13. Practicing Contentment

28 03 2018

Chapter 12: Practicing Contentment or What Comes Next?

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 13 of 13 posts)

There is something about contentment that drains the poison out of pain. But can we find contentment in the middle of suffering?  I believe we can if we are willing to stop long enough to interrupt the terrible cycle of worry and fear, anger and resentment which lurk in the shadows of every affliction. If we will begin to practice a different posture, we can navigate those difficult trails with goodness and mercy following us in a pretty surprising way (Psalm 23:6).

In and of myself, I do not have a satisfactory answer that will make sense of every hard thing, but when I stop and come before my Heavenly Father, He can speak to me and lead me to a new place. It was never His plan that we fret about everything or try to fix everything — to live in a giant knot. As Edith writes in a prayer, we should admit:

I know I am finite. You made me to be finite…

It is the opposite posture of the child has who insists he is BIG and can do everything or make sense out of everything. What he really needs to do is admit he is LITTLE and is in desperate need of help from someone bigger. We should come with open hands to our Father, in a listening posture, admitting that our understanding and ability falls short. We come to Him desiring to offload the angst of the unknown, inviting our Father to GIVE US a contentment in our circumstances that only He has the power to give.

Contentment weeds out the threats that can come our way when we are in a hard place. It steps between us and despair and calls us to stop and see and realize the love and Presence of God.

We don’t just need this contentment for our own troubled times, we need it for all the troubling things we see in the world and in the lives of our friends and family. The world is broken, and we care!  We ought to care, but we also need to know our place in it all. Edith prays a beautiful prayer in this last chapter…

I cannot do everything: I cannot take care of everybody. Please bring to me the people of Your choice for me to help, and send others to someone else for help. Please send me to the places of your choice and take others to other places to help. Please give me wisdom in choice and the strength for what You want me to do. And then let me accept what You give me with thanksgiving and the grace to really receive Your gifts, as well as to be compassionate and ready to help others (249).

To me that prayer just makes me exhale. If I stop what I am doing and take the time to ask what my assignment is, I will find that some things are my assignment and some aren’t and there are many things I can hand over to God and leave there. That may fall into the parenting category, ministry category, neighbourhood category, workplace category, world-wide category…

Why don’t we just ask our Father what He wants us to do and do that? Why don’t we leave what isn’t our assignment alone? If we would — cover everything with prayer and leave it with Him — we would learn to walk with more contentment.

Being actively content is a command and when we allow problems (ours or others) to rule the minutes of our days, Edith writes what she observed in her own life:

“It came to me that I was cancelling out the possible contentment of the immediate moment, so filled with the things which God had given me richly to enjoy. I was ignoring these wonders by concentrating on the problems of the present and the future” (251).

She writes,

“You and I are to really learn to be content. We need to practice this as we would practice the scales on a piano. It came to me that an active contentment is a moment by moment practice, not a big sweeping thing…It is the active noticing of what we have been given in any one moment to enjoy which brings the active result of contentment” (252).

This kind of advice has now been given over and over. Edith wrote this in 1978 and haven’t we heard it again and again over the years? But are we more content or less?

Edith writes,

We need to stop to actively “practice contentment,” time after time. Fran [my husband] was so struck by what I wrote about this that he and I have often stopped recently just to point out not just sunsets and stars and birds, but also the curve of a roof, the changing red of a vine in autumn — the immediate seeable, feelable, hearable, smellable things of the moment that we might ignore in the midst of a concentrated conversation. Contentment involves stopping to notice the heavens ‘which declare the glory of God’ and the richness of all that we can enjoy in spite of the immediate hindrances or afflictions or difficulties that threaten our activities — and in spite of the fears and worries that burden our thoughts” (252).

For me, the way this book ends is the right call. It is about really surrendering our lives to the mystery and beauty of God’s ways. To know Him well so that trust grows. To listen intently because He IS speaking. To step out of our short-sightedness and take a look at the big view.

And sometimes our bigger and broader view won’t make sense of it all either. We will need a bigger view still and might not get that view while stuck in the limitations of this present life.  Will we be content in our longings to wait for when Jesus will make “all things new” as the book Revelation promises?

