4. What Were You Actually Told?

18 01 2017

Chapter 3: A Crack in the Curtain — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 4 of 13 posts)

What can any of us expect of life? We have expectations, we all do. In fact, as nations we take the time to write some of them down.

My American friends have declared their expectations, stating that “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain UNALIENABLE RIGHTS, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unalienable, by the way, means “unable to be taken or given away.” 

In my Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, these are some of what is promised to my collective by those who govern:

Section 7: right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
Section 12: right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.
Section 13: rights against self-incrimination

It is written down and I am owed those things (apparently). In fact, my first-world society tells me I am owed more then that as the word “deserve” is thrown around like confetti at a wedding.  Life should mirror Pinterest and if it doesn’t…stop everything, change course and speed, go after what you deserve.

Guess what? I have my own storyboard projecting what I believed I was promised as well. I didn’t even know I had one until some of the things on it were taken away and I had the acute sense of being ROBBED. When life took a few turns that I did not see coming it deeply, profoundly affected my life and my outlook. I didn’t even know I was expecting a certain kind of life until then, and had to examine it all.

“Why is this happening to me?”

“How could this be happening to me?”

“This is so unfair!”

“What did I do? What did they do? What did God do? What didn’t God do? What will He do? What is He capable of? What can I ask Him for?”

When life takes a turn for “the worst” we often feel betrayed or ashamed or confused or angry or bitter or afraid or desperate or judged or alone or…I have felt all these things. I have had a lot of time to think about this during fractured seasons.

Even as I reflect on all this, I am so thankful. It feels strange to say that, but by being dressed down, God has given me new clothes to wear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel my journeys are unusual or I have done any hard season unusually well. But these experiences are unique to me and aren’t like anyone else’s because I am unique and my circumstances are my circumstances — so on my hard paths, I am a pioneer and as Edith says, “Pioneers always have a harder time in their uncharted experiences, as they push through jungles or wilderness without marked roads or maps” (50). Perfectly said and true for all of us.

You know you can’t talk about Affliction from a Christian perspective without talking about Job. So this chapter is largely about Job and as the author says, “We have a lot to thank Job for — he sailed an uncharted sea and stayed on course” (50). He had no way of knowing what an “important thing he was doing as he sat in the ashes covered with boils” (50). For any readers who haven’t read Job, you need to read the book or at least read a summary of what the Biblical book titled “Job” is all about. Here is a short one, but really — after all Job went through, his story really deserves a read: Summary of Job.

In this chapter of the book, Affliction, the main point is for us to see that Satan is trying to get Job to curse God as this is “Satan’s method of getting at God” (53). The point isn’t simply how bad Satan is, the point is how much we matter as individuals to the living God. However, “here is a sober warning — we also matter to Satan!” (51). Over the past few years, the reality of this has really landed on me.

I love “partnership.” I love doing life in community, alongside people who are determined to be faithful and stick-it-out with each other. I love my husband for this. I love my Church community, a group of people who have chosen to stay with each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, when it is easy and when it is hard. I love my family who have both celebrated and suffered with each other and have hung on even when the threads have been thin. And I love, most of all, that I get to partner with Christ.

This has become a visual thing for me — something I see in my “mind’s eye.” There are passages in Scriptures that say that Satan stands before God “accusing” us. He accuses us of all our failures, and Christ defends us. I can’t imagine having Satan in my ear all day long, dripping with negativity about the creation God loves. Until all is made right, until creation groans no more…our God is putting up with this evil fellow (for a time), the one we invited into our lives through our disobedience way back in Genesis. Through our invitation we see the wreckage that has come…

“We see then that Satan has the power to work in other people — to incite wars, assassinations, violence of person against person. In some measure he also has the power over the elements and can bring tornados and lightning. Now he directly sends disease. As the ‘prince of this world’ he definitely has a certain degree of power for the battle. Job’s boils appeared ‘from the sole of his foot unto his crown,’ in other words every inch of his body (2:7)” (53)

When one suffers, everything moves in slow-motion, in shadows, in valleys. The book of Job, in those times, is a gift. A manual of sorts. We see that Job was in the dark, not knowing what happened or what would happen. We also see that Job does not give way to whatever his expectations may have been. He trusts God: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (Job 1:22).

