9. The Refining Process

31 01 2018

Chapter 8: The Refining Process

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 9 of 13 posts)

When we are going through hard things, there is a purpose to it that is greater than just getting to the other side of it. When we begin to see that God works right in the middle of our trouble and does not let it go to waste, we can pray, “Please let me come out of this closer to You, more mature as Your child, with a skimming off of some of the impurities which are spoiling the reflection of Your face as You look at me” (153). We are not on hold when we are walking through affliction. God says, “I have chosen You in the furnace of affliction” Isaiah 48:10-11.

People tend to shut doors not open them these times. We tend to hide away, drop out, and step back. But could it be that we could actually join in, be connected, and step up instead? Can we still be useful when we are in a time of trial– maybe even more useful — and find a strength in Christ we have never experienced before?  Instead of just thinking of ourselves and what is going wrong, suffering can turn into a time of great opportunity and generosity.

In good times and in hard times, “we are being prepared for something that the Lord is preparing for us. The reality of our growth has meaning in the time ahead. Sanctification is a slow process, but it is meant to be taking palce, no matter how slowly. We are not meant to be born again — and then never grow afterwards” (157).

Our tendency, as I mentioned, is to do the opposite. We tend to build walls of self protection. We tend to focus hard on what is going wrong and are consumed by it. And, our tendency is to begin to question God, walk in confusion, and get tangled in the great big “WHY?” Mark 4:16-17 addresses those who get offended:

These [is the seed] sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves and do not endure. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away.

When trouble comes in some people’s lives, “the result is a bitterness towards God, a walking away which shows itself in some form. Rather than running towards the strong tower, the rock they run away and reject what they claimed to believe” (157). God has never lied to us about this life. He has never promised us a walk lined with flower petals but has been perfectly honest that we are navigating a narrow, rocky, winding path; a narrow gate, dark valleys, and fire: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-17).

Christ identified with us in our temptations and suffering, and the Bible also says so much about what comes of identifying with Christ in His suffering. He with us, us with Him. We are in it together!

“We are not simply “holding our own” as we bear difficulties, nor are we even only having victories in the heavenly battle, marvellous and fantastic though the truth may be. We are also in some special way sharing in the rejection which Christ suffered and – marvel of marvels – something is going on with in us, so that we are becoming more prepared for what is ahead, little by little, a tiny speck at a time” (159).

We can admit that we don’t understand things totally, but we should also be careful and recognize that our reactions and responses do matter: “Something is taking place in us right now which is astonishing as the refining of silver, the purifying of gold, the finishing of the final touches on a work of art! We are His workmanship in a very real way, and only He can know what is in store for us and when the final moment will arrive” (158).

When we enter into a time of trial/affliction/suffering we will react in one of two ways: obedience or disobedience. This is where temptation fits in. We will either run to Our Father, or temptation will win and we will move away from Him. Joseph is an excellent example of this, and Schaeffer explores his story showing us that what he experienced, people in our time, all over the world also experience:

“People in our moment of history in various parts of the world know what it is to be torn away from home, family and normal life and plunged into a time of terror (as Joseph was). They have even experienced it in the American Capital, let alone other principal cities of the world. We need not lack understanding of terrorism such as Joseph experienced” (161).

Consider that this was written in 1978 and where we are at with our experience of terrorism today! The story of Joseph and his reaction to terror are so relevant. There were so many times where he could have compromised, walked away from God, fallen hard into self-pity. There were so many times he could have become corrupt, taken revenge, and disobeyed. There were times of pain where he could have. But there was also a time of affluence where he could have. I thought this was an excellent point:

“Jospeh experienced almost too much in the area of temptation in an opposite direction. Although people do not often enough consider affluence or power as an ‘affliction’ there is so much temptation connected with wealth and influence that the prayer to ‘give me neither poverty nor riches’ is a prayer for more than just a balance in ‘things’. It is a cray for a balance of life which makes inward growth come more easily or continue without an abrupt halt” (162).

As always, God takes what could be only “bad” and uses it for good. This is our hope as we suffer. With Joseph, his brothers were partnering with the enemy for evil, but God turned it all around and helped Joseph feed and nourish them: “Egypt had made him neither arrogant and proud nor domineering or cruel” (162). Whether we are tempted in times when we are empty, or times when we have plenty, we have a choice as to who we will be and what we will do. The Bible calls us to look carefully at the examples written within and then choose well.

