No Suffering? Is It Even Good?

At this moment, but soon to be corrected, I have read only one article by Father Stephen Freeman. This is a brilliant insight into, and antidote to, first-world society and Christianity.

That may not be a superb sales line for the article. It is worth reading, worth thinking about, and worth applying for your own life. If you don’t read it, I apologize to you for the poor marketing. I wish I could have sold it better.

The Human Project

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6 Responses to No Suffering? Is It Even Good?

  1. paulfpavao says:

    That helps. I don’t disagree with any of this, except that I don’t feel any guilt or need to repent for anger, lust, or any similar feeling. I repent for lustful glances, which are rare because God kindly granted me chemotherapy to quell most of the temptation. I repent for outbursts of wrath, which are also rare because God has not only dealt with my anger issues, but with the anger itself.

    There is an obedience I have to devote myself to. You said this as well. As far as the urges and feelings that make obedience difficult, I expect God to deal with those. Watchman Nee, in _The Release of the Spirit_ described it as circumstances working on our soul like a chisel, breaking us, and the life of God growing within us, breaking us from the inside out like a seed. He wrote that we can’t speed this process up by our own efforts, but we can slow it down by complaining and resisting the circumstances he sends to chisel us.

    I think that I have written repeatedly about 1 John 1:7. It’s a central passage to me. We are required to walk in the light, which I see as keeping all our behavior up for judgment and correction by God. If we will do so, he will both cleanse us from sin and give us fellowship with the saints. For some things, we need to confess as well (1 Jn. 1:9), but in both cases there is a promise from God not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us. It seems clear those are two different things, at least to me.

    One other passage I live by is “his mercies are new every morning,” which you quoted. I recently wrote that verse either on this blog or on a FB post. I’m pretty sure it was on this blog. One of my favorite songs, which happens to be a hymn, is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which quotes that passage. I sing it all the time, and I expect that if I get up each morning to walk in the light, taking off the old man, and clothing myself with Jesus, that I do so with a completely clean slate, whatever the failings of yesterday.

    I would love to get some feedback on whether there are others think that I write about judgment and works and so little about daily mercies of God that my comments about the mercies of God are barely notice, or not noticed at all.

    I wrote this for example in my December 6 post. So if I haven’t made it clear what I think elsewhere, this is what I think, from just four days ago.

    ************
    In all of this, I confidently expect that if I walk in the light, loving his will, his ways, and the way he exposes the rottenness of my flesh so that I have no confidence in myself, then the blood of Jesus, my King and my loving Savior, will both cleanse me from the influence of the flesh and forgive me of my sins, known or unknown (1 Jn. 1:7).

    So I exhort you and everyone to do the same.

    1. Say yes to God about going all the way with him, and don’t think for a moment that you will get away with saying no. The punishment may be eternal.
    2. Acknowledge that everything you do, if it comes from you, is terrible, sinful, and stained. The mind set on the flesh CANNOT please God. So if you get your mind on the flesh, which you will, and you don’t please God, you can confidently know God is not surprised. It is what he expects. So don’t be surprised yourself. Get up, get your mind off yourself, even off the sin you’ve been walking in, confess that you know there is nothing good in you, and put on the Lord Jesus. Set your mind on him. Find something he’s told you to do and go do it just to please him.
    3. Grow. Get up every day knowing that his mercies are new every morning. If you are giving today to him, wholly and at any cost, nothing happened yesterday. It’s gone, left behind. God doesn’t pay any attention to the wickednesses of yesterday for those who will live in righteousness today (Ezek. 33:14-16).
    ****************

  2. Jon says:

    Interesting article.I had a gander round his website and found the following article on moral progress very intriguing and encouraging:
    http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/12/05/youre-not-better/
    However, I wonder how much you’d agree with it, Paul.

    • paulfpavao says:

      I don’t agree with it much at all, but this may be the best opportunity to understand each other that we’ve ever had. I am pretty confident I can explain my problem with it so you can see the article through my eyes. Maybe you can do the same for me.

      When I was a young man I had a terrible temper. It didn’t ignite often, but when it did it was out of control. I never physically harmed my first two children, but I’m sure that had my temper not been brought under control, I would have mentally harmed them with my verbal outbursts and the ferociousness of my anger.