The fix needed, ultimately, is bigger than the short-term things we lock onto when we feel a press in life. The relief we need, is deeper than the break we wish we had or think we deserve. God promises to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, which means He will do more also with our sufferings than we could imagine.

“…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:16

I again extend my thanks to this mentor, Edith Schaeffer, for pointing out that Jesus is still in the middle of everything. He is right here, ready and WILLING to give us His peace, His strength, His perspective, and…beautifully…His contentment.

I pray that for you…and for me! Don’t despair.

— Teresa Klassen

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12. Aborting Affliction

26 03 2018

Chapter 11: Aborting Affliction

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 12 of 13 posts)

This chapter had such important things to think about especially considering the rapid way that culture is shifting and becoming more and more confusing; especially as we are experiencing the accelerated erosion of our physical world; and especially as we move into the grey in almost every area of life, thinking we are wise and yet experiencing a nagging anxiety that we might not be.

“There is a twentieth-century smog, as formerly ‘unthinkable’ ideas are exchanged for a new set of thinkable ones. In many ways the former acceptable ideas are like fresh, sweet, spring air, compared with the heavily polluted, foggy, smoggy air of the new ones. People are being affected with ‘breathing problems’ in their minds! Their thinking is simply all fogged up and unclear, and a new set of choices is thrust upon human beings who aren’t equipped to argue or set forth an alternative set. We need to do some pretty serious and concentrated sifting of ideas and we need an absolute standard with which to compare them. Our little ships are going to crash on the rocks if we don’t construct some lighthouses where the old ones have been torn down! It’s as if some giant hand has gone through all the dangerous waters and removed all the buoys and lighthouses, so that new ships with young captains would surely be wrecked” (211).

Doesn’t that just describe it? I feel this acutely.

To make her point, Edith explores our attitudes towards the quality of our lives and what we believe we deserve or have a right to experience.  She addresses abortion as her example. If we believe we do not deserve to have to carry a life, deliver it and tend to it in some way,  women in many parts of the world can decide to abort a pregnancy. The chapter isn’t really about abortion (I know this is a complicated and layered issue), but rather the ramifications of decisions we make like this — aborting anything and everything that is inconvenient. She writes,

“The casual attitude toward aborting a fetus has been expanded into the area of commonly accepting the aborting of anything that is a bother, a burden, a heavy work, or a hindrance to whatever kind of freedom an individual wants to pursue by ‘starting a new life’ in some other direction” (212).

Suffering is undesirable. No one chooses what is behind that door. No one, if given the option, would choose that path.  Therefore, if given the freedom to, we will tend to do whatever it takes to alleviate our suffering. But with that seemingly “easy way out” is also the bypassing of something that is the “good” that comes with walking through a trial and often an entry-way into something worse or harder. Edith writes,

“Affliction — with the various purposes that can be fulfilled through affliction and what it can mean in our lives — is then also to be aborted. If affliction and tribulation are to be aborted, then also are aborted patience, steadfastness, experience, and hope. If these things follow tribulation then they will also be cancelled out” (212).

And, more serious still, is the the dangerous position of a human making decisions that are meant for God. To this one issue — the beginning and ending of a life, whether it is very new or very old — we are relying only on a short-sighted, narrowly informed human wisdom and this is “astonishingly and frighteningly egotistic” (213). Who do we think we are to exercise such a decision?

Knowing this was published in the late seventies gives it a rather prophetic feel. Edith imagines a government providing a building where one could commit suicide. This was suggested in Sweden in her time, and she asks “Can you imagine that?” Well…what can we say? This is our reality now. She warned back then that this would put into existence a temptation that would be “too heavy for human beings to face” (217). She questions,

“Who of us can trust all our motives, moment by moment, day in and day out, week by week, month by month? Who of us can completely trust our motives for the now, let alone the tomorrow for ourselves and all those whom we are in some way responsible for? Who does not go up and down in some measure in wisdom and sensitivity and unselfishness, if not in other basic qualities involved with such decisions?” (217)

Edith warns that we are easily twisted by a diseased perspective — think of how easy it was to tempt Eve into stepping away from what she knew! This “off” perspective becomes a cancerous growth, “causing our minds to be malfunctioning in relationship to true Truth. We can…suddenly be floating on the tide of the ‘new thinkables’ so that our feet are no longer on the solid ground of our island after all…” (217).