Edith Schaeffer says, the polishing process that happens when we are walking through painful things is not glamorous but in this refining time we can still care for others and this is a really important thing to think on when it comes to suffering being useful: “It is when we are having ‘the most severe trials’ that suddenly someone in the bed next to us in the hospital needs our attention in some practical way” (157) and it is there that we serve, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Of course there are limitations, but there is always something we can do when we are in the middle of our own severe trial or affliction.

As we walk through our own times of affliction and allow these things to refine us, it gives us a whole new perspective on how to walk alongside of others who are suffering. As we allow the refining work to happen it changes what we say and how we treat those who also suffer. We don’t quickly conclude,  “‘Oh you are being tried,’ as though we could know that God is doing something directly to that person…To those suffering a great loss, a death, who are ‘frantic with grief’ we cannot make judgements like that, conclusions” (159).

When we watch others suffer, we realize a battle is going on and “that we have no right to try to analyze for other people just what has taken place in the whole complicated series of events…we simply do not know what flow or factors brought about the accident, the illness, the fire, the earthquakes…our assurances as children of the Living God is that He is able to bring beauty from ashes…” (160).  We recognize from our own suffering,

“The whole abnormal, fallen world — abnormality of death, the separation from the body because of the Fall, the cause and effect of history, the actions of human beings and the effects of choice, the carelessness and cruelty of human beings, as well as Satan’s sphere of power — all these things are involved…” (160).

What we can confidently know is that Our Father “refines, purifies, proves, and causes to grow in us something very precious and lasting in our attitudes towards Him and in our actions to other human beings…He does not allow our affliction to be wasted” (160). So we can come alongside and pray for one another that Our Father would help us in our suffering, pain, frustration and that this period of time would not be wasted.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says,

For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Schaeffer responds, saying, “Right now we have our own particular piece of affliction, our own impossibility, our own last straw…today is the day, not tomorrow, but always today, to discover what it means to find a practical area in which to ask that the ‘melting heat’ will not be wasted” (166).

In a time when we are being polished, we can make decisions to not be tempted to surround ourselves with complaint. We can actually clean ourselves up and concentrate on what Our Father would ask us to do that day — even extending ourselves to others. It seems impossible that we could be of some use, but this is what God does, He makes us useful even in the most unlikely of times. You can substitute the word “unique” for “unlikely” and it changes the meaning of our suffering entirely, doesn’t it?

“Don’t miss the moments; don’t lets waste the brief time when the Master Silversmith bends over us to skim something off that is hindering us. Do thou for me, Lord, whatever You see needs doing in me, right now, before this moment becomes past history” (168).

— Teresa Klassen


8. Tribulation Worketh Patience

29 01 2018

Chapter 7: Tribulation Worketh Patience

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 8 of 13 posts)

When a person walks through a difficult season it affects everything. I see this in myself — in how I pace, in how I toss and turn, in my relief strategies, in how I do or don’t take care of myself, in how I anticipate the day ahead or reflect on the day ending.

“The whole person is also affected by the psychological, mental, emotional and moral condition. Tensions and worries brought about by our own mistakes (or other people’s mistakes or thoughtlessness), stress in the midst of indecision or deep concern for others or in the midst of our own anger or other people’s anger or jealousy or cruelty, and an endless variety of uncertainties and fears can affect each person physically too. Personality as a whole affected by the physical condition, and the physical condition is affected by the emotional condition. There is an amazing interweaving of the physical, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual unfolding or growing of a person throughout life” (128).

Walking through a time of affliction/tribulation/suffering brings us into an unknown that we don’t often know how to navigate clearly or even think about. We don’t often know what brought it on and we don’t know how it will end. In the middle of it we can feel confused and lost. If you look at how a child acts when they are uncertain, it is pretty close to how we still feel.

When a child faces the unknown they are filled with questions — they are bewildered! Edith Schaeffer describes how they want their parents to instinctively know what they feel because they lack the words to describe it. They want concrete answers for what is coming next, how it will feel, and how it will end. A parent walks with their child doing their best to impart confidence even when explanations are impossible at the moment. A parent tries to be one step ahead so the child does not feel lost.

As an adult, we still want this. As a follower of Christ, we actually have this!

