Chapter 4: The Museum in Heaven: Rectangle A — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.
(Part 5 of 13 posts)
Explanations aren’t necessarily comforting. Let’s take cancer for example. Why does a person get cancer? If only we could answer that definitively….
- Your cancer was caused by your exposure to something in the environment.
- Your cancer was caused by something you consumed: something you ate, drank, smoked.
- Your cancer was caused by a physical failure, a mutation of cells or genes.
- Your cancer was caused by your lifestyle or habits.
- Your cancer was caused by a product you used, a lotion or shampoo or cosmetic.
….which answer would make a person feel better once they have it? You still have cancer.
However, as we see over and over again, many people with cancer impact others in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. Their vulnerability, honesty and courage comforts others. The way they live their lives even while ill, motivates people with other challenges to keep going. Even their physical illness urges scientists to keep researching. Some people, in the worst time of their lives, have created world-wide movements! Some people have left a marvellous legacy…because of cancer!
I want to step back for a moment before it seems like I am becoming “all for cancer.” I don’t think that in and of itself affliction is “good.” I don’t think that when you have cancer it is a gift even when one chooses a noble path through it. As I have already said in other posts, we are living in a fallen state in a fallen world where fallen things steal from our lives. God never designed us to be ill, to cry ourselves to sleep at night, to be racked with pain and worry…these are things that our collectively sinful choices have left us with and that our ruined planet offers us now. Systems began to fail the minute we chose evil over good.
Yet, repeatedly with any kind of troubling event in our lives, when things go awry, we find ourselves asking “why did this happen?” or “how did this happen?” as if these answers will be satisfying. Self-reflection is not without merit. It is good to examine our past actions to inform our future ones however such “ruminating” can trap us in a past that we can’t ever reconcile. If only we had done this, said this, changed this, saw this, chose this, stopped this, started this…we endlessly circle the block, asking the same questions over and over, and who do we meet there? Our traveling companions become Regret and Condemnation and the Fantasy/Sin of believing if we had a do-over we could have done things perfectly and had perfect results.
In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer asks us to lift our eyes and consider “time and events” differently. I don’t really know how to walk you through the whole chapter in an objective way, so I will try to do so by applying it to my own life. For the past 6 years I have been on what, for me, has been an agonizing journey with my two sons. I can’t even describe how much I love these two young men, but this season of our lives has been painful on lots of levels.
So here I am, and this is where we are.
Edith says to me, “Teresa, consider some lessons from Job.” Look at how his battle had significance in “the heavenlies,” she says. See how Satan attacks God through attempts to make His children stop trusting their Heavenly Father, and start “complaining and murmuring” against Him? (73) This makes me pause. At this very moment, Satan is allowed into the presence of God to “accuse us.” I have read this before, but in a time of affliction it stands out more profoundly. In my affliction, however it has come, Satan has a goal and God has a goal.
Satan’s best outcome is for me to give way to bitterness and to harden my heart against God. His win is to turn to God and say, “See, I knew she would.”
I have had times where I have teetered and reeled. I have been stunned and mute. I have been overwhelmed by fear and I have filled bottles with tears. I can just imagine Satan’s delight at that. If only he could keep me there, in an “unhappy” place, will I not distance myself from my Heavenly Father? In John 6:66 some of Jesus’ followers became disillusioned and left Him and He turned to a few others and asked, “Will you be leaving also?” (verse 67). I have, during this time, heard that question asked of me….
Where will I be and what will I be doing during this time of affliction…this time when things feel so undone and not at all as I envisioned it? It is exactly at this point of time that God has given me a task. Do you find that sometimes, when you are stressed, a task is the very thing you need? I clean my house when I am stressed. It is nice to put something in order and have it stay in order! And while I work, my head clears as I have worked off some negative energy and I can approach “the thing” from a new angle. Sitting around and fretting is the worst!!
During times of affliction, God gives us a very specific task to occupy ourselves with: to overcome. When I read that, it feels to me like God his literally put His hands around me, picked me up, and moved me to another spot with a totally different perspective. In the middle of an overwhelming situation in which I can do very little, He puts me in a place of action where I am tasked with something very practical and hands on as I spend each day with one goal: to overcome. To prevail.
In this chapter, Edit draws two rectangles, A and B. Each rectangle represents all the geographic space that has been lived in for all time from the beginning to the end. In these rectangles are all of our human experiences, including people coming to Christ, including our journeys with Him. We are all in those rectangles.
This is how she represents all that history. These two rectangles represent the “two kinds of victory which can be won by the people of God” (72). In this chapter she discusses rectangle A which “represents the victories in the heavenly battle which have taken place in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (72). The large dot represents God looking over all of space and time, and the small dot represents Satan “accusing the brethren, coming before God and pointing out each one of us at various moments of our lives. He says, in essence: ‘This person does not love you, God. That person only loves his or her comfort [or possessions or health or land]'” (72-73).
Every affliction we face, no matter how it has arrived, is an opportunity of victory for God against Satan when we — each one of us as people who love God — “continue to love Him and trust Him in the midst of unchanging circumstances” (75). When we see progress and especially when we are turning the corner, it is very easy to “see God’s hand in it.” But what about those UNCHANGING, long-term-parking circumstances? Edith encourages me to take a deep breath to see the bigger event that is going on. This thing I am walking through is about us and our boys, but it is about more then that. It is Satan’s best effort to prove that I don’t really love Christ. If he can keep me in a state of chaos or discouragement or anger or questioning, how can I possibly trust the Lord with all my heart?
Edith tells a story of a wonderful man who had so much life yet to live, yet he was cut down by illness and was on his death bed, about to leave the family and life and work that he loved. As He lay there, unable even to speak now, she challenged him “…that perhaps the next hours and days would be the most important ones of [his] life — a part he could still have in the battle in the heavenlies. When time is given us for a particular task, if we turn away from it at that time, that particular task can’t be repeated…” (68).
That last line stopped me in my tracks. I actually wrote it on my wall and challenged myself, “don’t turn away from your task. It can’t be repeated.” I am not to stand around wringing my hands, worrying and sighing as things don’t change. I — you — we are meant to understand that one very important victory we are meant to have is a series of repeated “overcomings” in a variety of difficulties (73).
Yes, this one I am in is important and I am called to VIGILANCE! I am called to stand firm in my faith and pray to the Lord, “Please put your words into my mouth for this person, for this situation. Please give me Your Strength in my weakness in this specific need” (69). Instead of folding, crumbling, giving way to bitterness and endless questioning…in our affliction we are able to feel a new “camaraderie” with Jesus who suffered and offers to teach us how to walk through suffering, through His own personal experiences with it.
Read this powerful passage about God, Satan and us from Revelation 12:9-11
9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,
“It has come at last—
salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.[a]
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters[b]
has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
before our God day and night.
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
that they were afraid to die.
I read this and I am gripped by the larger drama, the events going on in that rectangle in the seen and unseen and I am so aware that what is going on in my life right now is so much bigger, so much bigger, than my family alone. How many side stories are there to this one? How much do I not see in how God is engaging with all of this? How many times is He calling to me to be completely occupied with overcoming.
Back to how I opened this post. I have analyzed our family’s journey from every angle and it hasn’t changed a single thing. It is like the cancer patient finding out what might have triggered their cancer. It’s just information and it may help someone else, but it doesn’t change the present. Who am I right here, and right now?
There is something going on here that is out of my control but not out of God’s framework. My ongoing story is a part of history now within that rectangle, and it is within the rectangle of opportunity for God to declare victory over Satan. It’s all so messy and I cannot predict the outcomes, but I do know that I will not let Satan have this. As for me, I plan to overcome, I plan to keep standing on God’s promises, I plan to keep raising my hand to “point North” to what is true and right and good and I plan to leave the rest with God. What a relief that He is far less shocked than I at all of these ruins, as He has surveyed all of human behaviour over all this time and still…He keeps making all things new.
How do we overcome? It is very simple and it involves the thing people do the least…but when we grow tired of wringing our hands, here is the beautiful alternative:
- Pray. Pray. Pray. Say it, write it, sing it, walk it…pray. Have a conversation with your Creator and receive all His life giving words and promises.
- Be in the Word. And then be in the Word again. Pick it apart, understand it, pull it deep inside your heart. It is good food.
- Daily submit yourself and your life to your Heavenly Father. And then do it again when you forgot you did this. Do this again when you waver. Proclaim your trust. Refocus.
- Lift your eyes beyond your circumstances to imagine how Satan is accusing you and accusing those you love. Reaffirm your loyalty to the cause of Christ and shake a fist at evil.
- Worship with thankfulness!
- Be in good fellowship with Believers who will walk with you and you with them. Don’t just be a taker either, bless others and pray for them. Affliction opens your eyes to affliction, let God grow your compassion!
- Make yourself available for the Good Works God has for you…don’t stall out in His Kingdom work just because you are limping.
You don’t need to be a pillar of strength, just don’t become a hermit, a sluggard, a person enveloped by self-pity. Don’t give Satan a foothold and wreck you by drawing you into foolish temptations. Open your life to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and He will help you to be vigilant and determined — and to be successful at your one task:
— Teresa Klassen