The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Pleasure

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Gentle Reader,

As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I knew that there would be no leaving the house. I knew that it would be one of “those days,” when getting out of the bed and walking down the hall into the living room would be an accomplishment. That’s the nature of CFIDS. Yes, there are things I can do to manage the symptoms – avoiding certain foods, practicing good sleep hygiene, using the tools gained through these months of counseling to manage stress. Still, there are days like this. Days when it just doesn’t matter what kind of effort I’ve put forth. I’ll have to give way to the fatigue.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. – 2 Corinthians 12:10a (NKJV)

Oh, I want to shake Paul. I want to ask him how he can possibly take pleasure in these things.

Pleasure – eudokeo (yoodokeho): think it good; be well-pleased with

Infirmities – astheneia (astheniah): want of strength; weakness; infirmity; frailty; feebleness of health; sickness

Reproaches – oneidismos: a reproach as Christ suffered; disapproval; disappointment

Distresses – anaghe (anangkay): calamity

How can I think it a good thing to be laid out on the couch, drained of strength and desire? How can I be well-pleased with this body that surrenders so easily to every invader?

I suppose I should be used to being sick by now. I’ve always been the one who catches all the colds and all the flus. For as long as I can remember I’ve dealt with rashes, allergies, stomach ailments, pounding headaches and the like. This is nothing particularly new. And yet…I find myself hoping that I’ll wake up one morning and feel fine. That I’ll be in possession of health and vigor. That I’ll be able to bounce out the door instead of crawling like a slug.

If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I don’t yet have the maturity to have a right perspective on illness. But what is that right perspective? How do you move beyond the disappointment and the sense of isolation?

My comfort lies in God’s promised healing. Trouble is, that promise comes with a call to trust: I don’t dictate His timing. It may well be that I do not experience release from this until Heaven. That doesn’t mean He fails to come through – it means He knows more than I do.

That’s hard to deal with. That makes me uncomfortable. God does have good plans for us. I believe that. His good plan for me might involve sickness. It certainly seems to at this point. How can that be? Couldn’t I do so much more, be so much more, if my body were strong and healthy? Couldn’t I be of so much more use to Him?

That, I guess, is the real question: Is the value of a person, their usefulness in the Kingdom, tied up in how much they can do?

I’ve lived with the diagnosis of CFIDS for over a year-and-a-half now. I’ve lived with the mental diagnoses for seven months. Even after all that time, I am only just beginning to understand how illness reaches out and touches everything. Everyone.

All of me.

My journey to faith. (15)

  For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.

The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Boast

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Gentle Reader,

I find myself extremely resistant to looking at the rest of the passage I spent the month of January memorizing. It’s hard enough to consider that some pain may be directly ordained by God, worse yet to know that He will use forces of evil to work His will in my life. That is beyond my understanding in more ways than one. The rest of verse 12, however, takes the cake:

Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9b (NKJV)

What the what?

The Greek gives no additional insight into this sentence. Paul is straight up saying that he’s going to revel in his weaknesses. He connects this acceptance and glorying in frailty to an outpouring of Christ’s strength.

I’d like to lodge a protest against this. Believing Scripture to be God-inspired doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with what it has to say. I’m supposed to accept and even enjoy the fact that I’m sick and sad? I’m supposed to be looking for ways in which God’s power works through me? Seriously?

And yet…

I can’t get on this boasting in weakness train, but I will say that there is a level of intimacy that I am experiencing with God that I would not otherwise know without this pain and illness. No, I am not hearing an audible voice and there are no burning bushes. I don’t suddenly understand everything in the Bible. This intimacy is built upon desperation. I must know God. I have to stick close to Him. I don’t have many illusions about my own strength left, and those that do remain are being systematically knocked down by a Divine hand.

So, maybe that’s what Paul is talking about. I can’t imagine that he was actually happy to be in pain, but maybe the pain led him to a new experience with God, a new level of relationship.

There are certain things I know for sure now that I didn’t before. God is intimately involved in our lives. He is always faithful and ever-loving. I need to memorize Scripture if I want to have any chance against the dark, irrational thoughts that come so easily. It’s vital to cling to what I know, rather than what I feel. Other things that I used to be so sure about, like my calling, where my life was headed and my own abilities, have fallen by the wayside. The place I find myself in is extremely uncomfortable, but that is somehow better than where I was before.

Til we meet again.

My journey to faith. (15)

  For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.

The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Pleading

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Gentle Reader,

Does Scripture, and this passage specifically, teach that God actively brings pain into the lives of those He loves?