“As a child of one family, we who have been born into the family of the great and marvellous God of the Universe, have a Heavenly Father who has given us sufficient communication. He has not spoken in short, broken, unconnected verses. His communication to us is a full and complete revelation of Himself (as complete as we can now understand), as well as guidance in times of stress. He has given us a memory of His work and care of our “relatives,” our brothers and sisters in His family. He has also given us a memory of our own experience of having Him as a Father of our own, whether that time be short or long” (129).

Our Father has written to us and has told us all about this life and about suffering. If we take the time to sit with Him, we will not hear that we ought to just bear down and grit our teeth as we suffer, Romans 5:3 says we will all walk through some kind of tribulation, but that it is not wasted time (God won’t let it be) and that it works something good in us as we live and walk with Jesus through it.

Just as our physical bodies grow, we are also meant to grow internally, spiritually. We are not to be adults on the outside and infants on the inside: “We are not static as personalities, nor are we static in spiritual and mental growth. Something is always taking place in the way of change. It is the change going on in us that concerns our Heavenly Father, even as the change going on in our children should concern those of us who are parents…” (130).

If we go back to the illustration of a child and a parent, we know that our child will fall down at times. We know they will see if “hot” really means “hot” on a stove. We know they will experience rejection, sadness, failure, and difficulties of all kinds. We know, even with all the love we give them, they will test us and maybe even reject our counsel but “our longing is that they will come back into communication with us. Thereby we can try to point out the place of departure and see if we can help in any way to get them onto the stream or path or track or way where they can take up where they got off the right course” (131).

When we raise children, we are trying to “work something into them” that will serve them well in life. In the same way, our Heavenly Father is trying to “work something” into us and it is something called patience. Isn’t that interesting? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “toughness”? No…patience. And this isn’t the kind of patience that means you can stand in a line without getting antsy. This isn’t the kind of patience that kept you calm when your child was pushing you to the edge. Both good things…but this kind of patience is the kind that puts all of its trust in God’s reliability and power and so does not sink into despair, anxiety, fear, anger, impulsiveness, and compromise.

This makes perfect sense if we let the Word of God speak. If we spend time with it and come to appreciate God’s story but “we can’t expect anything but more frustration if we have nothing more of the Word of God as a background or have not lived through the reality of having had patience grow in us and work in us” (130). There is something really profound that happens when we grow in patience which is a growing confidence that comes from KNOWING the love of God, especially in the middle of affliction.

Anyone who has been around the Bible for a while can quote John 3:16 without even thinking about it: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”  Stop for a moment and think about this: “As we read we are not meant to think of theologians and their discussions but of the startling fact that the One who spoke these words was…the ‘only begotten Son’ Himself“” (132). He was speaking to Nicodemus, saying “I was given up” for you! I did this, so you could know the love I have so that even as the world falls apart, you won’t because I have you! In John 15:9 He goes on to say “continue in my love,” meaning don’t let go of that love during tribulation, because I went through tribulation for you. Tribulation is not when God abandons us. Tribulation is when we can understand the demonstration of God’s love in the sharpest way.

But this is where we have to stop ignoring our Bibles. We can’t know God if you don’t hear from Him. We can’t keep looking at Our Father from a distance and think that is a relationship. How in the world will we know what He offers us in troubled times if we are, deliberately, 100 feet away from Him?

“Without a a rich background of understanding of the gentleness, compassion, kindness, goodness and love of our Heavenly Father, the seed fertilized by tribulation will not begin to send down roots and put up shoots of the ‘plant of patience'” (132).

Patience, worked into us, allows us to stop, breathe, acknowledge the beautiful presence of God in the midst of ugly. Patience worked into us, when it is our practice, does not assume the worst about God but the best. In order for patience to be an outcome though, we have to be in a posture that is ready to receive:

“…the soil preparation needs to be an hour-by-hour, day-by-day digging into the Word of God. This preparation involves having as a part of our whole being a growing understanding of the love of God and of His marvellous kindness which surpasses any kindness we could imagine from our knowledge of human beings ourselves. We need to be trusting Him in an increasing manner so that our reactions and actions are slowly, slowly changing through the months and years. One of the points of discovery — akin to the discovery of the sprout of a most difficult seed to germinate in our physical gardens — is the discovery of patience starting to sprout” (132).

Ephesians 3:16-19 has a great line that stands out to me every time:

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

I have an outer person, and an inner person. The inner person is the one that really matters because it controls what the outer one does and what the reputation of my person will be. The Holy Spirit is there to be in continuous fellowship with and communication with my inner person. Most of us know, very well, that our inner person differs from our outer one, and it is with that one who is more truthful Our Father sits with and teaches patience to know and trust Him. He speaks to us and reveals His nature as we read and re-read the Bible and sit with the Holy Spirit to understand what He is saying to us.