But Job was discouraged. He couldn’t understand what was happening. There is no way to not feel this way. Suffering is called suffering for a reason; it’s not any other sunny day when something happens to you that grinds you down. But “discouragement and depression are not equaled with cursing or blaming God” (54). Job’s view was bigger than the moment he was in. He understood something about life and what we are promised and not promised that we would do well to learn from.

Job was open to being shown whatever he needed to see about his life (Job 13:23) but he wasn’t sent into a tailspin over it. He trusted his walk with God. He made things right as he went. He did not drag sin around with him. He did what he could, as best he could, to walk God’s way. When things started to go south, it isn’t because he was neglectful.

This is where we need to learn to listen well, and choose who we listen to. “People constantly drift into a simplistic lack of balance and are in danger of joining Job’s comforters” (56) who sought to find an explanation for everything — and in this case, “what did you do?” This is what we do when trouble hits, don’t we? We look for the cause. If you listen to the news at all, the continual question posed in the face of any difficulty is, “Who or what is to blame for this?” and we do the very same thing. We want an explanation for affliction because there must be something we can put our finger on, but what we don’t do is just get quiet and sit where we are in the ashes and consider God’s bigger view and what He is doing in the midst of suffering, how ever it came about.

Let’s not be shocked about suffering. Afflictions come. They are unavoidable, so we must not think we will ever, ever escape affliction. If we could, we would be like God and that is the first and biggest lie. While we live in this world, we will face suffering. Expect it. As the earlier chapters stated, broken world equals brokenness. That’s the bed we made. Even as I write that, I realize that is a hard pill to swallow because….. because…. because of what we think we were promised but never were (refer back to my introduction of this post). We weren’t promised if we “do everything right” all will go right.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about what suffering we bring on ourselves, because I think we know that. Sometimes we are idiots. Sometimes we disobey and hope we can get away with it. We rebel, we fake, we act out of greed. Sometimes we are just humans and fail and mess up and cause a mess. Sometimes others sin and we suffer because of their choices – unavoidable. The state of sin and evil in our world paves the way to suffering. Sometimes very innocent people (children) suffer because of what we have allowed in this world, environmentally, legally, permissively, stupidly, cowardly…

But this is an overarching truth: Always, Satan is on the prowl wanting to kill God’s work that is going on in and through us and even though suffering can be a great teacher, Satan will use suffering to turn us away from God. So no matter whether it is us, someone else, or another direct attack of Satan, remember that Satan “in his false work tries to turn aside the trust in God on the part of God’s people and change it to the trust in some false promise of a ‘thing’ (63) and the thing always is something that diverts our attention from God’s actual purposes and intentions in our circumstances. Here too, the Bible says Satan will flee from us when we assert that we will not fall to temptation!!

This chapter challenges us that we shouldn’t just do everything we can to get out of our suffering, spend all our time doing that, and lose what God is doing. Edith points out that Jobs comforters “promised immediate relief if he would just repent of his sin — this is a lie that ‘the immediate result would be that everything would be fine'” (64). We search our databanks for solutions that will “make things fine.” We dread afflictions and fight against them. We listen to people, we read books written by people, we seek comfort from people who will help us get out of our pain yet, “we are warned that Satan will not only tempt us to complain against God when afflictions come, but will also try to turn us into getting rid of the affliction the wrong way. Satan can do ‘miracles’ or ‘wonders’ and can give power to people to do them” (65).

Jobs “friends” suggested suffering was due to a cause and an effect. It suggests that we must be doing something wrong, or not seeing something, and therefore we suffer. It also suggests that righteous people don’t suffer. Error.

Job contemplated the nature and the fairness of God and saw that there would be no balance until the resurrection. And in the things Job could not see at all, we are given the window to see that much more is at work in suffering.

