The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 8
Because this journey about An Apologetic on Suffering is lengthy, meaty, high and rich fare, each course is accompanied by a reminder-review of where we’ve been thus far.
God’s “Protocol for Redemptive Suffering”
The Weeping: Part 5, Freefalls; Part 6, Foundations
All Weeping, all tears, all trials, and all freefalls of life are allowed in God’s loving offer for revealing and firming up the foundations of our faith.
Every human being has faith in something. It’s what makes us human. The one true God of the bible created and sustains us. He alone radically cares about the make-up and merits of our faith foundations: If we are not settled solely on The Rock of His Creation, Christ, and Covenant promises, our life is nothing more than suppressing the truth and avoiding, denying the reality of living in a state of weightless, suspended, anxiety- and worry-filled animation: This is hardly called a purpose-driven life. God desires so much more for us.
The Window: Part 7, The Would-a, Could-a, Should-a’s; Part 8, The Window into the Heart
Once on a foundation of Creation, Christ, and Covenant, we are assured no punishment is involved, only purification: searching our heart, discerning between the falsehoods and truths of our faith, and seizing any/all opportunities to purify the heart.
Part of everyone’s experience of suffering includes “The Would-a, Could-a, Should-a’s”: Large and little regrets which include the reality and feelings of true and false guilt. “The Would-a, Could-a, Should-a’s” are real, and are offered by God for the purposes of reminding us of the Gospel; and applying that very Gospel to our hearts.
This is why God’s Holy Spirit reminded me of the specific passages included in “The Window” on Christmas night while with my dying father:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
PLEASE NOTE: The dual realities of our sin AND the salvific effect of no condemnation are the “bookends of the Gospel” that captures our lives a sinners saved by grace. It is exactly what we need to face reality AND to be freed to do the sort of inventory of our true and false guilt, the true and false beliefs, contained within our saved yet still-sinful heart: The heart, remember, is the repository of our faith, our core beliefs and values, our most treasured idols, our non-negotiables (Deuteronomy 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 4:23).
Why does God allow suffering? It is one of the most important ways the window of our heart is blow-open wide so that we can see it for what it truly is—AND, while on the foundation of God’s unfailing love for us in Christ, we can be made more holy, sanctified, purified, Christ-like by participating, unashamed, like the son or daughter of God who we are, in it’s cleansing and transformation towards Christ-likeness!
This is absolutely huge, Beloved. The “Western Church” is notoriously bad at mourning. We hate the killing of our pride, the fact of our not being in control, the fear of being de-fig-leafed, the emotional-psychological discomfort, the weeping—in joy or pain, the requirement of patience, the vulnerability, the discerning between our feelings of shame-filled remorse and true repentance… We fear and detest it all—and this leaves a very big void in the aim God has for using our trials for His glory, and our own triumph.
We hate it all so much that we “get over” times of suffering so bloody fast it’s as if taking the precious time to mourn and to deeply process our losses is merely another unnecessary inconvenience.
Of course, in doing so, we don’t “get over it” at all. Rather—as my book’s sub-title submits—we get bitter rather than better. Rather than our suffering being used to turn our heart softer and softer, more and more like the sacred heart of Jesus, it will naturally turn harder and harder… Stone-hard and eventually impenetrable. And we take the suppressed truth and relentless emotional ambivalence out on everyone from God, to ourselves, and to all else in our loves and lives…
Part 8, The Window into the Heart: How God Uses Trials for Revealing and Purifying Our Heart
[as quoted from my book—emphasis added]
The Paraclete* and Peering In
*one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate
The assurance of being on a firm foundation of God’s creation, Christ, and his covenant love for me—all while being at a window peering through and into my heart—was extremely real.
The beginning of this next part of the journey had emotions associated with it that were, on the one hand, extremely scary and threatening, but on the other hand extremely reassuring.
I felt the very real presence of the Holy Spirit offering a place alongside him as we peered through the window of my heart. This window was created—actually blown open—by the circumstances of a broken world, and by God, to move into the next step in the answer to my outcries: “Please stop the waves, the crush of my sinful, misplaced or misconstrued involvement in my dad’s life… as well as in his death!
Mine, in fact, everyone’s “would-a, could-a, should-a’s” can and should be viewed in the light of God’s love and truth—in relationship to Christ. Viewed from God’s perspective of our faith in him, whether our faith be true or false faith, can only be seen from this perspective.
Being with the Holy Spirit of the Trinity looking into my heart is no small matter. It is an unspeakable gift offered to me and all who would, by faith, stay put for a time. I could have stayed in this scary yet secure and safe place, but for the time being there was a sense of urgency to move forward.
Seeing the two sides of my true nature through the window into my heart (being more sinful and yet more loved) was a view of reality that would have been impossible to fully accept if it weren’t for two main facts: first, I was on the foundation of creation, Christ and covenant promise; and second, being very close to the person of the Holy Spirit placed me in a sacred place. I felt a strong sense that I should take full advantage of this rare and rich time to be with the loving guide, counselor, and pointer to Jesus Christ: The Holy Spirit. To see my heart more and more as God sees it.