If our times of affliction do not turn into times of prayer, it won’t lead to any growth of patience at all and so it will all be wasted (138) (and that, my friend, should sound off warning bells in you. It certainly scares me). Instead of isolating ourselves from God and others, blanking out, numbing out, we need to RUN to God and ask for both His help and for good to come of this time that tests what and who we are. Edith says, “It seems to me that if there is noticeable progress to us as we grow, it would be the speed with which we would move into patience, further growth of character and hope” (140).

We need to be CAREFUL during times of testing, not only that we do not fall into bitterness and neglect. Not only that we do not ignore what God has for us, but the temptation to absorb false philosophies about suffering. Hunting for explanations can lead to a lot of lies — the ones we make up and the ones that “seem” to make sense

“We need not be drawn into Eastern religions, trying to train ourselves into thinking that everything is a dream (a nightmare) and that nothing really exists — nothing material or intellectual, either in the past or in the future. We have been told very plainly that everything is real and has ben real through generations — and that there is a very real future….the Word of God helps us to recognize the marks of reality in outlining the practical, day-by-day, tangible things we are going to have to face and deal with and live through” (140-141).

No Yoga position is going to work in us what God wants to work in us.  Distraction will leave us empty rather than victorious. Complaint will only leave us dark and resentful.

What we need is Truth, wisdom and guidance, and Our Father gives this to us:

“We then turn our minds to using the brief period of time we have in trying to live on the basis of what He has given us and to learn as much as possible in the midst of the living. Patience, perseverance, and endurance…present us with enough reason to not be wasteful of the short time we have. When are we going to be finished finding out all we can, before this time is over?” (141)

“We go back to the Bible and thank God that He has not given us a nebulous number of abstract ideas, but has fixed all that He has to tell us into history and the real world where it can be tasted, touched and felt, smelled, seen, and heard. Even the things we are told to consider important, such as patience and endurance and perseverance are not allowed to float in an abstract cloud obtainable only by those who can sit and meditate in some ‘holy’ position in a ‘pure’ spot. The very spelling out of affliction, persecution, and tribulation in terms of stones and whips (as well as people’s scorn in words) lifts the setting in which we find the reality of patience from an unattainable realm into the stuff of day-by-day life” (142)

When we sit with Our Father’s Words to us and keep a conversation going with His Spirit, He shows us His perspective, He tells us stories from the past and shows us how people handled difficulties (well or otherwise) and “this patient endurance is acceptable to God, commendable to God, because in some tiny way we are following the example which Christ gave us when He told us that we were to follow in His steps” (148).

When we walk through our own troubles as well as we can with God’s help, we are also able to weep with those who weep, as the Bible calls us to. The “weeping is needed, the weeping is right. The weeping is to be shared. the patience to be displayed is patience on the part of the stronger one toward the one that is more crushed” (134). Because we all have a shared experience with some kind of tribulation we come to understand, “there is no room for pride or for pious speculation as to what has brought on this particular tribulation…not one of us can tell another person the answer to Why?” (134). What we do help each other with us to ask help from our Lord to grow in patience.

There will always be the weaker person, the poor, the lame and the sick until Jesus comes back “Just as there will not be perfect physical health, no Christian will be perfect, and some will be weaker than others until Jesus comes back and we will all be changed” (135). The patience we learn from our own troubled times helps us to watch ourselves so that we don’t slip into a place of spiritual pride.

“As a wife or a husband, a child or a parent, when we are praying about the ‘faults’ of anyone close to us, we need to pause long enough to examine ourselves carefully and then ask for forgiveness and for greater sensitivity to our own ‘blind spots’. The sin of someone else can be your affliction or tribulation — or mine. But the reverse is also true. We each can be, by our own sin or faults — our stubbornness or insensitivities or selfishness — the affliction or tribulation of someone close to us” (137).

As I sit here, working on this post, the Holy Spirit keeps pointing out things I need to see. There are my own afflictions that He is using in my life to work patience. There are also other people’s afflictions that are doing the same thing. Other people’s afflictions are affecting me; some draw me in and I feel such empathy and some frustrate me. Some come to mind for whom I have little patience for and I am convicted about it; isn’t this another opportunity God is using to work something better in me? Isn’t there a pride in my impatience that I need to address?

