Monday, October 12, 2009

Still-Ness: And Yet

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (Job 13.15-16)

Here We Are

On occasion, I check Straight-Friendly’s traffic and note a one-time visitor who reaches us by Googling a familiar Scriptural phrase—“Good Shepherd” or “loaves and fishes,” say. He/she spends quite a while here, viewing several pages and examining the posts’ comments. I pray he/she is an earnest seeker who finds our discussions helpful. But sometimes the gleeful side of my imagination takes over. I envision a diehard legalist or cynic mousing through the content, utterly befuddled by what he/she finds: alienated gay and straight believers embracing Christ’s law of love for their neighbors; straight ones encouraging their gay sisters and brothers in the faith; incest survivors attesting the power of forgiveness; feminists patiently serving in communions that deny women equal opportunity; parents fervently raising children, straight and gay, to live in integrity—in short, people of all sorts (including “none of the above”) sharing their joyful confidence in God’s unconditional love and acceptance.

In my little fantasy, the dogmatic Christian or crusty skeptic scans page after page, looking for the “real agenda.” Where are the anger and resentment? Where’s the victim mentality? Where’s the “gay angle?” Why is much of this no different than other “traditional” Christian blogs? And, particularly for the cynic, how can such obviously intelligent people—many wounded and cast aside by religion—invest hope in their faith? When unenlightened visitors here, as well as many of our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even fellow believers, observe our witness, we make not one bit of sense to them. And yet here we are. We’ve been told we have no right or reason to believe God loves everyone equally. Still, we do. We’ve been told we can’t follow Jesus. Still, we do. We’ve been told we’re insane to think returning love for hate, tolerance for intolerance, and kindness for cruelty will change anything. Still, we do. Still. And yet.

Unconditional Faith

Any time religiously oriented people observe individuals who don’t fit their image of what Christians “look like” or how they “behave,” their first inclination is to discredit those who break the mold. While this is lamentable—and has often resulted in grave harm to others—it’s nonetheless understandable, because unconventional believers inherently challenge constructs of conformity and tradition. They threaten other believers, many of whom feel rightly compelled to defend their faith. It’s essential all Christians grasp this, as disputing the credibility of one another’s faith is the primary cause of disunity in the Body of Christ. These tensions are most keenly felt when those we differ with encounter serious trials. Instead of rallying in support, we rally to show them the error of their ways. They need our love. We pronounce judgment. This is the central conflict in Job’s story.

Job’s losses and suffering occur because he’s a righteous man—not because he’s gone wrong. But his friends don’t understand this. They plead with him to identify how he angered God, and beg His mercy. Although he insists he’s done nothing wrong, they won’t accept it. They go around and around until Job tells them to let him speak. He’s convinced what God’s doing involves him, but it’s bigger than him. And rather than take things in his own hands, Job’s prepared to trust God. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him,” he says. “I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!” (Job 13.15-16) Yet will I hope in Him. This is one of Scripture’s most stirring depictions of still-ness—unconditional faith in the face of intimidating logic, beliefs, and evidence that seemingly contradict it. Job knows who he is. He knows Who God is. And that’s all he needs to know, regardless how much his friends think they know or what they think he doesn’t know.

Not Ashamed

Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Timothy. The letter appears to be written from the Roman prison cell where Paul awaits execution. He advises Timothy not to be ashamed (intimidated) of his faith or ashamed (embarrassed) of Paul’s status as a condemned prisoner. Having been called as an apostle, he writes in chapter 1, being called to die for Christ doesn’t surprise him. “That is why I am suffering as I am,” he says in verse 12. “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Yet I am not ashamed. Still-ness.

Faced with condemnation and questions of his faith, Job practices still-ness. “It looks like there’s no hope, and yet I hope.” Staring down death’s corridor, Paul rejects shame and fear. “It looks like my suffering is deserved and my life is over, and yet I know.” Every believer who encounters hostility for his/her faith—whether from non-believers or misguided fellow Christians—must store up a ready reserve of still-ness. People will scoff at our commitment to Christ. They’ll contest its validity with every imaginable reason why confidence in God’s love and following Christ are futile. On many levels, what they say will make sense. And yet we must persist in believing what we can’t prove, trusting what we can’t see. As Scripture instructs us repeatedly, we live by faith and not by sight. What God’s doing involves us, but it’s bigger than us. Despite every reason to doubt this, still we have hope. Despite what others think of us, where we presently are, or where God ultimately leads, we’re not ashamed. Still we know. “Yes,” we say to others, “and yet.” Still-ness.

