All Things Are Yours: Knowing and Praising God in Pleasure and Pain

One of the beautiful truths about the Christian life, is that God always gives us His absolute best – which, of course, points us to His Son, because it is for us in His Son that He gives us His absolute best, which is Jesus Christ Himself, in Jesus the Son. All things He makes, in our lives, to be very good. Not a single hair of our heads will perish. That is, nothing will be lost. Nothing will turn out to the worse. Nothing will be less than the absolute best and perfect. The statement that not a hair of our heads will perish was made in the context of being persecuted, hated, and killed, and it holds for all of life. “What, then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son for us, but freely gave Him over for us all, how will He not, with Him, graciously give us all things?” writes St. Paul, and in another place, “For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, or the world, or the present, or the future, or life or death – all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.” Everything was made for us. Pleasure is made for us. Suffering is made for us. Life is for us. Death is for us. We are the heirs of all things, because we are in the risen and glorified Christ. He died for our transgressions and rose for our justification, and in Him all must be ours. The whole world belongs to us in Him – we may enjoy the stars and the flowers and the sunsets. When pleasures are given to us, we praise and thank God for them. We worship Christ. We see His glory and are turned to Him by the majesty of a mountain, the beauty of the sky, the pleasure of a drink of water, the clarity of a color. We see His love for us in the placement of every blade of grass, in the bark of a tree, in food when we are hungry, in the song of a bird. In the same way, when sufferings are given to us, we praise and thank God for them, and we worship the Son, drawn to Him by our suffering, seeing His glory in the midst of it, knowing His love for us in every pain, grief, and shudder. The truth is, for those who have open eyes, the whole world proclaims the glory of the Lord, and in every experience – whether pleasant, even ecstatically pleasant, or painfully, perhaps searingly so – you can know God more, and know more about Him, too. In both pleasure and pain, you can know God in ways you never knew Him before; you can see truths about Him you never realized before; you can know truths you already knew in such a way, with such knowledge, that it is as if you never knew them before. I have never been able to understand the inability of some to see enjoying enjoyable things and giving thanks for painful things as somehow incompatible; there is a huge difference, because pleasure is pleasant and pain is painful – there's a difference between pleasures and between pains, too – which I have no desire to go into here, and I am certain that I could not describe this to anyone who did not already know, but there's also a similarity, even, perhaps, a sameness: we accept both for God's sake and give thanks to Him. One of the things about suffering is this: because of the idolatry in our hearts, it is very easy for us to become distracted by pleasures and to want the pleasures themselves, more accurately, to mistake our desire for our Creator for desire for created pleasures, instead of worshiping God and desiring and delighting in Him and in the pleasure for His sake – which is not to say that the delight in the pleasure (there is a reason pleasure is the word both for our experience and for that which produces the experience in us) is artificial; in suffering this is impossible, or nearly so, since the nature of suffering is pain, not pleasure, so that one must delight in God without distraction, worshiping Him without any danger of worshiping that for which one gives thanks. In Heaven, we will know God so truly, see Him so well, delight in Him so fully, ever satisfied in Him and ever seeking more of Him, that there will be no danger at all of our hearts mistaking created pleasures for our desire, thus idolizing them and rendering our worship and joy impure. (I say one of the things about suffering, because there is glory in suffering that is particular to that suffering, for the suffering becomes itself glory and is itself drawn up into the glory; the glory or reward that rests over suffering is not artificial, but is in fact related to the suffering itself.) It's true, that all is ours and nothing is against us. I write this partially to clarify. Some people draw a line between the “Theology of the Cross” and the “Theology of Glory,” as if the two could ever be separated. There is no glory without the cross, and there is glory in the cross. This is proclaimed in the Gospels and the entire New Testament, and, indeed, the Old Testament also. The Cross and the Resurrection are inseparable. Some people seem to be obsessed with suffering and death, to the extent that they ignore life and resurrection. Redemption begins on earth. Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale

Love’s Wounds in Beauty Glorified: The Christian’s Comfort in the Scars of Christ