Yes indeed.

  • Teresa Klassen

2. Why, Why , Why

5 01 2017

img_9655Chapter 1: Why, Why, Why — “Affliction” By Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 2 of 13 posts)

If, out of the whole book, I had only read this chapter it would have been worth the purchase. As I am re-reading what I underlined, the truth of what Edith writes about, grabs me all over again!

As children, we drove our parents crazy with the question Why? and as teenagers we often rebelled against them because their answers didn’t make sense. As adults, we continue to wrestle with what we don’t understand and therefore we wrestle with God. We keep asking Why? to see if He will come up with an answer that is good enough (a measurement that differs for each person).

There are a lot of things we wonder about and Edith begins the chapter with plenty of true stories that naturally leave people asking Why? Why do children suffer, why is someone murdered, why is happy event ruined by a tragedy, why are there such injustices, betrayal, rebellion, broken dreams and so much sorrow and pain? Why is there…affliction?

Let’s talk about death.

For me, this chapter said what I have felt about it and took it further to affirm some amazing things about the God who made us. This chapter left me so THANKFUL!!

Enjoy these beautiful words Edith wrote:

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience….” Can we just stop there for a moment? How many things do we assign to God (ie. blame God for) that are misplaced? Let’s just start here. Imagine God creating the first man and woman and the astounding detail He put into them. Look at us! We are not some experiment. We are crafted! Your fingers are amazing. Your eyes are astonishing. The way your “mind” works is confounding. Notice I said “mind” not brain because how do you even explain “the mind?” You know when you say, “I changed my mind.” What is that?!?!? And how, when you look upon a tree laden with snow, do those images float through some processor that whispers to your emotions that this beauty makes you want to cry? Do you think for a second that you are living and breathing and feeling without the pure delight of your Creator? Do you think He did all this and is content to see you decay? Is any one of us satisfied to see what we love, falter? No. Death is not what God made us to experience.

Is it just me or does that make your existence feel so ROYAL? Continue…

“Death was not what God made man and woman to experience. Body and spirit were made to be one, not to be torn apart. The body is a marvellous creation more intricate than any other individual part of the created universe. The body is precious, not only to each total personality of which each body is a part, but to God who created the body to fulfill the capacities of the whole person — to taste, smell, feel, hear, see, think, love, communicate, choose, and be creative. The body is involved along with the spirit in the oneness of the whole person to fulfill the possibility of expression in art and music, science and literature, agriculture and forestry, food preparation and architecture, and so many other areas something of the tremendous scope which Man — male or female — has been given to enjoy. Eyes can express love or scorn, response or revulsion. The vocal cords can communicate a fantastic range of things which seem to be intangible. The tongue and lips are important but cannot replace hands or feet…”

Stop for another minute. I don’t know how you felt reading that, but I just felt so much relief that ALL OF ME matters to God. I think people get this idea that this “spirit” we have, our “soul” is what is precious to God. That’s cool. But I am so thankful that my whole person matters to God. If this body is a throw-away, couldn’t all of me be? But it’s not. God did not give us a vehicle He was content to discard after a time. We are going to read more about that, but you and I in our entirety are precious to Him. He gave us these abilities, these human abilities, and is proud of them! He gave us a personality and never wanted one to be just like another. Taste and eyesight mattered to Him, vocal cords and facial expressions and the ability to run our hand over a surface and glean information, this all matters to Him.

“Yet, as we stand beside a body which has been separated from the spirit in death, although perhaps the physical parts are intact, one knows the person has gone…the body is there, but the person is not there to use it.” (18)

When my mom died, she did not die in pain. She did not die disfigured. She did not die alone. One might say she died a “good death” but as I stood beside her, as I touched her face and realized she was gone there was not one single good thing about it. I did not move quickly to the more comforting truths but stared at death, my enemy. It was abundantly clear to me in that moment that death was a vandal.

Why do we think death is just a part of our normal existence? “Death has been thought of as ‘normal’ only because it has taken place throughout all history” (19) but we need to stare at it and not be fooled. God did not include death as His plan. When He poured Himself, literally, into His creation and most distinctly into the creation of Man and Woman, He did not write death into it. For me, that is a very beautiful thing to reflect on. God’s plan for us was entirely good. That was the only time we could say that all was right in the world.