      That had to change. I made it a central focus of my life to change my temper. I asked my wife for help, others for help, told others when I had an outburst, pleaded for any advice possible, and over a few years, those outbursts completely disappeared. My youngest three, I’m pretty sure, have never experienced that anger, even as babies.

      I was addicted to pornography before I was even a teenager. Though I had my moments and even months, it was a sin I could not overcome on my own. To find deliverance I was going to have to solve another problem in my life.

      I was so scared of people that I was 26 the first time I ever returned a product with a problem. It happened to be at Burger King, where they got our order wrong, and I only went up to get it right because I didn’t want my newlywed wife to find out that I was scared to return things.

      I worked at that problem for years, and I can still remember the day at WalMart, when I was 35 or 36, when I purposely looked in the eyes of a passerby in a WalMart aisle and smiled a friendly hello.

      I had to overcome that fear so that I could be brave enough to tell others that I was looking at pornography. I confiessed at a men’s meeting with about 35 men present and asked for help. That helped some, but I still had to go back a couple years later, talk to a leader in the church–and to my wife–and confess again.

      Maybe the people that the priest in that article deals with are better people than me. Maybe the sins they confess that don’t change over the years aren’t as bad as my sins. I had to progress. I had to overcome. I had to do whatever was necessary, whether God was going to judge me or not, because I had kids to raise properly and a wife to love. I had a family to avoid destroying.

      Just a couple days ago we took my daughter to dinner for her birthday. I can’t drive because of the chemo treatments. My head is not clear enough. When we got outside, we realized my wife had locked the keys in the car. She was clearly embarrassed. Worse, my daughter asked, “Didn’t you lock the car with the remote?” My wife answered honestly, “I never do.” My wife knows I always do. I never lock a car any other way than with the fob (the remote) or with the key, specifically to avoid locking the keys in the car.

      I bit my tongue and said nothing. Later, my wife thanked me for not taking advantage of the opportunity to make a point that would really have stung her.

      I’ve only known not to do that for a few years. As a younger man, I would have taken the opportunity to relieve my anger at being stuck in downtown Memphis, weak from chemotherapy and easily exhausted, with a quick “told you so” type comment.

      I consider that progress, and when I see some other husband add to his wife’s embarrassment in a bad situation by berating her, I hope that he will progress, too, for his wife’s sake.

      I spend my life progressing so that I don’t have to confess the same sins over and over all my life. Yes, there are faults I have that I don’t see. Yes, there are personality faults that I have which are horrible difficult to overcome, but I work at overcoming them for the sake of other people.

      Just this weekend I was visited by two Matthews at the same time. They were just meeting each other. I work hard at being considerate and asking questions that allow others to talk about themselves and their experiences. That does not come natural to me, even though I’m always interested in the answers. So I watched both of them interact, making mental notes of the questions they asked each other and the way they answered, hoping to learn a skill I don’t have from them.

      I am trying to make progress in that kind of conversation because, in my opinion, it is loving to do so. It is beneficial to people I meet and to creating and bettering relationships.

      All that is progress to me, and I don’t understand Christians who don’t work on bettering themselves in that way. My experience with Jesus is that he points out to me these faults, then helps me through the course of overcoming them.

      I shudder at the thought of people confessing the same sins over and over to a priest for years. Shame on that priest! Does he have no solutions to those problems? Does he have no gifted people in his congregation to whom he can send people who need help with the same sins over and over?

      Maybe by sins, he means people who are occasionally tempted to watch reruns Dr. Who. Ok. If that’s the problem, I don’t care if a Christian doesn’t make progress. If, however, you don’t know how to take care of your wife, so that your wife can say, “My husband has become a better caretaker of my feelings as we’ve gotten older. Even when we argue, he controls his temper and never says the things that he knows will hurt me,” then you need to start making progress, and it is shameful if you do not.

      That’s my perspective on the article. Maybe you can explain to me how you see it because I obviously am unable to see through your eyes, and I would love to at least try.

      • Jon says:

        Thank you for your lengthy reply, Paul.

        I didn’t really have the kind of habits that you mentioned in mind as I read it – I agree, progress should be made sort in those sort of areas.

        I think I’m more on about attitudes of the heart that often stubbornly cling. It’s usually relatively easy to stop the outward manifestation of a sin, but dealing with the heart issue is often far more challenging.