“And in the midst of the throne, there stood a Lamb, standing as if slain.” “Put your fingers here in my hands and your hand in my side.” “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, let us hold firm our confession of faith. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we ourselves, yet without sin.” “It was fitting for the Messiah to suffer these things, and so to enter His glory.” “He who descended to the depths is He who ascended to the heights, in order that He might fill all in all.” Enthroned in heaven, His humanity glorified with the glory of God, Jesus bears the scars of His crucifixion. God is everywhere, and all of God is everywhere. “All things were made through Him, and apart from Him was made nothing that was made.” Again, it is spoken of the Word, “Who upholds all things by the word of His power.” Again, it is written, “In Him all things hold together.” In a beautiful psalm, we read, “If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there, even there Your right hand will guide me. Behold, if I take the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will uphold me.” All of this, we may infer from the Name that God gave to Moses, YHWH, the One Who Is. There is no existence, there is nothing which is, which is not in Him, the One. Again, it is said, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” His presence is the foundation and the sustenance of our existence – indeed, of all existence. Jesus prayed, “Glorify Me with the glory I had with You before the world was,” and so we know that His humanity is glorified with all the glory of God. In His humanity, He is present everywhere. It is with this omnipresent humanity that I am concerned, here. Jesus' humanity is really human, and we have ample evidence that His risen body still bears the scars of His crucifixion: His passion, His suffering and death, were not merely the passage to His glory, but are included in that glory, part of the glory itself. He Himself said, the night before He died, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. Now, if God is glorified in Him, He will glorify Him, and will glorify Him immediately.” This is our great comfort, as we read, “Now, He had to be made like His brethren in every way, in order that He might become a fitting High Priest for us. In that He suffered when He was tempted, He is also able to help those who were being tempted.” In His glory, that temptation and suffering have their place, and in that we have comfort. When He rose from the dead, when He entered into glory, He did not forsake the humanity in which He grew, lived, was tempted, suffered, died, and triumphed in all this. No more did He forsake or remove the scars of His life, of His temptation and suffering, of His death, of His sorrow. He carries those wounds in heaven, and all He does is very Truth, for He is Truth. He is glorified and omnipresent in the humanity which suffered temptation no one but Himself as ever suffered (think about it: God suffering as no mere man has ever suffered! Yet, it was appropriate that the New and Better Adam should triumph in temptation far more complete, terrible, and comprehensive, than the temptation before which the first Adam fell; that His triumph should be more complete than the fall of His race). Because it is in the same flesh that was crucified that He is glorified and lives within us now, He is able to give us strength and comfort. In everything that comes our way – in sunshine and play, in the temptations that accompany these things, in heart-crushing loss, loneliness, and searing pain, in the temptations that accompany these things – He has been there before us. He has been tempted! He has suffered! More, He has borne our sins themselves – not guilty, perfectly innocent and more, perfectly righteous, He bore our sin and all the agony of our sins. In His glorified humanity, the scars are still present, for us to trace. This is our comfort. He can give us the comfort of His own experience, of His own suffering, of His own glorified wounds. We need fear nothing: in it all, He is with us. We can never be alone. It would be very great indeed, but far, perhaps, beyond us, to know that God is with us and for us, but to know that God-made-Man is with us and lives with in us – that is, indeed, comfort and strength, sustenance and joy. When He rose from the dead – o, impossible thought! – He did not leave behind the scars and wounds of His life, His temptation, His suffering, and His triumph, but He bore them into glory, to be glorified with the rest of Himself. We live on His broken humanity – we eat His body and drink His blood, and proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. O glorious comfort, glorious life, far past my ability to describe or communicate, that we have in the Lamb standing as if slain in the midst of the throne. The Lamb, for He is the Sacrifice, standing as if slain, for He bears the wounds of our redemption, which is not simply redemption from sin but the redemption of our entire being, body and soul, in all its heights, and depths, and crannies. The midst of the throne, encircled by a rainbow like an emerald, with a sea of glass flashing with fire before it, is the midst of the glory, the center of all things, the very summit of heaven. Yea, He is with us. “For He has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' Therefore, we may say with confidence, 'What may I fear? The Lord is my Helper; what can man do to me?'” We read also, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” – and it is this that is our confidence, our confidence that He will never leave nor forsake us, our confidence that He is our Helper. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is risen from the dead, and can suffer and die no more, for He is glorified, and in His glory He bears His temptations and sufferings, and in this, by His life, temptations, and death, and by His resurrection, He helps us in our trials and all our sufferings, in all that we live and endure, and is our High Priest. It is by this, by the same life, temptations, death, and the same resurrection that we have confidence, peace, and joy. We will never be alone, for the Man who is God, the Man who suffered more alone than anyone has ever been or will be, is with us: He lives within us! Yes, the glorified Christ lives within us!

What’s Amazing is What God Does: The Place Where Courage Is Impossible

No matter what happens to you, however horrendous, you will not suffer even insignificant harm – you will not be harmed or damaged in something as minor and seemingly unimportant as a single hair of your head. This is staggering, and it rules out all possibility of what the world means by courage. The whole value system of the world is built on men trying to be gods unto themselves, to find strength, meaning, purpose, power in themselves; as Christians, all of this is done away with (and we must be willing to accept it; we must not fight it when the world scorns us, we must not try to convince the world that we are not really so weak and pitiful as all that, but we should accept its scorn and disregard with joy, rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to be counted among the scum of the world, the off-scouring of all things, with our Savior, going to Him outside the camp). We recognize how completely weak and helpless we are as creatures and we rely on God's strength and God's care. We are strong when we are weak not because there is some strength that works through the appearance of weakness... What is amazing is not the endurance or the joy of the martyrs. What is amazing is not the willingness of Christians to die for their Lord: what is amazing is that their Lord died for them, sinners. Knowing that God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us, it is obvious that we would gladly die for Him. The least we can do is to consider our lives not our own but His – He bought them with His blood. We are only slaves dying for our Master, creatures dying for our Creator, redeemed sinners dying for the Perfect Sacrifice and Savior, pardoned rebels for our King. That we should both live and die for Him is nothing. What means something – what staggers belief – is that the Master died for His slaves, the Creator died for His creatures, the Perfect One for defiled sinners, the King for rebels and traitors. “If we live we live to the Lord and if we die we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or we die we belong to the Lord, for to this end Christ both died and lives again, that He might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living.” “You will be betrayed even by friends and family, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all men because of Me, and not a hair of your heads will perish.”