When we choose to abort affliction with the effort we do, we have to also abort the word responsibility from our vocabulary because now it becomes about our right to be trouble-free on every level of our personal lives. Now it is about us and we must stand up for ourselves and  “the further we live from what the Word of God teaches, the closer we are to being useful to Satan in muddling people up and keeping them from seeing any contrast or difference at all” (219) between right and wrong, life and death.

This is where that slippery slope leads: When we stop wanting to put up with affliction, we will also stop wanting to put up with one another, saying, “Let’s abort the togetherness and the continuity of life” (220).

She writes about this so meaningfully:

“Continuity is the precious thing that is lost when one starts following the will-o’the-‘wisp of fairy light through the moor s and hills looking for ‘perfection’ in whatever terms one might define it. And life is so very, very short, that there is scarcely time to build up that continuity in one lifetime. Continuity needs to be protected and worked upon, and a terrific variety of things takes place in the doing of that.” (220)

God is calling us to something else. He is calling us to be patient in affliction. He is calling us to not let go of love and trust when we are pressed. Love is patient. In the King James version it says that love “suffereth long.” What we need to know about love is that “it is willing to suffer some kind of affliction, some kind of tribulation. Everything can’t be ‘perfect’. There have to be real incidents, real moments, where one’s own desires are put aside for another person…” (221).

We ought not to “abort” our time of trial, seeking comfort above all else! Seeking transitory happiness no matter the compromise of God’s better way.

“Many times, people abort the work which God has led them to do, as definitely as though they had aborted life itself. They have aborted the affliction of doing something they felt was too hard, too dull, to exacting, too demanding, tied them down too much, or was too dangerous, as they turned to life that was entirely of their own will or desire. The only real difference between that and suicide is that there is still time to repent and to tell the Lord so, and then have another section of life to give to Him. He can take us right where we are and unfold a path that is His will, from that place on, if we turn back, let go of the determination to have what we are demanding, and ask, ‘Show me Thy way, Lord,’ with the intent to do His will… 225

Aren’t those “hard” words?  They should make us pause and ask why she used the word “suicide” in this paragraph — it is jarring!  Yet, there is something truthful about it. We have become very good at aborting affliction, aborting assignments, leaving, ending, escaping, exiting, transitioning, opting out, stepping away. What do you call stopping a good thing God is wanting to do? Spiritual suicide is not that far off, as far as descriptions go. We don’t even know what work it has killed in us and in our world.

When we keep aborting hard or unwanted assignments, the work that is to make us solid is aborted too. Edith writes, “There is a danger of not being real” if we skirt around what is making us real, beautiful, and polished. She compares a life that chooses to walk through, instead of around hardship, to a beautifully crafted piece of authentically fine furniture in the making: “Make me solid wood, Lord, not veneer!” (226)

Do we believe we are walking through tough times alone? Then no wonder we freak out and make all sorts of short-sighted decisions!  Yet our Good Father calls us to patient endurance, saying, “Through faith you are shielded by God’s power until the day coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:3-6

We all need to stop. Breathe. Sit with Jesus and take stock of what is going on. Listen well to what He is saying and accept the unexpected peace He offers in the middle of a fiery time. The good He offers, the directions He gives here, is better than any good we can conceive of on our own.

“Our abnormal world reflects the spoiled physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual condition. Contrast that with the eternity in which we will find complete healing, restoration, and possession of all the faculties which God meant us to have. The quality of life that awaits us is so completely different from the quality of life we can now have in our spoiled condition that there would be no words to describe the contrast.” (215)

Friend and fellow sojourner — let’s hold on to the hand of our God and find refuge in Him. Let’s seek Him out and not abort our situations. Let’s let Him make us and our lives and our future into something we couldn’t have made ourselves.