Please comment: What challenges do you face that require still-ness?

Others will question our faith—sometimes convincingly. Still-ness enables us to deflect their questions with confidence.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Peace)


NC Mama said...

I was married for many years to a man who spent most of his days in fear; in order to bear the pain (he refused to consider counseling)he regularly lashed me with verbal abuse. I never knew when it would come and it didn't follow any pattern except that it resulted from what he, inside his own head, was saying about himself.

I had two options: (since leaving with 3 young children wasn't an option)1)I could be just as angry and nasty to him as he was to me, or 2)I could pray for him and refuse to return his nastiness in kind. I chose to pray and respond as kindly as I could manage. For years we got along well enough that I thought I'd won but I hadn't. In the end he threw me across a room and I divorced him.

The journey showed me unexpected things. I refuse to think that the time I spent in prayer and kindness as a waste because I didn't see the change in him I prayed for. It did bring about positive changes in me. Over the years I developed patience and wisdom that wouldn't have happened if I'd been more comfortable.

Toward the end when the abuse got worse, I would ask myself if it wasn't time to begin lashing back at him, belittling him the way he did me, and I had to say still...the answer is no. The gospel said to treat him the way I would like to be treated, which pretty much ruled out use of the F-word.

It became a test of wills between me and Satan who was driving the ex's life: would I become just as bad as my ex, or would I follow the gospel, regardless? With God's help, I continued to say no.

The experience made little sense to me at the time; I kept wondering why I was having to go through it, somewhat like Job. Still...I never stopped believing in God's goodness. I knew the marital strife wasn't caused by God. I knew I didn't have to act like a spawn of Satan when things went bad. Still, I knew I was loved by God and to blow up and blame all and sundry would be a denial of that love. God was with me every minute. I never felt like an abandoned child (like ex did.) Every time I tell the story of my past, someone comes up to me afterward to thank me for telling their story. I'm still giving God the glory!
Cheryl Mack

Tim said...

Oh Cheryl,

What a witness you are to living through trouble and yet remaining true to God. I'm literally stunned, on one hand with sorrow (and a good chunk of rage, frankly) that you had to endure such cruelty. On the other, I'm stunned with admiration and respect for your "still-ness." You had every reason in the world to sink to his level, and yet...

You epitomize what Paul's talking about in 1 Corinthians 15.58: Therefore, my dear brothers (and sisters), stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

We live our stories so we can tell them and help others. The end of your comment confirms this. After standing firm and doing God's work under extreme duress, your labor was not in vain.

Cheryl, just as in natural life, in spiritual life, we bear children and grandchildren, and on and on. Until the full account of your work is read, you'll never know how many you've inspired to love and trust God--how many generations of lives will find promise and faith because of what you endured and the witness you now can share.

Like Job, what God was doing involved you, but it was bigger than you. And I have every confidence the day will come when you'll be utterly amazed at how big His purpose for involving you was and is.

Keep giving God the glory. He is worthy and ever faithful to His us. You have blessed us in a very real and profound way. Thank you for sharing this--and I thank God for you!

Blessings always,

PS: Oh, and welcome to Straight-Friendly! It's a joy to meet you and have you here with us!

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

First, I have to say that was an incredible story, Cheryl, thank you.

Tim, as far as the post itself, I say one of your best! A lot to chew on!

The one thing that seems to require my stillness more than any other is when I'm faced with any interaction with my mother.

There are times when it hangs so heavy in my mind and heart and I start to work myself into an anxiety attack for fear of what she will or won't say or do, or how I'll react.

On good days, I force myself to shut all that out with the name of Jesus. Spoken out loud or in my mind, but repeated as often as is necessary until the clamoring dies down and I can move again.

Tim said...

Jake, there is power in His name, no doubt about it. You mustn't let anxiety toy with you, my friend. You know that you are secure in Christ. Your mother's struggles affect you, of course, but walk the total faith that they cannot shake you.

Just love her and know she's doing her best and wants nothing more for you than the best. But stand firm. The only person who knows you better than she is God, and He's welcomed and accepted you as you are made. You have a superb opportunity to demonstrate His love to your mom by loving her in the same way.

I keep you in my prayers and know that God's hand is at work your life. Keep growing!

Peace and joy,