Sunday, July 10, 2022

Grace in the Wilderness

It is essential to our well being that how we think about ourselves and our circumstances (our philosophy) be governed by what we know about God from scripture (our theology). This is especially true when we are experiencing physical pain, mental distress or unwanted and unexplained trials over an extended period.

If our theology does not take charge, we find ourselves in a state of guilt or self-pity. Neither helps.

Self-Condemnation and Self-Justification

We may end up either serving ourselves large portions of self-condemnation (“I should never have done that, now I have to pay the price”) or self-justification, where I blame others. And, if heaven is silent, we may think of God as being distant, uninterested.

The patriarch Job explored such options with the help of his friends. The narrative ends without answers to Job’s questions, yet with the sufferer possessing an enriched knowledge of God and a spirit of worship. Ultimately, that is my prayer for all who get weary while enduring.

Of course, it is not wrong to pray for immediate relief for any who are having trials. However, searching for the specific reasons trials have arrived at our door is fruitless, unless of course we know of some sin we need to confess. Even then, we must be careful. A rule of thumb is not to accept guilt unless accompanied by a portion of scripture as pointed as the word Nathan spoke to David. It came after David judged the sin of another in the parable the prophet told. The “You are the man” was clear, and therefore convicting. It was not confusing. To over-sensitive souls I say, “Make sure the ‘guilty’ cap fits before you put it on; Satan is an accuser with purposes very different to what God intends. Anxiety and depression will set in if you listen to the enemy.”

Only Two Lessons

Harold M. Harper was a veteran evangelist who loved young people. Years ago, he and I were traveling by train to a preaching engagement. I was looking out the window and daydreaming when he startled me with this bit of homespun wisdom:

“You have only two lessons to learn, Colin, and all through life you will be learning one or the other.”

Fully alert now, I asked, “What are they?”

“One is what you are, and the other what God is.”

Seventy years have passed since then and I have proved that bon mot to be true. In trying circumstances, I have benefited most from being in one or the other of those classrooms. I am in school right now, not being punished but educated.

In the Desert

J.N. Darby had reason to pen a hymn along the same line, “Rise My Soul, Thy God Directs Thee”. (He was born in 1800 when “thees” and “thous” were in common use.) Life for some is dry, more of the same every day, a “wilderness” experience indeed, with nothing in sight to relieve a pain-filled boredom. May this not be an opportunity to learn not only more of our weakness, but also aspects of the Lord’s gracious character that we have not made time to consider fully?

Darby went on to write:

“In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found —
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy;
All His grace shall there abound.”

Some lessons are best taught in a wilderness. What God teaches there will be “found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. May this be true for each reader.

— Colin Anderson, “Suffering Saints”, July 2016

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