6 Nov 2022
“The maxim of illusory religion runs: ‘Fear not, trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you’; that of real religion, on the contrary is, ‘Fear not, the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.” (John Macmurray, Christian philosopher)
From the book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher shared that life on earth is meaningless – the wicked could prosper and the righteous suffer; injustice reigns often and time and chance affect all, without warning. It therefore seems comfortable to think that if we fear God, none of the things we fear (suffering, injustice, illness, untimely death, etc) will happen to us. On the contrary, the very things feared by man on earth can happen to those who truly fear God on this earth.
Christianity in fact, teaches that God allows suffering and helps us to cope with it in our journey through darkness and to learn to live meaningfully in a world in which things often do not seem to make complete sense (sounds familiar with what the preacher expounds?).
Why so? Human reason is simply not capable of a total comprehension of God. God will always prove resistant to human rationalisation, precisely because the human mind cannot fully grasp the vastness of the divine. A mystery is not something that is contradicted by reason but, rather, something that exceeds reason’s capacity to discern and describe. We must resist our natural human tendency to limit reality to what we can understand and, instead, open up our minds to a reality that is greater than our capacity to comprehend.
Hearken to what was written by John Calvin in ‘The Institutes of Religion’: There are many reasons which make it necessary for us to live constantly under the cross. We are so feeble by nature and so quick to think we are perfect that we need visible demonstration of our weakness. Otherwise, we think we are much better than we are, and are sure that we can triumph over all difficulties. So we indulge in stupid confidence in the flesh. This even makes us proud before the Lord, as if we could cope without his grace. He stamps on this arrogance when he proves to us by experience how great our weakness is. So he allows us to meet with disgrace, poverty, bereavement, disease or some other affliction. Then, being overwhelmed, we admit defeat and humbly call on him for strength, which alone enables us to cope…If for no other reasons, it is obvious that we must bear the cross. It is vital to get rid of self-love and be made aware of weakness. Then, convinced of our weakness, we distrust ourselves. This makes us switch our confidence to God, looking to him, with such total confidence that we know we can rely on his help.Then, by his grace, we shall stand firm to the end, realising that he is true to his promises, and so sure of this that we can be strong in hope.
Another purpose the Lord has in afflicting his people is to try their patience and train them in obedience..So, he brings into the open the strength and steady endurance with which he has provided his servants. We still do not see how essential obedience is until we realise how easily our fleshly nature shakes off God’s yoke whenever we have had a time of ease and indulgence…We need to be restrained by his discipline from behaving like spoilt children. By means of the cross, the Lord acts when necessary to prevent us from being arrogant in material prosperity, proud when we are honoured, or puffed up with any other advantages of body, mind or fortune. We could so easily become offhand and he has to curb the pride of life in us as he sees best. We do not all suffer from the same disease, so we do not all need the same cure. Therefore we are not all disciplined by the same kind of cross.
The heavenly physician treats some gently and others with harsher remedies. His aim is to provide everyone with a cure, so no one is left out, because he knows that all of us, without a single exception, are diseased…So in the misery of testing times we ought to recognise God’s kindness, because in it all he is furthering our salvation. He afflicts us not to ruin or destroy, but to deliver us from the condemnation of the world…” (Part IX chapter 8).
C.S. Lewis puts it in this way in “Mere Christianity”:
“On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempt to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And he knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realise from the outset that the goal towards which he is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection, and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realise that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting him after a certain point.”
Especially, in these current times, in the midst of uncertainties, difficulties, sufferings, persecutions, let us learn to trust and obey the God who is perfect in His ways, His love and HIs wisdom – and this we must do even in the midst of perplexity and without understanding fully why – for God, in His grace and mercy, are preparing us to dwell in the new heaven and new earth as those who are conformed to, and perfected in, the image of Christ. How wonderful and marvellous that God can start off with wretched ‘creatures’ like us and transform us into holy beings, children, and subjects of His kingdom – no wonder all creation, all God’s heavenly servants of His continue to praise Him and give Him all the praise, worship and glory!