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, for whom and in whom all things were made, to whom all things point and in whom is all fulfillment. He died for our transgressions and rose for our justification, and in Him all must be ours. The whole world belongs to Him and 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 grief, loss, or pain, seeing His glory in the midst of it, knowing His love for us in every pain, grief, and shudder. Most of all, in all things, we know His love because He laid down His life for us and took it up again, and because of this, His love for us is manifest in every detail of our lives (and deaths).

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 Jesus as 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, because we are in Christ and because God is for us, and delivered over His own Son for us.

I write this partially to clarify some of my own writings. 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. Part of the problem is that we do not know what glory is, and it is real, far more real than the things we seek instead. 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. Some people seem to think that only suffering is good, that only suffering produces knowledge of God, and that pleasure, that enjoying creation, that all such things that are incomparably inferior to the knowledge of God and the joy of the Lord, but declared “very good” by God, should not be accepted and enjoyed, that there is somehow some defect in enjoyment, and it should be shunned, and only suffering leads to God and true goodness. I wonder if such people have known either real pleasure or real pain, but I do not wish to add to this confusion, but to provide clarity.

 

Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale

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