Being Reborn

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

~John 12:20-27

I realized yesterday that no matter how hard I hold out, or how good I am, or how much I serve God, I cannot extract a guarantee from Him that life won't happen to me. (Yes, I know, duh.)

It seems that all my life I have held to the security of my answers and explanations of how I should relate to God about this. He's always "teaching a lesson" through pain or "building character" in suffering or (if I want to be super-spiritual) He's got a purpose in it, even if I don't understand. The more I have wrestled with the concept of the pain we face in this life, though, the less I have been able to accept those ideas. To accept them, I have to believe that God is capricious, sadistic, and mean in the way He deals with me. Even if all my suffering is punishment condemning my sin (I can accept His divine right to judge), then He is violating His own word that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."

I am beginning to see that in this world, we will have tribulation (yes, I know, another duh). That's part of being alive here. There is no spell or incantation or blessing to procure a special exception for believers. In fact, we make a larger target area for Satan, because he can't miss Christ in us.

But I don't want to suffer. I'm tired of pain. The harder I try to make that safe, perfect place for myself here, the more angry and frustrated I find myself. From the anger and frustration comes a fatalistic, embittered attitude toward God for allowing my constant managing to be thwarted. It keeps me from accepting the good gifts He is giving now, because I can't guarantee good for my future.

The idea of "laying down my life" has been ludicrous to me. Where I come from, it's all kinds of asceticism, denying myself, shutting down until I am a Jesus-look-alike automaton. But here, in what Christ tells His Abba, I find that He was troubled even as He told us that we had to lay our lives down to find them again. He wanted to ask His Father to save Him from the hour of His death. Yet, His purpose was that God would be revealed (see my previous post for thoughts on glory).

Granted, I don't want to die. But I have a thought.

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Nicodemus is appalled. "Can a man go BACK into his mother's womb and be born again?" Jesus tells him that he must be born of the Spirit.

Now on this side of Piper's birth, I have a different perspective on that. I blogged in July about God's loving approach to Eve in describing the great pain she would have in giving birth. Often in Scripture, God uses a woman travailing in birth as a portrait of pain.

While my labor was mercifully short, the thing I remember the most was how the pain felt so unnecessary. It didn't have to be there. During my transition, I lost my voice yelling at it.

I've been doing the same thing about life.

I yell at the pain, I yell at God, I take out my frustration on anyone close enough to take the heat, deserved or not. Because I can't make life the way it should be - why is it we somehow know what it *should* be? - I gradually shut down more and more. I don't accept the good there is and refuse to believe that God Himself could be good. I am afraid of His kindness because of the inevitable loss.

So to lay this life down, that I will surely lose the more I grasp for it, isn't as horrible as I once believed it to be.

What if I accept that I am a stranger, that I am bound to the same veil of flesh from which all creation groans to be released? Then I too groan against the unfairness of the pain and the already-broken rule of Satan. God allows it because He is God - but He felt it. He feels it. Because of Christ, He can be with us in it.

"For this purpose..."

This struggle, these pains, this suffering that I experience - I think these are my birth pains, the labor of the Spirit within me to give birth to new life in me. I cannot gloss over them or avoid them, because they are real. I have no guarantee that God will touch my life with a magic no-suffering wand on the other side of this.

But I find hope in realizing that it's okay to hate the pain, in understanding that He hates it too, that He didn't want to go to the Cross. To enter into the sufferings of Christ means experiencing the power of His resurrection.

Those Greeks who walked up to Philip and asked to see Jesus didn't have a clue what they were asking. Neither did I. I just figured He must be pretty cool.

And yet it must be wonderful to get the princess, and yet it is only the knight of faith who is happy, only he is heir apparent to the finite, whereas the knight of resignation is a stranger, a foreigner. To get the princess in this way, to live in joy and happiness, in her company day in and day out—we have to allow, of course, that the knight of resignation, too, may get the princess, even though he has clearly perceived the impossibility of their future happiness—thus to live joyfully and happily in this way every moment on the strength of the absurd, every moment to see the sword hanging over the loved one’s head and yet find, not repose in the pain of resignation, but joy on the strength of the absurd—that is wonderful.


Jessica said...

I don't think God has ever wanted us to like or give thanks for pain. What He wants, I think, is for us to give thanks for the fact that *in spite* of the pain, He is still there. Granted, sometimes we can't feel Him. I was just reading through the Psalms today and realizing how often David asked God where He was and why He had forsaken or forgotten him. And yet, he said, "I will yet praise Him." (Psalm 42) Not something many of us are naturally prone to do.

I am convinced that God puts us in painful or complicated situations not to "build character," per se, but to force us to depend more heavily on Him. It's not easy -- it means giving up control, something that NONE of us want to do!! But when we make that leap of faith, we see how great He is when He gives us the power to do something that we KNOW we couldn't have done naturally, by ourselves. And it shows others the same thing.

I hope this doesn't come across as a sermon. I am speaking to myself here just as much as anyone else. I seem to find that my actions very rarely reflect what my head keeps telling me is true. I'm glad that God is a patient Person. :-p

Kelly Sauer said...

Nope - not a sermon. :-)

I am coming to believe that God doesn't "put" us in the complicated situations. We can handle that on our own. I see a lot of instances in Scripture where He promises to "make our paths straight," but outside of Paul's blindness on the road to Damascus, I can't really think of situations where He deliberately "puts" us through pain.

I think His desire is that we depend more on Him, but to believe He creates situations designed to force us to do so implies that He is just twisted. Now, that is not to say that He won't use the situations in which we find ourselves to the utmost in order to reveal Himself in us and to us - but the good we may gain from learning to trust is entirely due to the work of the Holy Spirit transforming us. (Which brings me back to the point of my post - being rebirthed through the Spirit.)

Jessica said...

Good points! :-)

Jessica said...

Upon further thought, I want to clarify a couple things from my earlier comments. When I said "force" us into depending on Him, I didn't mean that we don't have a choice in the matter. I believe difficult situations are used to show us that we have no other option than to depend on God, but that doesn't necessarily mean we will listen. It is ultimately our choice.

Regarding God “putting” us in the painful situations − I agree that we very often bring consequences on ourselves, or that we simply suffer from the effects of our fallen world. If God were to “put” us in painful situations, though, I don't think that would imply that He is sadistic and mean. He knows that our greatest good is for us to be more in tune with Him, so if He put situations in front of us that accomplish that end, it would be out of love. I don't think He necessarily *creates* the painful situations, but He at least has the power to stop them, and doesn't (as with Job). But as you say, we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus has experienced it and feels what we're going through. And more importantly, no matter what we suffer in this world, He has freed us from the ultimate and eternal pain of hell, and for that we can always be thankful! :-)

Lynette said...

I really appreciate what Father is doing in you Kelly, even if you don't at times 8-) There can be no experience of Resurrection Life now, without death on the cross. It is a fact of Life! (also known as a principle but I know you'll like the other word better ;-) Knowing and experiencing Christ as Life here and now is a huge Reward for the pain and death we experience here and now :-)

Leeann said...

Thank you for this. I'm not sure I have anything more intelligent than that to say, but it was an encouragement.

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