experiences would disappear and leave us for death's welcomed embrace….but it endures, it flourishes in the brutality of the desert.
There, sunburned to the third degree and with all human possibility of deliverance savagely beaten to death…we lose pretense and imagination, sustainable hope and peace. We chase after mirages for a while, disappointments building on disappointments as the illusions are exposed and the sand becomes as much a piece of clothing as our tattered garments that hang from our gaunt frames. We come to the point where our reaction to the madness of living dually in a world that whispers unity will pull us closer to the God we face in the darkness of our souls or we give in to the madness of living sinful and worldly in a world that cannot save us; living a life that will end instead of ending that life for the life everlasting.
I am there; in that shadow land between absolute madness and absolute surrender. God on one hand, offering a relationship of awesome power and splendor amid the squalor of this world's sinfulness. The world, on the other hand, offering a way of absolute madness….where the illusions of instanteous gratification and fulfilled desire are of a temporary nature and will, under the consumption of too much of the desert's sand, will kill as surely as a cancer.
There is no longer a belief in "just a little longer" will I have to endure before something will happen; God will find some long-lost relative to solve the financial struggles with the fat of an inheritance, love will find a way to beat the circumstances that keeps it at bay; felt and desired, but unfulfilled, and the suffering of the moment will give way to the peace promised.
"faith in the unseen" or belief in the mirage of this world?
The enemy stands before me, like a salesman intimately aware of my likes, dislikes, wants and desires……offering illusion after illusion like prancing ponies in a stage show for my enjoyment….if I chose the madness that lurks within the darkness of the desert night. He offers logical, progressive, and encompassing explanations for the illogical and foolishness of the unknown that is the alternative to his offerings. Custom-tailored to my ears. Displays built only with me in mind.
Silently, mute in its simplicity and untarnished by the blasting sand, stands a door…..no displays of promised destinations, no stoutness of build or craftsmanship, or even a handle in which to open it for a quick peek….shuddering and swaying in the full gale of the desert's design, only a simple and unadorned sign graces its wooden frame: Enter, all who seek.
Do I believe in the knowledge that I have of a God who has me in His hand, who has a plan for me that simply doesn't fit into the worldly plan of those mad with the illusions of religion, universalist unity, and commonality of our own 'godness'?
Or do I accept the fragility of the illusionary mirages; what my human eyes can see, what my human heart can feel, and what my human hands can touch; displayed in all their splendor on the hot, burning sands before me?
No one can serve two masters.
I can be 'all that I want to be' within the illusion of the world…..
Or I can be "despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief……"
A life of love unfulfilled, of peace unattained, and of success in finances, parenting, and career undiscovered……
Or a life surrender of my soul for the illusions of this world?
I'm going to chose the door, God help me….I'm going to chose the door.
For the hope that remains, for the hope that endures….