Do you ever feel God owes you a life free from suffering?

One of the questions that came up in my study group at church last Thursday night has prompted me to think a bit about hope and about suffering.  Here’s the question that came up:

“Deep down, do you ever feel God owes you a life free from suffering?”

Not any more. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that we are not going to get out of this life alive. And along the way to that inevitable end, there is bound to be suffering of some kind. There is not enough Ibuprofen, family counseling, and prayer intercession to counteract the suffering that is part of our lot in life as humans. I didn’t always think that way…

Young adulthood has a way of seducing us with the sheer ecstasy of our own possibilities; seducing us with the naive hope that we can navigate our way through life in such a manner as to avoid the ditches and potholes along the way. I am learning that even “Most Outstanding Boy Graduate of the Class of 1972” can’t expect to get through unscathed. 

There is a crisis of grief I’ve felt in the depth of my soul. These are sobering realizations that have crept in over the years as life’s events have unfolded and begun to form an undeniable pattern. The pattern is that even my best efforts, my most heartfelt, sincere desire to walk uprightly before God hasn’t shielded me from suffering. I guess He’s not in the business of “casualty and life insurance”. 

So somehow I got the wrong idea about the deal God was offering us regarding suffering. Without going into an analysis of how I embraced that wrong idea regarding what to expect, I am recognizing that an accurate perspective about reality was in some other explanation. That recognition came over time, not through reasoning of new facts, but of experiencing a new relational reality. When suffering occurs, God has been there in the midst of it with His comfort! Instead of feeling abandoned and estranged in the midst of suffering, I have experienced God’s presence more keenly and His encouragement more confidently. I am seeing a pattern that has its own seductive invitation to intimacy. My hope is becoming grounded in the unfolding experience of living in the embrace and fellowship of the triune God! 

I am in the midst of seeking a clear understanding of the part that we must individually play in the process and the part that the ever-active Holy Spirit takes. I am seeing that we definitely need help with the process! Letting go is hard; too hard alone; too hard without the refining fire that is applied to the glue that connects us to our “worldly goods”. Somehow the activity of the Holy Spirit enables us to relinquish our hold on this world and reach for Him. Suffering and pain are the elements of the fire that God uses to help us loosen our grip on the worldly things we hold onto as our hope for fulfillment.

Where was my hope before? It was in the bloom of becoming capable as a young adult, in the exhilaration of accomplishment, in the satisfaction of fruitful service to my family and friends. Largely, these are things that I was doing for God that He was blessing. Now I am seeing my hope grounded in my being in relationship with God. While life in recent days hasn’t been noticeably exhilarating, satisfying, or fruitful in the doing part, the being part of my experience has been flourishing! 

To conclude, here is a quote from Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue book:

Hope is a virtue of the soul. It is not something we can create by an act of our will, but (in large part) an emotional response to experiencing the love of God in our hearts.

The Grain of Wheat – a Metaphor of the Enabled Life

The Grain of Wheat – a Metaphor of the Enabled Life

 

I shared for a couple minutes last Sunday morning around the visual image of a grain of wheat being planted into the ground and the transformation that takes place in the process of germination.  I spent some time this week writing out some more thoughts…

 

One of the ways that we can respond to the Agape love of God towards us is to offer our own expression of agape love back towards Him.  Our agape is in the form of submissive trust.

 

Jesus described his own life using the analogy of a grain of wheat being planted into the earth and dying to bring forth new life.  He invites us to follow Him in that process by pouring out our self-contained, self-directed life so that we can exchange that source for a new life lived out of another source, Christ and His Spirit within us.  As a grain of wheat cannot plant itself and initiate the process of transformation, so we are also powerless in ourselves from within ourselves to complete the exchange – we must submit ourselves to Jesus in trusting love so that He can plant us. We express our trusting love to God by choosing to offer ourselves to Him to perform His  transforming work of planting us, watering us, and husbanding us into fruitfulness.    