        Somebody who has angry outbursts, for example, can learn self-control – in fact, can even be deterred from that act by the warnings in scripture. However, they may still seethe underneath and think very angry thoughts which are far harder to control.

        Someone who has issues with pornography, for example, can stop watching it and prevent themselves from watching it by various means (filters, accountability etc.) They may even be shaken into taking that action by the exhortations and warnings in scripture (cutting off hands rather than going to hell etc.). However, lustful thoughts may still be far more difficult to control and one may be wrestling with them for a lifetime – I stress wrestling as in still fighting, not just simply yielding to the sin (a point that the article makes).

        In both of these examples, the person may receive threats, admonishments, encouragements and exhortations about how they have to change their heart. Although they would agree, I doubt such imperatives by themselves would help.

        I will give you a recent personal example – earlier this year I gradually developed an unhealthy overindulgence in alcohol . There would be two or three occasions per week where I would drink a fairly large amount (enough to get mildly drunk) on my own in order to relieve boredom and frustration and to relax. Although not serious enough to be called alcoholism per se, it may have escalated in that direction had I continued.

        Not long ago I realised enough was enough and confessed this dodgy habit to a friend (a much older, wiser mentor kind of friend). Since then he has asked me every week (either on the phone or in person) if I’ve been drinking alone and that has been enough to completely deter me from the activity and I now wouldn’t dare purchase alcohol for lone consumption. However, I still get these moments a few times each week where I think “Man, I could really do with a drink (or four) right now”, usually in response to frustration of some kind or another. Hopefully that will diminish in time as well, but my point is that my internal desire is much harder to squash than the drinking itself.

        I think the quote I most resonated with in the article was:

        “The moral improvement (or progress) of our lives is not the goal of the Christian life.”

        I certainly think improvement is a by-product, but when it is the focus it does seem to turn into this pressure to have to keep performing and getting better and better so we can look back and congratulate ourselves on how well we’ve done (and how better we are than other Christians who are probably actually false Christians because they’re not as good as we are).

        One of the reasons I dislike the majority of the early church father’s writings (sorry) is that they often come over as being boastful and pompous about how morally good they were and how better they were than others (I find Tertullian particularly arrogant and nauseating). In fact, some passages don’t sound a million miles away from the prayer of the self-righteous pharisee in Luke 18:11-12.

        This moralising strikes me as not being Christ focussed. Sure, ‘imitating Christ’ is talked about, but that is not the same as worship and finding one’s ultimate grounding in him. I really like the jazz pianist Erroll Garner and attempt (poorly) to imitate his style on the piano. I do that primarily so I will sound good though, not because I worship him in any way.

        I suppose the question is, is Christ the ultimate object of our lives and our relationship with him central, or his he merely a handy teacher and tool to help us become more moral?

        I also liked the quote –

        “In truth, we don’t know how we’re doing. Only God knows.”

        If anyone deserves an honorary degree in naval gazing, it is me, but I really don’t know how well I’m doing over all. True, the opinions and observations of others can be more helpful, but still this is coming from fallible human beings. Indeed, does Paul not hint at something similar when he says “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4: 3-4)

        To sum up, I am not saying that we should have permission to resign to sin and sinful attitudes – we should be constantly fighting them. I am saying that some sins, particularly sinful attitudes, we (or at least I) will battling against for the rest of our lives, like bailing out water from the bottom of a leaky boat. Throughout we are bound to stumble and fail. Do we not then, have the assurance in the struggle that God will not kick us out after each failure and won’t send us to hell for not having a particular attitude completely eradicated? Indeed, are his mercies not new every morning?

  3. Ruth says:

    read it and the comments. I have resisted defining myself or of being defined as some variety of Christian. But as a Christian I began my quest for truth by embracing the God of the bible. If I ever succumb to that prison (of defining my relationship to God by a theology) I hope it is as illuminated and brillianlly glowing as some of what I see in the orthodox truths being presented here. I have never embraced the protestant definitions of Christianity or their interpretations of the bible as they never could speak with authority being divided and opinion based. I have no knowledge of roman catholicism other than current politics and manueverings and protestant teachings about their historical blundering and failures and even less about the orthodox church. I’m sure there is much lacking in my discernment but the beauty and affirmation of what I have ascertained to be God’s voice speaking truth to me is echoed in much of what is expressed in the article and comments. It gives me courage and hope and wonder.

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