“Adam and Eve experienced the transition from living in a perfect world to living in a spoiled world. Adam and Eve had known what it was to be ‘normal human beings’ living in the ‘normal world,’ but they were the only ones who were able to compare by personal experience what ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ were like. Their choice to act upon the lie of Satan, as if it were the truth, brought about the result that God had predicted. The world became abnormal. We have lived — and do live in — an abnormal world. Things have been spoiled, vandalized by Satan…” (19)

When we ask Why? we need to travel way back to this point.

If you have ever lived with or walked with people who are stuck in a place of blame, you know what it feels like to think, “I wish they would just take responsibility for their behaviour!” It is so frustrating to listen to them, day after day, blame everyone but themselves. If only they would own what they have done, there would be a new freedom for them and they could move forward.

This very same principle as true for us. Why are we in such a mess? Because we made it. Why is there such evil?  Why does one person cause another pain? Why is the environment in ruins? Why are we getting sick all the time? Why is there such division? Why? Because we chose this over the loving guidance and boundaries our Good Father set for us. To ask Why? can only be answered “in the concept of the total picture of what history has been since the Fall…” (26).

We have what Edith calls a cause and effect history. It quickly became apparent to Eve what the “spoiled Creation” would mean for all relationships. When her eldest son murdered his brother, she knew as she stood before the inert body of her son that death was “now to be a part of the human experience, but was not normal. God had created the body and spirit to be one…” (20).

The ramifications of the literal Fall are terrible. We have got to wrap our minds around all of this causing an abnormal tilt to our planet. We shouldn’t get comfortable and think that the best that life has to offer, is actually the best.

What is our highest achievement? Some measure of wealth?

What is our greatest satisfaction? Some measure of beauty or recognition?

What gives us joy? A functional family around the dinner table?

What is a lifetime to us so that we feel OK at “the end”?

Friend, we live in an abnormal world and everything we think is everything is only a fraction of what God originally gave us. Is 85 years a good long life? Friend, death is an enemy. The end, is an enemy. Don’t settle!  We, as believers, “do not need to pretend that it is ‘lovely’ to feel the harshness of suddenly being out of communication…” (22) we can acknowledge “Death is an enemy, and it is something which God hates too. Death is a part of the battle between Satan and God — and the final victory will be God’s” (21). When I read this, I was so glad to reflect that God hates what we hate!

When I stood by my mom’s body, that is what I felt. I felt angry at the destruction and I felt worship for the Rescuer Who defied the enemy at the very same time: “The victory which Christ died to give us has a future aspect…that victory is the one that will destroy death”(25).

I so agree with Edith when she says when someone dies and the others stand about, “Smiling and saying, ‘It’s all so lovely and peaceful…'[it] is a type of hardness and coldness to the enemy death. Christians are blending into the truth of what exists in this fallen, abnormal world when they experience the emptiness of a room which a person has just left…Christians are behaving as God describes in His Word as ‘natural’ when they weep as a result of death. It is God who will wipe away all tears — not another human being” (21). Yes! Truth! Death highlights that we are waiting, consciously waiting for something FAR BETTER THAN THIS!

“True hope changes sorrow, but does not obliterate it. Death is not to be taken as a ‘normal, beautiful release’ but as an enemy which separates body from spirit and human beings from each other. It spoils the beautiful Creation of God. It is so basically an enemy that God says that He will pay a great price, a ransom, to deliver us from death’s power” (22). This idea that the body and spirit were meant to be together affects our whole view of death. God is not content to have these two things separated and that is why it necessitates new bodies. Have you thought about this? This idea that being a “spirit being” of some sort, floating around in the universe, is anti-good. Good is body and spirit, whole. If you want to know the difference between eastern religious thought and God’s truth, here is one distinct difference. Our highest attainment is not to be “one with the universe,”it is to be present with the Lord, intact as His creation: body, soul and spirit.

And here is where the most amazing truth ought to land on us, I mean really LAND ON US. If all this is true, that God loves us so much that he created us to be physical beings, valued us enough to put His breath in us and give us life — then our very worst thing, the thing that we ought to fear the most, is our total destruction through death. Death is our worst thing. Why did Jesus have to die? Why? Why? Why? He died to CONQUER OUR WORST THING. When death — death introduced by Satan — entered the world, we were in bondage to it. We had no way to escape death. It was coming, it was coming for every one of us but Jesus, through death, “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-16

The devil is the one who brought about death, he has the power of death, but as Edith writes, “It is conclusive that death is a terrible enemy, since it could not be put out of the way, except by the coming of the Second Person of the Trinity as truly man — so that He could ‘taste death’ in our place. John 1:14 says: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”…He experienced death in order to abolish its sting” (23). Jesus took that sting, He took the worst thing we have, death!!