— Teresa Klassen





11. Affliction and Evangelism

20 02 2018

Chapter 10: Affliction and Evangelism — Affliction and Guidance

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 11 of 13 posts)

Edith Schaeffer begins this chapter with the story of Stephen, his martyrdom under the approval of Saul. Out of a terrible suffering, a loss, a murder, came new life and a powerful movement that spread out over the entire earth: a great good out of a great evil. Here we see the redeeming hand of God, taking the victory Satan thinks he has, a victory that no one could have even imagined possible given the nature of the tragedy.

This is what God does.

Schaeffer points out that Satan keeps trying to eliminate our way back to God. Think of when Jesus was born and Satan went on a rampage to kill Jesus from the very beginning (through Herod killing children under the age of 2). This was before anyone knew Jesus, before He had done a single thing on earth, before anyone believed anything about Him. This is where Satan attacked and failed. In the middle of this persecution, God was already victorious.

In the middle of our own impossible situations, God is not only at work for our own good but for the good He has planned for people all around us. He gives us strength not just so we can go on, but so that others will find life as well through our stories of God’s faithfulness. Because our God sustains us, our lives become stories of Truth:

“The reality in the life of an evangelist, or  a’teller of the truth,’ is not pointed out as a series of miracles which remove all sickness, hardship and fatigue from that person, but a series of hard, slogging days of work during which a sufficient amount of the Lord’s strength has become evident in the human being’s weakness” (192).

Instead of persecution stopping the early Christians, it actually produced Christians who spoke the Truth that went out like a “wave washing over the world” and this took place “because of — as well as in spite of — affliction, hardship, persecution and difficulties of all kind” (192).

“Satan oversteps himself in his attacks, time after time. God takes what has been a strike against His people or His work, and by blending together people, events and geographic places, brings forth a fantastic victory again and gain — as His people throw themselves on Him in prayer” (196).

Paul calls out to all people:

“I give you this CHARGE: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship [afflictions], do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (196).

That is a powerful call! That is an energized call! There is no sentence in there that says “back off until things smooth out.” Quite the contrary! It is right in the middle of hardship that we draw our sword and defy the Enemy and side with Christ!

We have been forewarned that suffering will come our way, so be ready for all kinds of hardship from all kinds of sources. Be ready for rejection. Be ready for heartache. Be ready for friendships to go south. Be ready for unfair stories on the news. Be ready for the world to oppose your views.

“Satan can and will attack us directly in our areas of health, a deluge of disasters, car accidents, our house burning down, higher-than-expected taxes, a baby born with a handicap, loss of a job, or a crippling disease. Satan will persecute us directly, as will people persecute us…” (199).

Let us stand on what is True — eyes open to our reality here and our future with Christ and not let Satan take us out of the work God has for us.

“We are not being given a painkiller, a bit of occupational therapy, a club to join in which we can have a lot more friends, an insurance policy in case of some sort of disaster. We are being given the true Truth of what life is all about, of what has happened since God created the world, of how the Fall came about and where all the misery stems from, of how we can be forgiven and brought into a ‘forever’ relationship with God, and of the future marvels of which we can be certain” (199).

Isaiah 30:20-21 KJV says that we have affliction and we have adversity and this is and will be true for all of us but…do I ever love this,

“but thine eyes see thy teachers…”

(Don’t just skip over that…stop and think on that)

“…And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left…”

Verse 18 says the Lord will wait for us. Isn’t that a lovely picture. Even though God is vastly superior in every way and can work without us at all, He waits for us so He can be “gracious to us” and provide for us and have us as a part of His story and His victory.

But contrast this with Isaiah 30:1-3 KJV

“Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; that cover with a covenant, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin…”

Isn’t that a warning? Instead of our troubles producing good, they can actually become even more destructive when we walk away from God’s ways as we experience them. When we are not seeking God’s help or advice, His guidance and answers to prayer, and when we just live life our way, there is no good to come of that. In that posture, we are actually practicing unbelief.

