Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Joy of Faith Exercised

'Surprised by Joy' is the title of one of C.S.Lewis' books in which he describes how his faith was exercised by the death of his wife, Joy.

Joy is not something that people naturally expect to be associated with suffering.  For Christians, however, it is different; because, when suffering affects believers, there is, in the midst of it all an exercise of faith.  And there is joy in that exertion.  It is a bitter-sweet joy, but it is a joy nevertheless.  Perhaps it is a joy that only believers can know.  It is the profession of the faithful that, if we feel joy in the midst of pain, it is because '...the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’ (2 Corinthians 4.7).

The apostle St.Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians contains great wisdom for us as we ‘groan’ over the troubles of life. He knew all about troubles! He writes, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body’.

In these times of ease and convenience we don’t like hardship. When difficulties present themselves, rather than rise to the occasion as believers, we act like spoiled children who cannot put things in perspective and fall to pieces rather that react like people who trust God.

In our affluent world we are particularly vulnerable to reacting badly to hardship. We are challenged by the example of St. Paul, who saw hardship as part and parcel of life on earth. The outward circumstances of life in which ‘stuff happens’ combined with his own physical limitations did not deter him from praising God and seeing a divine purpose working itself out in his life, nevertheless.

We have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’, he wrote. The weaker he felt, the more the apostle saw the strength of God and His grace being sufficient and, indeed ‘perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12.9). So what, if God said no to his prayers, that the ‘thorn in his flesh’ be taken away?  He would live with it, if that was God’s will, and even ‘rejoice’ at the exercise of faith that was involved.

He offers us comfort when he writes, ‘though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands’ (2 Cor. 4.16-5.1).

Deferred glory and deferred comfort was worth celebrating for St. Paul and should be for us, too. We fix our eyes on the glory that awaits us beyond this life, just as Jesus fixed His eyes on the accomplishment of our redemption. ‘For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross’ (Heb. 12.2).
After all, we are all beneficiaries of the suffering of Jesus that accomplished the forgiveness of all our sin and opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

As Christ is risen and has re-assumed His glory, so He promises that He goes to prepare a place for us who trust in Him, in a glorious world to come.

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling’, and God expects us to be ok with that. The glory is coming.