Perhaps one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the difficulties
of the Christian is to accept in a practical way, and establish as a governing
rule of life, the things "most surely believed" as truth. We are all greatly
oppressed with some of the big problems and questions which are related to
Christian life and experience, either subjectively or objectively; and yet, the
most difficult thing is to accept the true answer or solution when it is
This difficulty is largely due to the fact that, before a change in the
situation in question can be effected, there has to be a change in our attitude
toward it. We want things changed. God wants us changed. But even here,
it is not just a psychological change. That might be very artificial and
self-deceptive. The question is: Is there one answer to most, if not all, of our
problems? Is there just one thing which, if we embraced it, would be God's
answer to, and explanation of, our difficulties? Has God one answer to most of
our cries of 'Why?'
The Problem of Suffering
Take the problem of suffering. That may include many things; physical,
circumstantial, spiritual. It may relate to ourselves or to others. Almost
countless are the ways of God's dealings with us, which are most trying and hard
to bear. The most acute form of suffering is that which relates to God Himself:
His silence; hiding Himself; seeming to have neither knowledge nor care. Prayers
seem to be unheard, and are, apparently (we would say positively) unanswered.
What is the explanation? Well, the Word of God has made very clear that such
an explanation exists.
There is one all-comprehending, all-embracing, all-governing purpose to which
God has committed Himself, by creation, by redemption, and by union. That
purpose is the conformity of a race to the image of His Son. This is man's chief
end and chief good. What more satisfied and 'happy' person is there – even
amidst suffering and sorrow – than he or she who is most perfect in patience,
love, faith, and the other 'fruits of the Spirit'? If our requests regarding things
were granted, while we were left the same people, unchanged in disposition and
nature, it would not be long before we should be in the same unhappy condition
over other things. There is possible for us some inherent quality that wears out
circumstances and reigns above them. Some of the most radiant people have been
the greatest sufferers in infirmity, poverty, or other forms of adversity;
whilst the most 'privileged' are often the most discontented.
The solution to the problem of suffering does not lie in being philosophical;
it is not in fatalistic resignation – 'This is my lot; I suppose I must accept
it'. It is not in passive or active suppression of desire. It is far removed
from self-pity, bitterness, cynicism, or envy, and the rest of their wretched
family of wilderness-makers and wanderers.
We may have to let go the particular occasion of our trouble, and first
recognise, and then embrace with our heart, the fact that in the affliction
there resides the immense eternal potentiality of an increase of the image of
God's Son, which is to be the one and the only character and nature of the
eternal kingdom. We have too much visualised the 'Heaven' that is to be, as
geographical and pleasurable, without giving sufficient weight to the fact of a
nature to be inculcated and perfected.
The Work of God
Why is it that – God willing and purposing a certain object to be
accomplished, eg the salvation of souls, the building of the Church, the
increase of spiritual measure; and God being Who and What He is, All-mighty,
All-wise, All-gracious – the work is fraught with so many problems? The workers
are often at the end of themselves; everything is so hard and heartbreaking; and
in deepest suffering many die with so little accomplished. Why is the
vindication of those who have honestly sought to do the will of God and have
suffered deeply at the hands of men, even Christian men, so long delayed?
How much we could enlarge upon the perplexities of the work of the Lord! But
if we could say all, does not the same solution apply as above?
It has become almost a platitude now to say that 'God is more concerned for
the worker than for the work'. Yes, and, as a proposition, we may quite honestly
believe it; but as applied and experienced it is the root of unspeakably much
perplexity and disappointment. Yet there it is: the whole fact that, second
causes being admitted or rejected, the work of God has never been something easy
or straightforward, with the continuous manifestation of His absolute
All-mightiness making difficulties as though they were nothing.
God will never put work or service in the place of character; and, if we do
that, eternity will reveal that, however much we may have done, we are
very small amongst the inhabitants of the Land, whose stature will be measured
by 'the measure of Christ'. It would be well if all who contemplate or are
engaged in the work of God were governed by this one absolutely final law: that,
both as to themselves and as to those amongst whom they minister, the ultimate
test is – not how much work is done, but how much of Christ is present, or
results from the ministry. This might solve many problems, explain many
'strange' ways of God, and seal life with the kind of 'success' that is worthy
of the name in the eyes of Heaven.
The Church's Unity
We touch on one other problem, though it is too big for any adequate handling
here: the problem of the Church's unity or disunity.
What a problem and heartbreak this is! What efforts are being made to solve
it! Never was it engaging so much attention as now. We are not unfamiliar with
this matter from the standpoint of Church History, the Ecumenical movement,
World Councils, Conferences, and so on; and we sincerely trust that we shall not
be thought to consider ourselves superior when we say with emphasis that we
believe that there is one answer and only one.
It is God's answer, anticipating all divisions and established before them.
That answer is a right apprehension of Christ, and conformity to Him. Every
Christian believes in 'the oneness of the Body of Christ'. Books, almost without
number, have been written on the Church. But we are really no nearer a manifest
expression of the Church, as set forth in the letters of Paul to the Ephesians
and Colossians, because the real secret is in the measure of Christ in all
concerned. No two members of Christ can keep apart, if Christ is really
dominantly Lord in their hearts by the Holy Spirit! We may have put systems,
institutions, denominations, traditions, interpretations of doctrine, etc,
before Christ Himself. It may be necessary to dethrone and displace these, and
make everything of Christ, before there will be any solution of the problem.
There are other questions and difficulties, but the same answer applies to
all. God's end – to which, in a thousand ways, He works – is that "Christ may
be all and in all", and light is thrown upon all the dark things by this.
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony"
magazine, July-August 1958, Vol 36-4