“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God.” Isaiah 50:10

We have the invitation to wait for God’s direction. The choose to have the patience to “stay” or…we can drift away and find ourselves in a place where our hearts are hard and our posture is rebellious:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:15

Schaeffer warns us not to mix God’s guidance with the advice of “false prophets.” When we feel we are being crushed, at a low point emotionally or psychologically — this is just the place of temptation where Satan or one of his false prophets can strike. Be warned! (208) Recognize what is of God and what isn’t! Take up the shield of faith and be guarded (Ephesians 6:16-20) because this is serious. Satan’s ways only ever lead to death.

Don’t be fooled by false comfort, false guidance and false “light” (209).

Nothing good comes when we wallow in suffering or shake a fist at God, looking at our misery as a prison-sentence and at that time period as utter darkness. This is the will of Satan. The will of God is that we would open our hands to Him and trust that even here He can and will do a good work in you and through you. He takes the brokenness we have created in this world and, in spite of that, grows life.

“Drop to your faces before God in worship, saying, ‘I bow before You as one of Your creatures. Thank You that, while I do not understand everything, my hand is held by the eternal, all-wise, Infinite God, the Creator.'”

Instead of affliction being only a time of loss, in our Father’s hands it WILL be a time of gain because that is Who God Is. He is the one who Creates something out of nothing. In this time of suffering, your life can bear much fruit…as hard as that is to imagine and indeed it is impossible without the touch of God. In this very place though, He has us front and centre! While the Enemy thinks he has you, he doesn’t. Be assured, he doesn’t.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

— Teresa Klassen





10. School for Comforters

17 02 2018

Chapter 9: School for Comforters

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 10 of 13 posts)

I would venture to say, most of us have been on the receiving end of a “comforting word” that wasn’t exactly comforting. I have certainly done my own bit of coming-alongside, only to walk away asking myself, “Why did you say that?” having dispensed some kind of awkward comfort. In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer begins by letting us know that God Himself will teach us in the area of comfort (169). The way we learn is through our own experience of sorrow or trouble in which comfort was needed and given but there is another side to it: “We have to recognize our need for comfort before we will let ourselves be comforted” (169).

Schaeffer says “we cannot know how to comfort anyone if we have never been comforted ourselves in some way” (170) and I find that to be an interesting thing to think about. I agree! As I look at my own life, when I have connected with someone walking through a time of affliction, I think of what has been meaningful to me when I have been afflicted; the kind of comfort, the type of life-giving words, and I am able to better offer the same. Walking through affliction and being open to the comfort of others has helped me to say and do things that are more “real.”

Psalms 34 says (I love the KJV translation for this verse), “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all…the Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants, and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.” That is so beautiful. Our Lord is such an amazing counsellor and comfort! Schaeffer writes,

“There is a great difference between being comforted and being desolate. There is a difference as wide and deep as an ocean between our recognizing someone else’s need for comfort — because we have been comforted ourselves and can recognize the utter desolation of another’s moment of need — and our being cold and hard because we have never been comforted” (170).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 that we are comforted by Christ so that we can comfort those in any trouble “with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  The Bible reminds us that God is the “Father of compassion” and it is our God who makes us able to have compassion. Our God is also known as the “God of all comfort” — “There is no variety of comfort needed that He does not know about” (171).

“This is the One who, if we are His children…will comfort us in all our troubles. How? First of all we need to run to Him, not away from Him. And we need to not kick and fight and blame Him for our being hurt. We must come, trusting Him and ready to listen to His Word, as we climb on His lap and let Him speak to us through His Word. We can talk to Him. He listens to us. We can pour all our troubles and tell Him all our fears and doubts, as well as our love and trust…” (172).

I liked this line: “We come exactly as we are and tell Him the truth about our needs. He is patient with us in our trouble about the trouble — as well as in the trouble itself…” (172). If you stop and think about this, it isn’t just the pain of the trouble that bothers us, it is the fact that we have trouble at all, and maybe that particular trouble baffles us that we should be walking through it. Our Father deals with us tenderly about it all!

The comfort we receive then flows out of us. Shaeffer writes, “real comfort cannot be silently contained inside a person. There is a spilling over that causes that comfort to help someone else, as an overflowing supply of water would help a thirsty neighbour…this is to be a constatly repeated experience, the need for comfort and the giving of comfort to others. We are meant to be using our imaginations as to how to go about this practically, day by day” (173).

When we pray for others, this comes out of this heart of compassion! Paul says that as a result of our prayers, “many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1):

“So prayer is one of the most important and continual parts of the variety of things we are to do in comforting each other in times of need. Prayer is not to be the only thing, but it seems to me that it is to be added to any other thing we do. It is something we can do when we are thousands of miles away from each other, which really makes a difference in the immediate situation” (173).

This chapter is titled the school for comforters, so we are learning about what it means to comfort others. We are opening our hands to comfort through our inevitable suffering. We will suffer and one of the GOOD byproducts is that we will also be comforted and learn how to comfort. In this chapter Schaeffer writes out a prayer for us,

“May I learn, dear Father, in today’s hard thing, that which You want to teach me, so that today’s school of comforters may have this pupil ready to put to use all that is being discovered” (183).

She writes,

“There is someone whose combination of needs will be what is closest to the things you are experiencing and through which you are finding that the Lord is sufficient in His comfort to keep you going. This is the present and immediate fulfillment of your present and immediate preparation. Comforting someone — with the comfort with which you and I have been comforted — speaks of specific situations and an immediate passing-on of the comfort” (183).

I love the last part of the chapter as Schaeffer talks about the role of a comforter to help people anticipate the “better day.”  I really believe that we do not recognize brokenness enough, call it what it is enough, and point to the day enough when all will be made new. Why has this hope faded into the background? Why are we not looking forward to when all things will be set right? This is one of my biggest comforts! To know this isn’t all there is and to allow myself that acknowledgement. Longing for what is to come does not mean we check out of the present, it actually is very freeing in the present to not pine away for what is not even possible here!

When I can acknowledge this world is a broken place, even the long journey seems less relevant than the final outcome. In my present situation two people close to my heart are not walking with Jesus. I desperately want them to because I want to share this in common. I want to have those deep conversations. I want to pray for them and be prayed for by them. I don’t want life to go by without that level of community. With each day that passes, I feel a tightness about another day gone. BUT…when I look at this from God’s view, our little life-times are a dot on the eternal timeline. Father, deliver them from evil so that we will have the long journey together, the eternal journey!

Shaeffer says there are “comforts to be talked about freely” (186), a conversation about what creation waits eagerly for, the day of liberation from our bondage to decay (Romans 8:17-25)…this thing we groan inwardly about on a daily basis, this hope we wait for patiently.

“What will it be like to have ‘the whole creation’ liberated?” (187)

“All of our talents as human beings will be freed from the hindrances and abnormalities brought about through the centuries following the Fall” (187).

As Schaeffer says, “it is a breathtaking restoration we contemplate” and it is this restoration we also bring into our comforting of others. Isaiah 51:11-16 says

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies
And of a son of man who is made [as destructible] as grass,
That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth,
That you continually tremble with fear all day long because of the rage of the oppressor,
As he takes aim to destroy?
And where is the rage of the oppressor?

The [captive] exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his food be lacking. For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is His name. I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand…”

To be a comforter, we must be comforted ourselves by our God’s saturation of comfort He offers us. We must receive it and be a student of it. I don’t know how you feel, but I usually feel that my words fall short, they fall flat if they are just of myself, just out of my own ability to be optimistic. There is a much deeper comfort and it is to this Well we go with our cup and ask the Lord to fill it so we can quench the thirst of another.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. Thank you Edith for yet another great chapter. Your understanding of comfort, comforts me.

 





7. NOW and LATER

30 03 2017

Chapter 6: Cracked Teapots

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 7 of 13 posts)

The story of Lazarus is perfect. He is the “average person” going about life when he gets ill. His sisters call out for help, but help doesn’t come in time. Lazarus dies. Everyone is devastated. Jesus arrives, but too late. Everyone thinks, “If only He would have come earlier! Why didn’t He?” Jesus weeps too, seeing how troubled they all are. Then Jesus approaches the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Wonder of wonders…Lazarus is raised from the dead! It is an incredible miracle! More than anyone could have hoped for!

What happened next?

Lazarus died again.