“We have an eternity ahead to increase our knowledge and understanding. What we need now is just enough to live by. We have been given understanding, but also a warning. The account of Job’s life (which tells us more than Job knew) is a warning to us. we are meant to grasp that warning sufficiently to help us see how worthwhile are periods of our lives which seem to be a waste. We are meant never to forget — no matter how shrill the wind, how violent the storm — that there is meaning and purpose to our lives. This involves us as individuals, involves other people (future and present), and involves God Himself, as well as Satan as he tries to ‘win'” (62)

When we suffer, we ought to “shut ourselves” into “contemplating the fairness of God in His marvellously personal attention to us as individuals, now throughout all this life and on into eternity” (66). Yes I know that goes against our fight or flight instincts, but let’s learn from Job who regretted that he had not trusted more, that he had not more willingly gone through all the afflictions, trials and tribulations of those weeks and months. I feel this. Some of the things that have happened in my life left me feeling like I had a concussion: dizziness, vomiting, uncontrollable emotions, loss of the ability to think straight.

Yes, I was discouraged. But I was also so thrown off by it all…like, as I said, I had been robbed. But was I? Wasn’t all of that “par for the course” Scripturally, being told again and again that I would, most definitely, at some point, and probably at other points, suffer? And haven’t I ultimately benefitted from the lessons learned as my heavenly Father has patiently walked with me?

I so echo Edith’s prayer

“Oh God, my dear Heavenly Father, I didn’t really know how great and marvellous You really are. You are so magnificent, so wonderful, so great, so beyond anything I was able to imagine You to be. I did worship You and I did trust You, but it was such a tiny fraction of what I should have done, had I realized more completely just what You are like and how perfect You are. Oh, God of the Universe, Master and Creator, there are not sufficient words in the human language to express the difference between You and me, and I want that expression so very urgently that I must make a visible and feelable difference by shredding my clothing and putting dirt on myself, so that I can feel I am bowing before You in a state which demonstrates the difference to myself more clearly” (59).

God has never forsaken me. Whenever I hear that line in the song “Shepherd” by Bethel Music it catches in my throat. Truth. Even in my most undignified displays, when I wept without any clear view of what God was doing…He did not forsake me.

The book of Job says there came a time, the ‘turning of the captivity, ‘ which refers to the fact that God no longer allowed Satan to hit Job with his fiery darts (60). Think of what Job went through for OUR BENEFIT. His historical suffering and redemption informs our historical suffering and redemption, and we would do well to study the nature of it. If we do, we see that the cruelty of Satan, his deception and destruction is at the root of ALL suffering. It was through Satan’s trickery that a human being turned their eyes from their Maker originally and all of us have since, no matter how hard we try not to. It was through such a cloaked evil, that all of creation suffers and declines and is overrun by waste and neglect. It is because of this that Jesus Christ came — the ultimate act of War against death and destruction and gives meaning to our present suffering and hope and strength and the assurance that this is not wasted time.

And, what we are actually promised…the promise you can write down is , there is an end, an absolute end to all tears and sorrow when Jesus — only Jesus — will wipe all tears from our eyes. Any comfort from anywhere else is only temporary. And…this here is life for the time being, and a life worth living and learning in. This is our home for now, and one Jesus said we should pray for, that we would all experience some of heaven on earth. And don’t we? Don’t we when we are lifted out of our present circumstances to see His greater purpose? Don’t we when He helps us? Don’t we when He makes us “battle ready” and don’t we when we are given strength to walk the most difficult paths? Don’t we, when Satan doesn’t win? Don’t we when we can suffer without despair?

If you are in the dust, lock eyes with Jesus who is defending you and will walk you through your valley, even sets a table you can eat comfortably at in the middle of your afflictions, all this and more…much to the dismay of The Enemy.

— Teresa Klassen

PS. Speaking of handling suffering well, take the time to watch this. It is worth it. You can skip the music and announcements if you like…it is a Message given by Erwin McManus from Mosaic church in Los Angeles. It makes the point very well. And while you are at it, pray for him, his family, and Mosaic.

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