I’ve been pondering this question all week. It’s easy to point to numerous passages in the Bible and flippantly state that God does bring suffering into the lives of His people. This is to gloss over the issue, however, for many of those passages detail cause-and-effect situations. God told the Israelites not to do ____________. If they did ___________, then ___________ would happen. The Israelites did __________, so ___________ happened.

We’re not talking about the consequences of sin. God is more than clear about the things that will happen in our lives if we depart from His way. This is suffering that we bring entirely upon ourselves. Most thankfully, He is always ready to hear our repentant cries and to help us navigate through the mess!

What about things like cancer? Job loss? Stock market crashes? Houses burning down?

What about those things?

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NKJV)

Paul’s got this stake hammered into his body, jammed in there by one sent to torment him. We have no idea what this stake was. He could have been sick, he could have been struck with depression, he could have lost a friend. The nature of the pain doesn’t matter when it comes to our understanding of this passage. What does matter is that he was hurting, that he didn’t like it and that he asked God to take the pain away.

Concering: huper (hooper) – in behalf of; over, beyond, more than; more, beyond, over.

Pleaded: parakaleo (parakaleho) – to call to one’s side; call for; summon; address; speak to; exhortation; entreaty; beg; beseech.

Lord: kurios (kooreeos) – He to whom a person or thing belongs; master; owner; title of honor; reverence; God.

Times: kairos (kaheeros) – due measure; opportune or seasonable time.

Depart: aphistemi (afistaymee) – cause to withdraw; remove; go away; desert; fall away; flee from; cease to vex one; to withdraw.

Paul’s mind and emotions are consumed by this pain. I don’t know whether “three times” means “three times” or if the number is representative as in so much of Scripture, but it’s safe to say that this pain was a topic of discussion between Paul and God more than once. The Apostle took what opportunities he could to say, “Oh, Lord, You are my King. Please, please take this thing away from me!”

There is so much comfort in knowing that God listens, isn’t there?

Paul’s perspective in the preceding verse, where he talks about this pain being necessary to keep him from undue pride, must have come after the experience. I don’t know anyone, no matter how long they’ve walked with God, who says, “Oh, yes, I am experiencing _________ so I don’t ______________.” Perspective in cases like this almost always involves hindsight. I find that comforting, too, because it means that Paul was absolutely human.

Paul’s getting beat up. He being knocked about. He’s pleading with God to make it stop. I think that this gives us a starting point in terms of the great Problem of Pain: God alone is the one who can bring the healing, the restoring, the relief, the peace that we so desperately need.

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

  For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.

The God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable: a Stake

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Gentle Reader,

One of my goals for 2012 is to memorize 12 passages of Scripture. There are no parameters, no theme. I simply want to replace the negative junk that so often cycles through my mind with God’s truth.

And what a truth I chose to start with.

I didn’t realize it when I chose 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 as my starting passage that my discomfort with God would be brought screaming to the surface. Tucked within the confines of Paul’s second letter to the fractious Corinthians are words that Christians have drawn encouragement from for centuries. “When I am weak, then I am strong” and all that.

Ah, but let’s look at the first verse:

Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (NKJV)

Consider the original Greek words and their meanings (presented here as best a non-scholar can):

Exalted above measure – huperairomai (hooperaheeromahee): lift or raise up over some thing; lift one’s self up; be haughty; carry one’s self haughtily; behave insolently

Abundance – hyperbole (hooperbolay): throwing beyond; superiority; excellence; preeminence; beyond measure; exceedingly

Revelations – apokalupsis (apokaloopsis) – laying bare; making naked; disclosure of truth; instruction; manifestation; appearance

Thorn – skolops: pointed piece of wood; pale; stake; sharp stake; splinter

Flesh – sarx: body; sensuous nature of man; living creature

Given – didomi (didomee): give; bestow a gift; grant; let have; supply; furnish; necessary things; give what is due

Messenger – aggelos (angelos) – envoy; one who is sent

Buffet – kolaphizo (kolafidzo) – strike with the fist; give one a blow; maltreat; treat with violence

In other words

Lest I began to behave insolently because of the immeasurable amount of truth disclosed to me, a stake – a gift – was stabbed into my body, at the hand of one sent to beat me.

The depth of this verse comes to light when looked at in context, a journey that we will take together in future posts. For now, think about the fact that Paul clearly states that his pain was necessary, that it was even a gift, meant to keep him from improper pride in the face of God.

That, right there. That’s what makes me uncomfortable.

Does Scripture, and this passage specifically, teach that God actively brings pain into the lives of those He loves?

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all posts in the God with Whom we Are Uncomfortable series, go here.