It’s important to note again that no other circumstance of life would avail me to this “foreboding fact-finding” yet blessed and sacred experience of seeing truth and embracing it so that I could (with the help of The Helper, the Bible, and my Christian community) eradicate the lie and live more according to who I really, truly am in Jesus Christ.
The idea and temptation to avoid this scary and sacred time at the window of my heart was real as well. I’m certain the sins encompassed by the world, the flesh, and the devil that hates me as a new creation in Christ and hoped I would simply fly right by!
And yet, I was overwhelmed by an opportunity to see my heart as God sees it and accept the fact that he was not doing this for any blessing he would receive (other than being glorified) but rather purely out of love for me… for my purification and the eventual holiness and Christ-likeness my heart would benefit from.
Like Paul, I had the rare chance to really distinguish between the “I as sinner” and the “I as saved” (Romans 7) as I peered into the recesses of my heart.
Time spent at the window blown open by life’s many travails is a trial and a treasure. The treasure far exceeded the trial, but the trial had to occur for the power of catharsis to promote the kind of change offered as my heart was crushed and re-created by the Holy Spirit. This is, in fact, the “sanctified suffering” God desires.
The truths and falsehoods that had become more obvious in this time and as they are seen by God were now both available to be claimed as true, or cleansed as being false, by applying God’s Holy Word, the merits and/or mediocrity of my faith in Christ, and loving counsel to my heart, my emotions, and my life.
The theology of being at the window and seeing “the two sides of the Gospel” more clearly gave me glimpses of how important and necessary this time really and truly was. It is ultimately is the most wonderfully freeing time one could ever spend. It’s a time that now appeared as such an obvious benefit while also I could tell that moving by it and taking no notice at all, “merely” because the difficulty of doing so would be a disastrous mistake.
Utterly surrounded by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s mercy, I was compelled to stay in this place where Jesus’ words faintly echoed, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… to divide… truth from falsehood… beginning in the heart…” (Matthew 10:34—paraphrased). Don’t waste the cutting in the curse of suffering, by avoiding the power and process of the cure offered at the window.
The humble confidence I felt as the Holy Spirit assured me that my specific outcries tied to the true and false guilt would be answered… was palpable. The specific outcries related to this time and my relationship with my father was applied in practice to my heart in a most blessed way, imparting a principle that shot through every particle of my being: times of great trial and suffering allow us a chance to see our heart more and more as God sees it—so that we can take part in choosing life or death, darkness or light, self or Christ, idols or the living God of the Bible, wisdom or foolishness, freedom or bondage, and guilt-ridden servitude or service to The King!
In this place with God and Dad, I had seen the monumental gulf between “the wrath of God being revealed against all who suppress the truth” and the blessed, gracious promise that now there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The nearly unbelievable assurance of “no condemnation” had swept away every one of my would-a, could-a, should-a’s.
Will the blessing ever overcome the curse in total victory? No, not completely, not until Christ comes again in glory to drive away every last shadow of sin from our hearts. Still, no promise from the throne of God has ever taken a higher hill in life’s battle than had this promise. “It’s true!”
I wept, even as I knelt over my dad’s body in the Christmas snow, bitter-sweet tears squeezed from the True Truth of the Gospel—The Good News—that I was a sinner saved by Grace… himself.
As I straightened my back again, I was suddenly more aware of what was going on around me. The now-imminent sounds of the rest of the world responding to an emergency began to break into my protective bubble. Once again, I checked Dad’s condition. Once again, it was unchanged. His body continued to shiver occasionally, and his breathing was more shallow and erratic now.
[end quote from my book]
Loving God with All Our Heart
Jonathan Edwards—as we all should be—was committed to being an active participant in God’s Spirit-work and pursuit of holiness, sanctification, maturity, and increasingly Christ-like effectiveness.
“Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, ‘till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.”
Like David—a man with a heart after God’s own heart—we are called to use the unavoidable trials of living in a broken world which God providentially and intimately allows to cleanse our hearts… which promotes emotional well-being… which produces The Fruit of the Spirit… and Christ-like effectiveness as the light and salt of this dark and decaying world.
King David’s circumstance of suffering? An adulterous affair, a child out of wedlock, and a murderous plot to cover it up… that’s all. What circumstance of suffering can God redeem? Any that He is invited into.
Enjoy the most marvelous penitential Psalm ever written while also seeing how it so closely reflect God’s “protocol for redemptive suffering” in The Weeping, the Window, and the Way:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
This is the pattern of redemptive suffering, Beloved.
Please join us at The Training Table next week when we will look at Part 9 and 10, The Way: How God sends us back into the chaos of this broken world… to be “co-redeemer’s” with Him and those in His family.
Purposely, passionately, more purified, we move back into the chaos as a wounded healer, more like Jesus Christ. The way… or whether… we move back into life after a loss of any kind is so crucial that God would not allow for the suffering if He didn’t also make a way for it’s redemptive use!
Remember, just like David did above, if it weren’t for the previous two parts of God’s protocol for redemptive suffering [the Weeping, and the Window], we wouldn’t be ready for the vision and mission of the Way:
“Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.”