Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (ESV)
| || |
Free to Suffer
Wednesday of Holy Week
1 April 2015
The free are slaves and the slaves are free. Those who consider themselves to be free to indulge in every conceivable depravity are themselves the greatest slaves; slaves to their depravity. Those who are enslaved to their weakness and trial and embrace such limits, are themselves the most free people. Such people thank God for their suffering; confessing that God's strength is made perfect in weakness (2Co 12:9). The Lord Christ turns over every human expectation. This is the truly miraculous revelation of God to the world. It beats all hollow the silly predictions of the end of the world (missed again!). How much more powerful to be able to confess that He became obedient to death so that death would be obedient to Him. He suffered so that we might be free from slavery to suffering, that we might suffer freely. We are freed from constraint so that we might take on tribulation and trial as though we chose it and are set at liberty to embrace it.
Of course, we know very well that we would not choose suffering and trial in our lives if we could avoid it. Perhaps our Lord sends us trouble for blessed purposes. He may be freeing us from slavery to our flesh and its proclivities toward depravity. We are never able to know exactly what our Lord has in mind as we undergo our troubles and sufferings. What does He mean for us if we suffer in an automobile collision or lose a child, or become debilitated by a chronic disease? What if we should rage against such things. How will that help us? Are we not far better to accept our trial and to use it as a sign of our freedom from earthly constraints? Here we accept what we have no choice in, as though it were freely chosen. Christ chose suffering and death that we might be freed to choose our suffering for His sake. If we accept what we have no choice but to suffer, then we will be equipped to cast off the constraints of evil when we are not bound by weakness and suffering. The burden of running the race in the midst of trials will be well prepared for.
I doubt that Job was aware why he was suffering when he lost his fortune and his family was taken from him. We read the story of Job with the inside knowledge that the Lord God had permitted his suffering to prove his ultimate faithfulness. Job had no such knowledge. Yet, he refused to denounce God, even when his moral innocence led to indignity and his wife recommended that he curse God and die (Job 2:9). Without knowing the precise meaning of his suffering, he bore it unto his eternal benefit and temporal glory. This also true of our suffering. We may not know exactly why it has come to us. Has the Lord sent it? Has Satan burdened us? Have our own depravities brought us trouble? Are we receiving the just deserts of our sins? At the time we are undergoing trial, we may not know the answer to any of these questions. Only later we may know how to make sense of this tribulation; maybe not until we see Jesus face to face (1Co 13:12). So it remains to accept such trial and to find how we might best be fruitful in the Lord's vineyard through it. Patient acceptance and patient waiting go hand in hand. The Lord who frees slaves and enslaves the free is with us every step of the way.
"He who lives a soft and dissolute life, who seems to be the happiest of men, is the most wretched, imposing upon his soul harsh and tyrannical masters. Therefore, God made the present a life of labor (Gn 3:19), that He may rid us of this slavery and bring us into genuine freedom. For this reason, He threatened punishment and made labors a part of our portion in life, and so silencing our boastful spirit. In this way the Jews also, when they were fettered to the clay and brick making, were self-governed, calling continually upon God ( Ex 5). But when they were free, they murmured and provoked the Lord, and pierced themselves through with countless evils (1Ti 6:10).
"What then may be said about men being changed for the worse by tribulations? This change is not a result of tribulation, but of their spiritual weakness. For if a man had a weak stomach and could not take a bitter medicine which would act as a purgative, but was made even worse by it, would we find fault with the drug, or with the weakness of the body? So we should therefore also fault the spiritual weakness that yields to tribulation. For he who is altered by tribulation, is much more likely to be affected in this way by laxity. If he fails even when restrained (this is what affliction is), much more will he fail when the restraint is removed. If when in a brace he is altered, much more when he suffers from a tumor.
"How am I to keep from being so altered by tribulation? If you understand that you will have to bear the suffering, do it with a thankful spirit. You will gain greatly by it. If you resent it and rage and blaspheme, you will not make the calamity lighter, but you will render the burden more troubling. By feeling in this way, we can turn what is necessary into a matter of our own choice. Suppose someone lost his son and another all his property. It is not in the nature of things for what has taken place to be undone, but though it can't be changed, by bearing the circumstance nobly it gains fruit from the misfortune. If instead of using blasphemous words, you were to offer up words of thanksgiving to the Lord, so evils brought on you against your will would become to you freely chosen good deeds.
"Have you seen a child taken away? Say, 'The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' Have you become bankrupt? Say, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return' (Job 1:21). Do you see evil men faring well, and just men faring poorly and undergoing countless ills? Do you not know where to find the reason? Say, 'I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you' (Ps 73:22-23).
"Reflect that God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world, and so you will throw off perplexity, for then every man will meet his deserts, even as Lazarus and the rich man. Call to mind the Apostles. They rejoiced at being scourged, at being driven about and undergoing numberless sufferings, because they 'were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name' (Acts 5:41). If you are sick, bear it nobly, consider yourself indebted to God for it, and you shall receive the same reward with them."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 9
Lord Jesus, help me bear my suffering by confessing Your unrelenting goodness to me. Amen.
For Paul Lodholz, who is recovering from cancer therapy, that the Lord would continue to strengthen him in body and soul
For President Lawrence Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that the Lord Jesus would grant Him His Spirit, and with the Spirit divinely-given strength and wisdom
For the inquiring guests at the services of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be drawn into the community of the redeemed
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015