There was probably a lot of living in between, but ultimately Lazarus died again. The “living” part was not permanent. Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of death, in fact, Jesus didn’t cure Lazarus of life! Do you think Lazarus never got a cold again? Never suffered a wound? Never had a business deal go south? Never had an issue with a friend or neighbour?

In this chapter of the book Edith points out that we can be healed from one ailment but still not have perfect health and certainly not everlasting life. Our path, while living in a broken and suffering world, will never be smooth. We see this when we study God’s Word. We see this if we study the lives of our ancestors. We would see this if we looked around now with more honest eyes and we ought to see this in our own journey and not be surprised!  As Edith points out, you may  have a lovely home for one part of your life and be in a concentration camp the next (121). Don’t be tempted into thinking anything else.

As I read this chapter I thought about how we need to be careful about what we set ourselves up for in our “hopes and dreams.” We should not live lives of pessimism and fear, certainly not! But we also must not “put on God” the expectation that He will make our lives now what they can only be when we are finally with Him. We should never demand what we can not have in this life…

“The ‘house’ which is our body will be perfect one day, even as the ‘mansions’ which God is providing and preparing for us will also be perfect. However, perfection is not promised immediately after we become the children of the Lord in this life. Sometimes people take the verses in Isaiah 53:5 — ‘with his stripes we are healed’ — to mean that right now in this life the suffering which Jesus went through, as He was beaten and then died on the cross, will heal us of our diseases in this life. As we read the whole Bible, we come to understand that God is not making that promise. Therefore, He has not broken a promise when Christians suffer accidents to their bodies, become very ill, have crippling strokes or develop polio or heart disease. Indeed, the day is coming when our bodies will be perfect. Indeed, Jesus died to make this possible, and He rose again and walked about the earth for forty days in His resurrected body so that we could know what a resurrected body is like. We will be perfect, but not yet.” (121)

A while back I was talking with some friends about how Believers used to hope for heaven a lot more. In church gatherings hymns were sung, sermons were taught, people looked forward to a day when they could put down the burden of this world! What has happened to that conversation? What happened to looking forward to what’s next?

I think the conversation died when we decided that now was better than later. That is our mentality these days isn’t it? We have slipped into the age of entitlement and the message coming at us constantly is that we DESERVE everything our heart’s desire now: loads of happiness and the perfect Facebook timeline. We have the means now to have satisfaction in what we have, more than ever before, because we don’t even have to save up for it! We can put a life on credit and “have the dream” we can’t actually afford.

So we live and breathe the illusion that it is ours and that it is good. We have technology that allows us to get around without getting lost, constant entertainment to keep our minds buzzed, we can divorce our spouses and get a better one without anyone being at fault, our grocery stores have EVERYTHING from every part of the globe, we have mobility, and medicines, and in Canada soon we will have legalized Marijuana so that we can live in a fog and not even worry that we are

“…still living in the midst of the ongoing results of the spoiled world, with the abnormalities which have come after the Fall…” (122)

We honestly need to recalibrate. We need to stop this. We need to step back and take one hard look at our terrain. We need to strip off the lies of this world, the seduction of it, and live the Truth: this is not our home. This can never fulfill us. We can cram in every decaying thing we think we deserve between the beginning and the end and what will we have stored up? Will Jesus say, “Way to go! Those acquisitions are sure impressive!”

We should be aware we are waiting for a better “later” while we are in the “now” so we don’t think that “now” is where it’s all at. When we have that straight, the amazing thing is that Jesus actually offers us a better “now” no matter our present circumstances if we will follow His lead!

When we intentionally walk with Jesus, He will show us a more pure pleasure now.

  • We will see gifts from our Good Father that we never saw before, would not have recognized.
  • We will value relationships in such a new and freer way: less jealous, less comparative, less biased, less racist, less bordered, less fake, less judgemental, less competitive.
  • We will marvel at Creation when the Creator Himself points His work out to us.
  • We will age well with less hang-ups, less anxiety, less denial about it all.
  • We will serve well because we don’t need to be served.
  • We will have more peace and contentment.
  • We will do good things we never thought we would just because we are listening better and trusting more.
  • We will have the joy of participating in supernatural things, things that moth or rust cannot destroy.
  • We will have a worship for God in us that we don’t even need to work at, because we know Him so much more intimately.

And when we suffer it won’t be soul-destroying! We will feel a lot of things, but we won’t be put under by naive thinking and false expectations. We will hurt, but we won’t hurt without hope. We won’t grasp at the empty things of this world, wishing for what we don’t have, and we won’t despair! We will lock eyes with Christ and walk through it with Him to whatever end He wills and even in that we will see His faithfulness. We will experience what the Bible promises, an astounding truth: steadfast joy.

And because of all that we will pray in a new way and act on those prayers in a new way because we will be free from formulaic thinking! We won’t think 1+1 ought to be 2 in God’s economy, and why isn’t it?!? As if God is just going to jump and do what we ask in exactly the way we ask it because we are so wise in our own eyes! We will trust Him to do what is best! Is His best to heal us or remove some discomfort? Or to work out some good through us not being healed and to have us remain in a hard place knowing He is concerned about “now” but He is also very concerned about people’s “later.” When we are freed from the stranglehold of the world, know our view is limited and His grace and strength is sufficient, this becomes a viable question for us.

And another thing comes into focus that Jesus is blunt about: it is what He needs us to do in the “now.” Through our own lessons in affliction, suffering in others will come into focus for us and will call out to us to respond in a new way. Jesus already tells us that not everyone will receive a healing…

“Visiting the sick means that there will always be those who are sick. Feeding the hungry implies a personal involvement with someone who needs human and individual loving care, not just campaigning for a change of the political setup…” (123)

Both for the person suffering, and for the person extending compassion and care, the Will of God is being carried out when we are freed up to respond, carrying the “gifts of the Spirit” with us to help and encourage those in need. Who knows what God is up to in those situations? Maybe our role is just to help that person overcome against the Enemy who wants them to turn on God! While we do pray for a change in circumstances, for relief, for healing

“There is great danger that an emphasis on healing can make some people hardened or insensitive to the gentleness and thoughtfulness and imaginative care they are meant to be giving to someone.” (123)

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Can’t you see yourself, loaded up with all of this and going out into the world to see where you might distribute it as a part of being a light, spurring one another on, and helping each other to be steady in our faith?

“We are to have no other opportunity of visiting Christ when He is sick. Does this hit us with a hard shock? He is not saying ‘Heal the sick.’ He is talking about visiting with the idea of bringing comfort and love…We should check up on ourselves sometime: “Have I sent the Lord a card or a letter or a bunch of flowers in His sickness this week?…Have I failed to care for the Lord in some person’s need when offered that opportunity?” (123)

When we begin to think of God’s PURPOSES in everything, the puzzle He is fitting together, we won’t see what God has done one time for someone, and expect it will be the way He will do it for us. Again, we can not see what He sees. As Edith says,

“We rejoice when we read or hear of what God has done directly in answer to His children, but we are not to demand a recurrence of an event in someone else’s life or of an exact combination of situations.” (121)

As Edith says over and over in this book, God is up to something, let’s follow Him.

So we will persist in prayer, becoming more and more familiar with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and we will not let any false thing embitter us against God’s ways. There is something we will know and that is

“Any answer to prayer that we have in the material realm is also temporal, and our situation can change. We do have a continuous unbroken thing — and that is our communication with the Living God and our access to His ear at any time.” (122)

The chapter refers to us as cracked pots, and this is what we are now, let’s be honest.  The Potter is holding us together until we get to our new place.  Until then, we must not “lose heart,” no matter what our present circumstances look like. No matter what happens, we will not be destroyed, we will not perish because of the powerful work of Christ for us and in us!

O Saviour, wondrously show us Your marvellous and amazing lovingkindness as we take refuge at Your right hand during all of the circumstances that rise up against us! (Psalm 17:7 paraphrase) 

And while we wait for later, let us fully engage with today because something is stored IN US  that changes everything about the now:

 

We have this TREASURE in jars of clay
TO SHOW that this
ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from GOD 
and not from us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

— Teresa Klassen





5. Overcoming

19 02 2017

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.

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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

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:

To overcome.

— Teresa Klassen

 

 

 

 

 





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.