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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

In step with the truth of the gospel

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We have seen that Christian love shapes our Christian freedom so that it may never be used to injure or trample a brother (far from that, it must be used to serve our brothers); but also that the gospel shapes our Christian love so that it may never be used to bind a brother. This pair of principles explains why Paul circumcised Timothy and refused to circumcise Titus; it is why in this current moment I will hug Joe and stand six feet away from Tom, in each other’s presence. This is hardly a tightrope walk, though; it is a simple expression of my genuine brotherly love for both of them.

We speak too in this moment of the church’s witness to the world. Just as there are different opinions on the wisdom of my hugging Joe, there are different opinions on what and how the church should be witnessing, and all of them look to Christian love as their basis. How then shall we live?

By way of Greek, our words witness and martyr are the same. This reminds us that our witness may draw favor from some but attack from others. Our faithful witness of the good news that Jesus has all power and authority requires us to resist the tyranny of worldly opinion. This does not mean that we cannot seek the good opinion of our neighbor as we seek his good, but we rightly order our witness by seeking the good opinion of God first. The church’s faithful witness-martyrdom is a powerful statement of whom or what we fear. Wisdom begins with such properly ordered fear (Proverbs 1, 9). With this fear and wisdom, we receive life; without it, only death (Proverbs 8).

All good parents know that there is a species of chasing after our children’s opinion and even their salvation that will end up losing them rather than gaining them. Likewise, there is a way in which proper Christian care and concern for the world contains within it a kind of loving regard and disregard for the world’s perceived fears and felt needs. We have the gift of knowing the world’s true need, which no focus group would ever discover or approve. This loving disregard actually is an effective witness, because the gospel call is an invitation to join us in a rightly ordered fear. Such fear is truly attractive and compelling because of the joy and peace and freedom from fear that it brings. To the degree we fear the disapproval of the world, we lose our gospel savor.

Thus, in love we might wear a mask to deliver food to our neighbor, and warmly welcome our neighbor to church if he wears a mask or wishes to stand at a distance. We may in no wise despise him. But we also do not fear a bad report in the news if, as the church gathers, there are hugs and handshakes among those who have counted the cost.

The world seeks to obtain justification for its guilty conscience by scapegoating others, including and especially the church. Against this, the church faithfully witnesses that justification can only be found in the one true Scapegoat. This empowers us to laugh together with God at the world’s scheming (Psalm 2) and scapegoating and even martyrdom if it comes. There is a sense in which the church, in union with Jesus, holds the world in derision. We certainly do not fear false accusations that Jesus and his church are lacking in love; we have been brought to know and serve love himself. The world’s loves, as well as its fears, are disordered, and in their greatest extremes are all attempts to hide from God. (Let him who abhors abortion cast the first stone at Christ’s precious, precious body.)

There is a kind of catering to public opinion that will compromise our faithful and prophetic witness. By bowing to public opinion, governments and businesses and even some churches are slowly spinning a rope that fickle public opinion will use to hang them tomorrow. Everything the church says and does is in some sense political; we are the heavenly polis breaking into time and the terminal land. In this polis, the one Scapegoat sits enthroned with all power and authority. All other scapegoating is not only vain but evil. By not fearing or giving way to this scapegoating, we empty it of its power. We defeat it by our laughter and worship and joy and feasting. May we be emboldened by the Spirit to witness in the fear of God alone!

Written by Scott Moonen

May 24, 2020 at 3:21 pm

Alive

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Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:18b–21 ESV)

The Bible does not assume that you need to be healthy, or even alive, to be happy and to glorify God. . . Death is a temporary trouble. (Michael Stalker)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Sacrifice

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This is the problem of Christianity, gentlemen. The whole honor of Christ is that He came when the times were fulfilled. And that is the new element of the Christian religion, compared to all other religions. That in Christianity, the criterion of righteousness is that by one man heeding the catastrophe in time, the catastrophe which is inevitable can be turned from a terrible thing into a blessing. The catastrophe, per se, gentlemen, is just terrible and inevitable. By human sacrifice, the catastrophe which is terrible and inevitable can be turned into a blessing. . . . The Christian problem is to recognize which catastrophe is indispensable, and then to go into it by voluntarily stripping yourself of the privileges of the old order, which make the break so much harder if the privileges still stand up.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954

Written by Scott Moonen

January 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Good Timber

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The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

Douglas Malloch, HT: Michael Foster

Written by Scott Moonen

September 11, 2019 at 11:10 am

Otherwise

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A young man who only asks for painlessness, gentlemen, cannot grow up. To grow up means to have pain. And very heavy pain. There is no other way for life. Have you ever seen a child born? Have you? You should, because then you would know how costly it is to be born, that your mother has a travail. That’s a terrible pain. And that has to be so, because otherwise your life won’t be good.

