Sunday, March 25, 2007

Suffering and Sanctification

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

I have spent most of my life fleeing from suffering. I have imagined that it was something exterior to me, a condition that I could treat with outward remedies. I have made so many changes in my life – moving, changing schools, changing countries – with the hope that by altering things outside of myself I would somehow escape the pain that I had inside of me. I found, however, that I brought my own hell with me, and that anything that I did not deal with here, I would have to deal with there. I could ascend to the tallest mountain or descend to the depths, I could be in the wintertime of Kansas or the summertime of Costa Rica, but always I brought my shadow in tow.

Recently, however, I have begun to see how my suffering originates in the depths of my own heart – and how, if I submit to the Lord, that suffering can be transformed. The Light is like a refiner’s fire that exposes the hidden fortresses and rebellious provinces of my soul, and it has shown me the place from which all conflicts and disputes arise. The piercing illumination of the Light has begun to unveil the cravings that are and have always been at war within me. This is the inner darkness and death that has obscured the living reality of the Kingdom of Heaven throughout my life. This is the slavery to which I am bound, except that I trust in the Holy Spirit to deliver me, and the Light of Christ to search me and let me see myself for who I truly am. And I know that I have still seen only a small portion of the darkness that resides within me in rebellion against the Light.

The dawning of the morning star illuminates the cavernous darkness of my heart, but not all at once. The Light of Christ reveals myself to me in phases. I sense that if the Light revealed the entirety of my depravity, rebellion and darkness all at once, I would be incapable of surviving such a Day of the Lord. Were I to now know just as I am known, I would surely die. Glimpses of my sinfulness are revealed, particular aspects of myself that have long been hurting me without me ever having been aware of it. Sometimes it feels as though I were the captain of the Titanic, being given a guided tour of the submerged iceberg.

This revelation of my hidden darkness, this unveiling of my inner rebellion and wickedness, is immensely painful. I see myself as I am, not as I wish to be. The radiance of the Light leaves no room for the self-deceit that was possible in the former darkness. God puts me on display to myself, rubs my nose in the reality of my own inner corruption, leaving me only two options: denial of the Light, or denial of the darkness. The uncovering of the veiled root of my suffering is deeply painful, in much the same way as the pain that accompanies the cutting away of infection from a wound. This sickness, though, must be revealed, cut out and put to death, if I am to be freed from slavery to sin.

The miracle is this: The Light does not merely reveal my darkness, nor does the Light stop with judgment. No, the Light pushes back the darkness and purifies the corners of my heart where it shines. The Light puts my formerly hidden evil to death and raises that part of me up into new life, resurrected to life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, our Lord comes with the sword, but that which the Light puts to death in me God raises to new life in the service of Christ. My Lord puts me to death, piece by piece, but raises me to new life in the Spirit. This new being that is raised after the purification of my soul by the refining fire of the Light is tender and new. It is a new creation the likes of which this world does not understand, for it has died to death and the power of the world and is now at one with Christ.

A seed sown in the ground does not come to life unless it dies. In the same way, the Seed of Christ lies within us, but we must first be willing to die so that it might sprout and give forth the fruit of the Spirit – the Kingdom of Heaven! I have seen this Seed of Christ sown in the dishonor of my soul but raised in glory, bringing me to new and abundant life. I can testify to the power of the Light in exposing me, destroying every proud obstacle that I have raised up against the knowledge of God. My hope lies in this process of sanctification, in the faith I have that the Light will continue its campaign to take every thought captive to obey Christ.

In the purifying suffering of sanctification, in the rawness and tenderness that the penetrating gaze of the Light engenders, I have faith that the Lord can deliver us from the power of sin and death. The Holy Spirit works eagerly in our lives, if only we will cry out to our Savior. Submitting to the yoke of Christ, we must suffer. We are stripped down, humbled, made tender and all of our worldly security and sense of control is taken away. We suffer to come under the Reign of God, and may well be called to suffer for the sake of that Reign, the eternal core of our new life, our Lord of the New Jerusalem. However, this suffering in Christ is inherently different from our suffering under the former darkness. While we suffered before in ignorance and rebellion, we now suffer in the light of day, knowing for Whom we suffer and in Whom we die.

And though we suffer, this present distress will come to an end, but our Life is forever. We can endure the sufferings that we bear in Christ, because our existence is bathed in the radiance of the Eternal Now and transformed by our knowledge of a victorious end. We have seen the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and know that the time is coming - and indeed the time has already come. The victory has already been won for us in Christ. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus: Stand firm in suffering that brings us closer to the Lord, for that fleeting discomfort is passing away. Abide in the Truth unswervingly, for soon death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things, that former darkness in which we lived, will pass away.


quakerboy said...

What an amazing post! It spoke to my condition...thanks Friend!

Love and peace,

quakerboy said...

Just added a link to your blog from mine. Hope that's okay.


Anna said...

A truly beautiful and powerful post. It spoke to my condition also. thank you.

Peace and Joy,

Liz Opp said...

You write well of your experience and of the nature of the Light when we can in fact allow it to search us. ...I would ask if you are able to be companioned along this inward journey by Friends within your Quaker community...?

It is one thing to have distant Friends read your epistle here and be moved and made tender by it. It is another to have nearby Friends meet with you in your tenderness, if you feel ready to open to them, so that they might know of your suffering, bear witness to how you are being transformed by the Light, and come to know you in the arms of the Comforter.

In any event, it sounds as if you are being broken open.

I pray that as the Light searches you, and as you submit to it, that it may be as gentle and as loving a process as it can be.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Tania said...

This post also spoke to my condition. Thank you.

forrest said...

My condition is that I've virtually inherited a communal scripture-study blog :

due to the former inmates having burned out (at least for now.)

I think we might disagree together in some highly illuminating ways, and so I'm hoping you will drop in, contribute, and perhaps become a regular there.

At the moment we're on Mark 10.17 -> and some good people have commented on details. But I had to break the real question, What does this say about our own wealth?--and so far there hasn't been time for others to take that up. I would sincerely like to know what you, in particular, undergoing the Pits of Youth, will make of it. (?)

Some Jacques Ellul I find apropos (in _Perspective on Our Age_): "The basic notion of sin, as found in some preaching and in Calvinism, is that it encompasses everything, and that only when one has the terrible conviction that one is a sinner, does one learn the startling news that one can also be saved. I believe, however, that the Biblical Revelation is exactly the opposite. Once again, I have to credit Karl Barth with having seen that what the Bible announces is not sin, but salvation. It is only when people learn they are loved, forgiven, and saved--it is only then that they learn they were sinners."

Or my friend Jim: "What makes us human beings dangerous to self and others is taking ourselves seriously."

Kody Gabriel said...

I'm so glad we made the connection we did this weekend. Now you know where to find me.

Heather Madrone said...

Friend Micah,

Thanks for sharing a pointer to this post. The Light you share is shining in some of my dark corners, reminding me that my spiritual house needs cleaning as much as my physical house.

What's to be found, racing around?You carry your pain wherever you go
Along with the blues you're trying to lose
You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know.

And Liz, what a good reminder, to share these deepest things with the Friends nearest us. It makes me think of the penetrating hearts of my Friends, and how often their gentle witness has led me to see truths I was ignoring.

Real-life friends can probably see us more clearly than online Friends. They won't let us get away with so much, nor to take ourselves quite so seriously.