the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering

other wise manFrom The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke:

“‘And remember, my son,’ said he, fixing his deep-set eyes upon the face of Artaban, ‘the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. If the light of the world and the glory of Israel had been appointed to come with the greatness of earthly splendor, it must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham will ever again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the lions in Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is waiting is a new light, the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering. And the kingdom which is to be established forever is a new kingdom, the royalty of perfect and unconquerable love.

“‘I do not know how this shall come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to Him. But this I know. Those who seek Him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.'”

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not a god has wounds, but thou

cross

Jesus of the Scars

by Edward Shillito (1872 – 1948)

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;

Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;

We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,

We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;

In all the universe we have no place.

Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?

Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,

Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;

We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,

Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

The Benefits of Providence in The Hobbit

the hobbit

At the insistent urging of my wife (who loves all of Tolkien’s books) and wanting to read the book before I saw the movie, I finally read The Hobbit this December. It was, of course, great.

Reaching the end, I was struck with the book’s final lines:

“‘Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!’ said Bilbo.

‘Of course!’ said Gandalf. ‘And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’

‘Thank goodness!’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar.

Besides being a fitting and sublime ending, the passage is a terrific illustration of the Christian doctrine of providence.

The doctrine of providence is the doctrine that God is the sovereign ruler over all of earth and all of history. He guides history and His plans for it are ultimate and unstoppable. There is plenty more you could say about this, but I think that’s a true, if brief, definition. It is this doctrine that The Hobbit as a whole, and the ending in particular, brings to life. Here are fulfilled prophecies, adventures and escapes that are not the result of “mere luck”, and the reality of a greater purpose at work in the world: providence at work in middle earth.

But what struck me most was the picture of the healthy balance in an individual life resulting from believing in providence.

Notice: the individual is very important!  The greater purpose at work in the world does not happen apart from human beings (or hobbits), but through them. Though God’s purposes are certain – so certain that He alone can speak truly about what the future holds – He accomplishes these purposes using us. He makes His plans and then He gives us a role “in bringing them about”. And so our adventures and our escapes are not the result of coincidence or dumb luck, but are the result of the work of God Himself on our behalf, as He gives us a role in the world’s great story. What significance! Meditate on this for long and we’ll be in awe like David: “What is man that You should make so much of him?

Yet notice also: the individual is really rather small and unimportant! Come now, Gandalf says to Bilbo – you don’t really believe it was your own goodness of character, cunning, and skill that caused all your accomplishments? And you don’t really believe that all your successes were really “just for your sole benefit?” I mean, who do you think you are? “You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’

The reader, after journeying with Bilbo through many adventures, there and back again, comes to the end only to see in these final lines the thread of providence that ran through the whole story. The thread is illuminated, and the doctrine springs to life. And whether or not you believe it is true, don’t you see the beauty of the doctrine? Don’t you see the healthy balance that comes from it?

On the one hand, your actions really matter as part of a bigger plan, and you are a subject of the attentive care of God Himself.

But on the other: you really shouldn’t get that big of a head about it, shouldn’t be triumphalistic, and shouldn’t walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

You don’t really think the ultimate outcome for this wide world depends on you, do you?

the Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage:

“Kathleen and Thomas Hart refer to the ‘paschal mystery’ of marriage – the process of dying and rising as a pattern of life for married people. Each day we must die to our own desires and rise as a servant. Each day we are called to identify with the suffering Christ on the cross, and then be empowered by the resurrected Christ. We die to our expectations, our demands, and our fears. We rise to compromise, service and courage.

In this sense, a true Christian marriage proposal is an offer, not a request. Rather than saying in effect, ‘Will you do this for me?’ when we invite another to enter the marriage relationship, the real question should be, ‘Will you accept what I want to give?'”

Thomas goes on to apply this principle to the distinctly Christian shape this gives to the sexual life of Christian husbands and wives:

“Sex gives us a capacity to give to someone in a startlingly unique and human way. And yet sex is often used to take, to demand, to coerce, to shame, and to harm.

Honestly ask yourself these questions: Is sex something I’m giving to my spouse, or withholding? Is sex something I am demanding, or offering? Is sex something I am using as a tool of manipulation, or as an expression of generous love? If God looked at nothing other than my sexuality, would I be known as a mature Christian or as a near pagan?”

We see the universe marvelously arranged

 

Albert Einstein, quoted here:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

seeing at their feet the Deity made weak

Augustine, Confessions:

“For Thy Word, the eternal Truth,

far exalted above even the higher parts of Thy creation,

lifts his subjects up toward himself.

But in this lower world,

he built for himself a humble habitation of our own clay,

so that he might pull down from themselves

and win over to himself those

whom he is to bring subject to him;

lowering their pride

and heightening their love,

to the end that they might go on

no farther in self-confidence – 

but rather should become weak,

seeing at their feet the Deity made weak

by sharing our coats of skin – 

so that they might cast themselves,

exhausted,

upon him

and be uplifted by his rising.”

confronting suffering

From Christian Wiman’s 2007 essay, Gazing into the Abyss about his return to God, partly through his diagnosis with terminal cancer:

“I was not wrong all those years to believe that suffering is at the very center of our existence, and that there can be no untranquilized life that does not fully confront this fact. The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love.”