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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

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

Multiformity

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The soul has to do with the invisible, with the things that are not expressed either in dollars and cents, or in a locality. For the soul of man, . . . it doesn’t matter that you have to pack up and leave New York. It didn’t matter to my soul that I had to leave Germany and come to this country. It mattered very much to my . . . role in society, you see; it mattered very much to my mind, because I had to think new things, you see; and it mattered very much to my environment, to my natural fight for existence, to my bodily existence. It didn’t matter at all to my soul. Quite the contrary: only because I left this other space, you see, could I save my soul. . . .

Gentlemen, you have not learned to use the term “soul” right. . . . The one condition . . . attached to the use of the word “soul” is that you ascribe to the soul the power to survive change of environment, change of body, and change of mind, and change of role. . . . It is very difficult to understand that a dishonored person can have all the more soul, because society doesn’t reclaim him and doesn’t recognize him, you see. Your integrity as a soul . . . can only be tested if you can survive environmental change, mental change.

[We are given] the occasion of turning [our] experience into an asset simply by discovering that [we are] not to be identified with any external position in society. You see, this is the challenge. The soul always comes to our rescue with a new pride, and says, “If I’m humiliated, if I’m humbled . . . then I discover my real powers.”

You see, the soul thrives on the invisible, which is nothing mystical. But it is the power, Goethe has called it, . . . “to place ourselves in times into nonexistence in order to come into existence.” And take this down, because it is your best weapon against . . . modern existentialism. . . . These existentialists always say that we exist. But gentlemen, . . . the nonexistence is the experience of the soul. . . . The soul is still in being when the man doesn’t seem to exist, because “exist” is materially visible in the senses. Every one of you has to be able to live through a cocoon stage in which, in the eyes of the world, he’s somebody else. He isn’t yet the one who one day will shake the foundations of the universe by his actions. In this moment, he seems to be nonexistent. He’s out in pasture. And this nonexistence, gentlemen, is the state of the soul. . . . Any one of us at times at least has to be tested in this manner.

. . .

I wish you to understand that all these forms are purely secular forms, of passing importance: the worker, the businessman, the farmer. No one can save his soul by just being a worker, or by just being a farmer, or just being a businessman. Comes an emergency, you see, he must have another power. . . Man is only in [the] course of his life one, when he can join together the various phases of his life into oneness, you see. . . .

And therefore, . . . any one of these groups, any one of these groups carries some eternal truth about you and me into the field of their purely social passing, business activity. . . . [They] identif[y] a reflection of this real quality of you and me, you see, in the course of our lives, from child to death, with any special situation on which you can put, you see, your finger and say, “This is it.” . . . [And so] you get all the sects. Any sect, any sectarian movement, you see, identifies a partial solution of infinity with a total solution of infinity. That’s why you shouldn’t be sectarians, gentlemen. Don’t be sectarians. A sect is always confusing infinity . . . into which we are moving, that all men in a certain extent belong to each other: with . . . some relative realization. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Cross of Reality, 1953)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 20, 2017 at 8:50 am

Posted in Quotations, Suffering

Sacrifice

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James Jordan suggests a kind of monergistic understanding of sacrifice:

Sacrifice is something God does, not something we do. We commonly speak of “making a sacrifice” when we give something up for someone else. That “works-centered” notion of sacrifice does not do justice to the Biblical idea of sacrifice. The lamb led to the slaughter was not particularly thrilled at the idea, and neither was Jesus, who asked that if possible the cup might be taken from Him. When God comes to sacrifice us it is usually painful, and that is why singing the psalms is so important, because the psalms are full of pain.

We would like to think that when the pain comes, we will joyfully accept it. Sometimes that is what happens, but think about it: If you are able to keep a cool head during your suffering, then you are not experiencing the fullness of suffering. The most potent kind of suffering, and of sacrifice, comes when you experience a “dark night of the soul,” when it feels as if God has deserted you, when the inward agony does not let up day after day, when you are weak and not strong, when you join Job on the ash heap of ignorance concerning what God is doing to you. This kind of sacrificial experience means that the Great Physician is doing “depth surgery” on you, operating at levels you cannot understand. The psalms are full of this kind of experience, and it is this kind of experience that Lord’s Day worship is, in part, all about. (Theses on Worship, 86)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Forsaken

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The book of Job is, first and foremost, presenting Job as a type of Jesus the suffering servant. Job is the perfect, upright man (Job 1-2), the exemplary righteous man (Ezek. 14), who speaks what is right (Job 42) as he wrestles with God seeking a resurrection-vindication.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Just as the Psalms are firstly the songs of Jesus, but become the songs of the church; Job also secondarily becomes a guide for the righteous to wrestle with God through our suffering and the suffering of our brothers. But unlike Job, our great accuser has now been cast out of heaven. More than that, while Job ascends into God’s presence only at the end of his story, we have access to God immediately and continually through Jesus in whom we have already ascended.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More than that, as the church we reign together with him.

[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)

Finally, the book of Job serves as a caution to us, a reminder that God calls his own son, and all who follow him, to temporary sufferings and deprivations of the privileges of sonship so that through our suffering he can achieve an even more glorious outcome. Here and now the redeemed do not deserve these sufferings, but just like the sufferings of Jesus, we endure them as soldiers on a mission to bring about a far greater good.

Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:26-27)

See also: Common disgrace, Prophet, Job.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 17, 2015 at 6:51 am