“To ignore the reality of death as an enemy is also to diminish the wonder of the available victory over sin and the permanent results of death” (23). When we comfort each other, “the comfort carries with it a reality of waiting, not only waiting to ‘go’ also — to depart for the same place someday — but a waiting for the return of Jesus which will finish the whole abnormality of the body’s being someplace other than with the spirit” (24).

So where does that leave us?

First, we need to remember our first mistake. It happened before, and it is still happening. We are finite and human, and we still are rebelling — creatures against Creator. We still demand equality because we still demand that God meet our demands. The old word is the word for today: we need to repent of this. We need to remember God is our Father and we are His children and no matter how much we don’t understand His ways, we must not think we can switch places.

Second, we need to recognize that this is an abnormal universe. We must not get comfortable with what we see now. We must not think that out of these ruins, we are going to build some perfect life. This is a false-hood we tell ourselves and then get angry at God for not giving us what we want. He is too good for that. His plans are too good for that. We need to stop being tempted by and lulled into a paltry satisfaction.

Third, we need to stop trying to come up with a genius answer for everything. We need to be willing to let God be God, and to stay in our own place as human beings. It is not necessary for us to give an explanation for everything that happens, good or bad (more about this in later chapters). Affliction is made up of many aspects, concentrating on one area is apt to be out of balance or tune. As we study Scripture about our lives here, “God’s Word picks up first one note, then another, but we are meant to consider it over a lifetime, with a growing understanding that never comes to a point of completion” (28). As we continue to walk with our Father “we ask for a measure of balance (a measure since none of us can ever have perfect balance in any other area of life, until Jesus returns)” (27).

On that same note, we need to stop analyzing everything to find the “key” so that from that point on everything will work out much better. Was it this decision that brought affliction? Was it that one? Sometimes we do make poor choices, but as we will see in the coming chapters, affliction is going to be with us, no matter what. “We cannot compare our own pattern to someone else’s to discover whether or not we are in the Lord’s will. God has individual and very diverse plans for the lives of His children, and Satan’s attempts to turn us aside are also diverse. Poverty can be an attack, but so can affluence. Hardship can be an attack, but so can ease. And when we face the death of a loved one, the attempt to twist us into bitterness can be an attack, but so can a false covering up of sorrow.” (29)

There is soooooo much I could write about this one quote, it could be a whole other blog. Think about it: do you look at people’s lives that seem so “perfect” and think they are really doing things right? What if their very ease is their spiritual undoing? What if it is destroying their character? What if their paradise is keeping them from fulfilling Jesus’ call to reach the lost? On the other hand, do you look at people’s lives who are struggling and naturally try to explain it/judge it? Their problems are their fault, it’s a punishment from God, it is cruel bad luck, it is a spiritual attack? — ponder that for a while and think about how the enemy, at this moment, might be trying to fool you.

Fourth, we need to help each other overcome. Edith writes, “There is no place to go for a vacation from the abnormality of the universe, from the effects of the Fall upon every area of life, and from the conflict of the ages. Persecution and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life. We need not be surprised or ashamed when our work, our family, our church, or our individual person is hit by some form of affliction, Satan does not fight against himself” (28). We need to stop being so private and separate from one another. Our desire “should be to help each other find victory in hidden places and ‘overcome him by the blood of the Lamb’ in very practical moment-by-moment happenings in our day-to-day lives” (29).

There is so much to think about here, but here is the most important thing, the thing Edith closes with and so will I. Friend, don’t let the question Why? create a wall for you for the rest of your life. We have an adequate answer to the main problem:

We messed up. Messing up caused a ripple effect, by a million ripple effects. The more “astray” things went, the more we forgot that things were normal once and what we have preferred abnormal over God ever since. Own it, but remember: That is not the end of the story.

“The enemy — death — has an end. Satan’s long attempts to separate every living being from God (and to separate every person from his or her own body in some sort of agonizing tearing apart) is not going to succeed. Death does not kill the spirit, nor does it spoil the truth.” (30)

— Teresa Klassen

1. “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer

4 01 2017

img_9655Preface — “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978

(Part 1 of 13 posts)

A Preface to the Preface

A friend of mine recommended this old book, written in 1978. I found it used, online, and it arrived with an appropriately musty smell; I am pretty sure it was sitting in someone’s basement for the past 30 years. I knew in the prologue, this was going to be an important book for me and I knew in the last chapter, I was going to have to blog on it. I have underlined many pages, written notes all over it, spilled coffee and tears on its pages and even though I have finished the book, the book isn’t finished with me.

A book can be a mentor, and this is certainly one of those. I have listened to Edith for a few months now and by spending a little more time with her I think I will be able to remember more of what she said, and maybe it will serve someone else too.

Half way through reading the book I stopped and took out my journal and wrote a letter to her. She is no longer walking the earth, but I felt like I had been sitting with her for days and days and I was so grateful for the time she took to write these words for me and all the others. I was also thankful to pick up where she left off in praying for some things that matter, and people who matter, with a new picture of what those prayers mean historically. I pictured her as one of those witnesses the Bible refers to in Hebrews 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” in my own quest for perseverance in the race.

Of the people I look forward to seeing one day, she is one.

If anyone happens to read this blog and the ones to follow, I hope some new strength is passed on to you for your journey. I know I won’t be able to translate all the book said, but hopefully the bit I do write on will serve a good purpose and maybe you will find the book somewhere and read it too. At the end of the book I wished I could have given it to my 20-year-old-self  so I would have better understood affliction, suffering and hardship as it came, but mentors arrive as they arrive and I can only assume that I wouldn’t have taken it to heart in the same way I do now. I probably needed a few dings and bruises to appreciate these lessons.

As it was written in 1978, the language is from another time and the Scriptures quoted are often written in King James Version. There was something about this that worked for me; it slowed me down as I turned the phrases around so I was viewing them and thinking about them differently. I relaxed about the Thee’s and Thou’s and saw a lot of beauty in the differences between that version and the NIV or ESV I normally find myself in. So, if you do pick up the book, be patient and don’t get hung up on 1978. As Edith said, there is “true Truth” that transcends the generations and the peculiarities of our eras. In our time, the phrases we used in 2016 rotted much more quickly.

So, beginning with the Preface we dive in…

In the opening paragraphs of the Preface Edith says, “When people try to live on the basis of erroneous ideas they have picked up about what happens (or is supposed to happen) concerning affliction when one becomes a Christian, it is apt to be like riding with a flat tire, trying to carry all the weight in one bag, reading by the light of a candle, or ‘seeing through dirty glasses.'” (10) The question of suffering or affliction is one of the big stumbling blocks of our generation that keeps us an arms length from God. Because we are so prone to believe we can figure everything out so that it makes sense to us (“Science” and “Reasoning” we call it), affliction and suffering does not compute when we also say that God is loving. We form beliefs around what we believe and Edith refers to these as flat tires. If we believe what we believe without gathering enough information from the Bigger, Wider, Perspective…are our truths true? When we insist on changing places with our Creator and decide for ourselves what is what, we buy into the oldest lie: “you can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The thing about affliction and our view of it is that as we are often in pain ourselves when we consider it. When we are in pain all our doubts and questions bubble up from the depths. When we have a plan for our lives and things unravel, where is God in that? When we hear of some atrocity, we are uncertain where to go with our indignation. When we pray, believing we can “ask anything” in the Name of Jesus, but the very thing we ask for does not come about, what then? Troubles large and small can throw us, turning our whole world upside down, anger and bitterness can take root or we can simply live in denial and settle for a weak, ineffective Faith and hold loosely onto a God we don’t entirely trust (I speak from experience).

There is an alternative and, I am learning, a victory in this if we are willing to stare at Affliction/Suffering for a while and step back to view the bigger picture of our existence to hopefully come to a place of joy — that place we cannot fathom which the Apostle Paul refers to when he says “but we rejoice in our sufferings” in Romans 5:3.

As to my role in this, don’t think for a second I have reached some “zen” place on the matter. To even pretend that I or anyone can, is to deny or displace the humanity God has given me and you. We feel. We wrestle. We live in the middle of. We cry. We question. We journey. We are not to be mystics, emptied of normal emotions in the middle of brokenness and sorrow. We are not robots who, if given the right programming, can walk stiffly through a battle. We can not look at the death of anything or anyone as if it is not our enemy.

What we can do is see better, think better, understand better and in gaining wisdom we can live with fewer “erroneous ideas.”

— Teresa Klassen