 

My Prayer

 

“Lord Jesus, I want to identify with you as my source of spiritual life.  Your own story is the prototype for us – freely laying your life down as the grain of wheat, to die and become a source of life.  You beckon us to follow, to present ourselves to you in the simplest sense of our identity, without the trappings of our accomplishments, our personality strengths, or any of the ways we extract a sense of identity from our world.  My spiritual identity is not in what I produce, the significance of my work, my status, my possessions, my network of friends and family.  Those psychological elements of who I am do not comprise my spiritual identity at the core of my person.  As simply as I can, I want to cast my lot in with You and follow you through the narrow gate into the way of Your life.  Plant me as a grain of wheat and then bring forth in me your life: life overflowing, fruitful, abundant, able to share your life with others.” 

 

Quotations from the book, “Let’s Start With Jesus”

Here are some thoughts from Dennis F. Kinlaw’s book, “Let’s Start With Jesus”.  He writes about the design of human persons to be in relationship.  In this section he makes a connection between the design of human persons and the idea of voluntarily yielding our independence in order to be in relationship with God. 

 

“The key to understanding Jesus did not lie in Jesus. It lay beyond him. He lived joyously from Another, through Another, and for Another. Jesus was the divine son of God and a perfect human being, yet he did not find himself complete within himself.  He was not the center of his own chosen existence.  Since Jesus is the original pattern for the human person, it is safe to say that to be a person, even a perfect person, is to be incomplete, that no person is ever complete in himself or herself.  The person’s completeness lies in an other. The Son is not complete in himself. He draws life from the Father and lives life to please his Father.  Like the Son, who is named the first born among many brothers, we find our completeness in relation to our Source and our Sustainer. 

 

The secular world has a different plan for and definition of fulfillment.  That self-contained, self-directed life is looked to as providing the “center” and focal point of meaning, values, and even existence itself.  The elevation of the self to the center of the world leads to the well-being of the self as the goal of living itself in this misdirected view of reality. 

 

Understanding Jesus illuminates personhood’s original meaning, to be expressed in relationship and mutuality.  Modern social science’s concept of the self is at the polar opposite – promoting the notion of the capacity either to mold or actualize oneself.  Like the eternal Son, we find our completeness in relation to our Source and our Sustainer. The person who is alone is not a whole person, because no person is ever supposed to be completely alone.

 

When Jesus begins to speak to his disciples about the cross, he insists that to find true life one must lose oneself.  Self-protection, the refusal to give away oneself, he says, is self-loss and death.  A person as a person, human or divine, finds fullness of life only in one beyond oneself.  Christ came, died, and was raised again to make possible the reestablishment of fullness of personhood in people like you and me.  That Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, wants to raise us from the death of living in and out of ourselves. The Spirit begets the very life of Christ within us.” 

 

More thoughts…

The transaction I am suggesting here, where we express our trusting love to God by choosing to offer ourselves to Him to perform the transformation of planting us, watering us, and husbanding us into fruitfulness, is not expected to occur in the area of our psychological realm.  What I am describing is a transformation that occurs in the area of our spiritual identity.  By responding to God’s initiative toward us and by placing our trusting love in Jesus and His Spirit as our source of life, we are identifying with Him as our Other and, in the process, declining to identify with the old source of our spiritual identity.  That old source of identity is the one we inherited from Adam as a human being, the default mode of all humans to operate in self-directed independence.  That source of identity may seem to hold hope for self-fulfillment and meaning, but the end of that story is death.  That death is a spiritual death because those choices do not bring us into relationship with the One who is the Life. This life is not mere biological life but is the true life, zoe, that ushers us into the Great Dance of participating in the jubilant fellowship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must choose to identify with this God as our source of life!  Our responsive, trusting agape love back towards Him ushers us through the door into spiritual fellowship with His Holy Spirit. That responsive choice will launch us into the journey of a lifetime!

 

Areas for further discussion:

·         Are we really operating as an “independent self” when we function as a self-contained, self-directed person?  What role and influence does “the ruler of this world” have among those who have not entered the Kingdom of Light?

·         The life that happens after the transformation of the grain of wheat coming to life – what does that look like in practical terms for us?

·         What is “the self” that is commonly referred to, with admonitions to “deny the self”?

·         Declining to identify with Jesus as our source of life leaves us to our own resources.  What can we expect to see in our lives as the result of that choice?