Life struggles against death, and the heavier, more passionately it struggles, the more life it is. . . . A painless life, gentlemen, is no life. It’s worse than death. Can neither live nor die. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

Posted in Quotations, Suffering

Joyful

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Naw, I don’t think life is a tragedy. Tragedy is something that can be explained by the professors. Life is the will of God and this cannot be defined by the professors; for which all thanksgiving. I think it is impossible to live and not to grieve but I am always suspicious of my own grief lest it be self-pity in sheeps [sic] clothing. And the worst thing is to grieve for the wrong reason, for the wrong loss. Altogether it is better to pray than to grieve; and it is greater to be joyful than to grieve. But it takes more grace to be joyful than any but the greatest have. (Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works, quoted in Ralph Wood, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ–Haunted South, 214-215)

Written by Scott Moonen

November 17, 2018 at 4:29 pm

Difficulty

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Mark Horne writes of strength training:

The rule seems to be that your body adapts so that the most difficult thing you do eventually feels hard to do. As you age this process accelerates. When you give up an activity because it feels hard another one starts to feel hard to do. As your body loses strength you start to avoid tasks and chores that were once easier. You accumulate weakness. In the words of Seneca, “Soft living imposes on us the penalty of debility; we cease to be able to do the things we have long been grudging about doing.”

But this is true not only of your body but also your mind and will and spirit: the hardest thing you do feels hard. This leads us to several helpful insights:

First, it helps us sympathize with others who are experiencing difficulty. It is tempting to despise others who have greater difficulty with smaller challenges compared to yourself. However, this principle allows you to sympathize, since you know that difficulty is relative rather than absolute.

Second, this teaches us that contentment, peace, and joy are not primarily related to our circumstances but to our philosophy and outlook on life. Excluding obvious exceptions such as injustice and extreme hardship, this principle reveals that if you are complaining or anxious in one difficulty, you will still be complaining or anxious in other and even lighter difficulties. Therefore, your work to cultivate contentment, peace, and joy cannot wait; you must find deep roots unrelated to your circumstances. And even in cases of injustice and extreme hardship, this reveals that there is a possible path to contentment, peace, and joy even while you wait on, plead for, and pray for relief.

Third, this also indicates a way to grow in our capacity for work and difficulty. It is helpful simply to recognize that difficulty is relative, since you can cultivate gratitude that you are not experiencing greater difficulty. But this also gives you a tool to expand your capacity: you can periodically subject yourself to greater or artificial difficulty, combined with periods of rest and recovery, in order for your current difficulties to become lighter. In the physical sphere, you increase your capacity with sprint exercises, intervals, and progressive loading. Furthermore, growth in self-discipline and capacity in one sphere of life tends to have a side effect benefit across all of life. It is strangely easier to wake up early and to eat well if you are working hard at strength training; there is a kind of snowball effect to growing in health and strength and capacity.

Finally, all this applies not only to yourself but also to how you can lead others to grow in joy and capacity. As Edwin Friedman writes, “increasing one’s pain threshold for others helps them mature.”

Crossposted to full◦valence.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 20, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Miscellany, Suffering

Affliction

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Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor. (Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, City of God)

HT: Mark Horne

Written by Scott Moonen

July 16, 2018 at 9:40 am

Posted in Suffering

Gratitude

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If you can’t bring yourself to bless God, to say thank you and express gratitude, if your tongue isn’t swelling with praise for all the absolutely phenomenal things that God is doing for you, if you are not bursting with praise: you are at war with God.

If you are not grateful, you are at war with God.

— Duane Garner, “Greetings and Gratitude”

Written by Scott Moonen

April 23, 2018 at 8:07 pm

De profundis

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The book of Job is, in effect, an immense psalm. (René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 117)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm