Peace in Affliction

Over the past couple of years I’ve experienced a lot of change and loss. I switched departments and job responsibilities twice, several close friends have moved out-of-state, an older friend died after months of illness, and a beloved church closed. As I’ve grieved through the various losses, God led me to a little book called Let Go, a collection of letters written by a 17th century archbishop named François Fénelon.

The second letter was titled by the editors, “How to Bear Suffering Peacefully.” That caught my attention. Then as I read, a couple of sections jumped off the page at me:

“We can add to our God-given cross by an agitated resistance and an unwilingness to suffer. This is simply an evidence of the remaining life of self…when you receive your cross unwillingly, you will find it to be doubly severe. The resistance within is harder to bear than the cross itself! But if you recognize the hand of God, and make no opposition to His will, you will have peace in the midst of affliction…But usually we want to drive a bargain with God. We would at least like to suggest some limits so that we can see an end to our sufferings. We don’t realize how we are thwarting the purposes of God when we take this attitude. Because the stubborn clinging to life which makes the cross necessary in the first place, also tends us to reject that cross–at least in part…may the Lord deliver us from falling into that state of soul in which crosses are of no benefit to us. God loves a cheerful giver, according to St. Paul in Second Corinthians 9:7. Ah! What must be His love for those who, in cheerful and absolute abandonment, give themselves completely to be crucified with Christ!”

God reassured me that He was aware of my pain and in His sovereignty He had allowed it; it was, in Fenelon’s words, my “God-given cross.” I could resist the pain and prolong it, ot accept it and allow God to use it as His tool to remove more of the old self-life and make me more like Jesus. I wonder if that’s what Paul was getting at in Philippians 3 when he said this:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV)

Wrestling With God

I’m going to stretch the definition of "classic" once again with a book that may well be at least a "modern classic." I’ve been re-reading The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul, and this morning I was challenged by his thoughts in chapter 7 on Jacob wrestling with the angel of God in Genesis 32.

First, Sproul gives some cultural background that changed how I view this event:

"The discussion with the angel about names is significant. The angel demanded the name of Jacob. The demand for the name was similar to the custom we have today of indicating surrender by saying "uncle." For the combatant to yield his name meant that he was acknowledging the superiority of the other party. The yielding of the name was an act of submission. When Jacob surrendered his name, he surrendered his soul. He relinquished authority over his own life. With the surrender came a new name, a new identity, Israel."

The curious thing to me is that when the angel gave Jacob his new name, he said this: "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." So it seems that the way Jacob prevailed with God was by yielding to Him. How typical of God to turn the world’s values upside down and say that victory comes through surrender!

A bit later, Sproul says this (boldfacing is mine):

"The Holy One cannot be defeated in personal combat. But there is some consolation here. Jacob wrestled with God and lived. He was left crippled, but he survived that battle. At least we can learn from this that God will engage us in our honest struggles. We may wrestle with the Holy One. Indeed, for the transforming power of God to change our lives, we must wrestle with Him. We must know what it means to fight with God all night if we are also to know what it means to experience the sweetness of the soul’s surrender."

God gives me permission to wrestle with Him! My natural tendency under pressure is to withdraw, but God would rather have me question Him or even express anger at Him than withdraw from Him. In fact, if Sproul is right (and I think he is), struggling with God is necessary to spiritual growth, because struggle leads to surrender, and surrender brings true victory.

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