Faith Completed in Struggle
By Fred Pruitt
(From a previous posting. My high-school Latin teacher signed my Senior Yearbook with the words in Latin, “Ad astra per aspera.” That means, “To the stars through difficulties.” That didn’t mean very much to me in 1969 when she wrote that. It does now.)
A few years ago, someone responded to a Daily Thought from the Christasus.com site, a passage from Kierkegaard, called, “Does God Want Us To Give Up Our Desire?
This is the comment and question from the reader:
Fred, I can’t seem to agree with this thesis. Is God not sovereign? In other words, since I believe our faith comes from God, how then could Abraham had done any differently? The Old Testament is full of God hardening hearts, and softening hearts in order for His will to be done. Man is not sovereign–what God wants done in His world God gets done through HIS work in man.
What say you?
Here is the (much edited and expanded) reply:
Theologically I agree with you, but what of human struggle? I tell you, many a time in the midst of struggle, holding on, believing when it was all dark, it sure didn’t feel to me like God was sovereign. Sure didn’t seem to me like He was handling things.
Faith comes out of something. God doesn’t just send it out of a vacuum. It comes out of the back and forth and the tensions that bring us to it. In those tensions and back and forths, there is ALWAYS tremendous temptation to give up – that would be the easier, less stressful course. Torrents of self-condemnation, floods of “you’re going the wrong way,” waves of doubt about everything we have seen and held onto, come rushing into us like a Niagara and seem almost to drown us. We could “curse God and die,” as Job’s wife exhorted him, but for Job his only answer until the final truth was revealed to him, was to hold on in darkness and apparent death, saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,” and “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth … yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25, 26).
We might say, “Well, God is sovereign and He wouldn’t let that happen,” but I find “God is sovereign” is comforting more in hindsight, while in the moment of the struggle everything seems to be up to me. That doesn’t make everything actually up to me, but being that I’m the “Johnny on the spot,” i.e., the one going through the thing in the current moment, it seems like I’m the one who has to hold on, to continue to believe, to not let my knees be “weak in faith.” I may know God is the one who pulls me through, who ultimately brings all things to pass, but from my side of things in the midst of trouble, it doesn’t look like that, and sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a tremendous pressure, that everything “out there” or even “in here” that I feel and/or see is the exact opposite of what I have seen by faith that it is.
That is why we are not doctrine people, living by a philosophy, but actual people, responding to and living life in the present moment. Life does not have to line up to our doctrines (and it doesn’t). We are free to struggle and fear, to worry, fret, and wonder if we’re doing right, hearing right, walking down the right path, because it is out of those doubts, fears, and worries that faith rises again — all that is faith’s meat (“the food of faith,” to quote NPG) — and all that is God’s process in our humanity. We aren’t just automatons pushed around here and there on a divine chess board, but we are sons, who are conscious of our lives, who make decisions, who determine our way (and yet it is God in paradox), and live our lives in full freedom.
Because it is in that struggle where we seem like we are on our last legs, that we cannot possibly go on, that we might as well give up because all it lost, that the Light comes out! John 1:5 says the Light shines IN the darkness! That is where we find it! We all fear the darkness, and often go kicking and screaming, thinking surely something must be wrong, we have done something wrong, we have been wrong, this surely could not be the way. But as the Spirit leads us through that “valley of the shadow of death,” and by repetitive visits there the Spirit teaches us that He DOES bring us through to the still water every time – it begins to be fixed in us that this is the way.
Nothing comes except by death and resurrection. It is the principle of Deity from the heart of Eternity – the “Lamb as it had been slain, in the midst of the Throne.” This is God’s way, and it is the way He takes us, for we no longer belong to ourselves, but as Romans 12:1 says, we have “presented our bodies a living sacrifice …. acceptable unto God.”
To what end? That might life come out of death. Not life in and for us, but for those with whom we are involved in these struggles and “deaths.” Jesus gave us the principle, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” (Jn 12:24). This is the true heart of the Godhead, to give instead of receiving, to take death into Himself and transform it into life in resurrection.
And as sons, we are PRIVILEGED to be a part of this continually occurring divine process. Jesus was not just describing His own life and the ordeal He was about to endure for our sakes in this passage. He was also describing Who He would be in us! Once we see it, we begin to realize that we, too, have been invited into this holiest of all drives of love – that of “spending and being spent,” in disregard of ourselves or our own sanctity or righteousness, that we might be a bearer of Life to others through the agony of these deep struggles that we face in God’s faith life in us.
Now we take it back to our original premise – what of our desires? What was SK meaning?
Here is the truth. “Desire” is in some sense the start of everything. It was divine “desire” that brought forth the creation for the purpose of filling it with Sons, who then become re-expressions in visible, palpable and particular “forms,” of the Eternal invisible God. And in that desire in the Godhead, in the Heart of God there is the “Lamb slain” from the foundations of the earth, and it is in that “Lamb slain” that God reveals His true heart and the purity of His desire, because we are able to plainly see that from Eternity, God has been “self-for-others.”
Whatever it takes to bring us into the reconciliation, even at the cost of our lives if need be, is the message! That is love at its uttermost. Christ came to “give Himself a ransom for many,” and now we, too, are sent out with this same mission. We are no longer for ourselves – we do not even belong to ourselves, but having been bought and redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb, even without our knowledge or understanding of it, this same Life begins to re-express itself as our cracked pot humanity, not despite it, not above it or around it or even “through it,” but precisely because of it, and as it.
It is HE who has chosen us, not we Him. We might think God has made some funny choices when He chose us, but who are we to disagree? We are not to bemoan or denigrate our humanity – our physical, emotional, intellectual components, but rather are to see all of them both as the battleground where God wins His victory, and where the Life shows up in resurrection. Even as God chose us, WE also must go along with His choosing, and in a sense, “choose ourselves.” And what we end up with is Light shining out of darkness showing forth the glory of God, as a “pearl of great price” living in the commonality of a plain old “earthen vessel.” (2 Cor 4:7).
And as the Spirit moves us along, inwardly teaching us every day, we begin to realize that even our “desires” are pure. When they first come, these desires, the immediate battle that is joined is in these desires being something “for me.” If “I” desire it, even if it might be good for another, this “for me” is ever before us as a temptation, every hour of every day, to accuse us and tell us we are not really for others, that we are still living for ourselves and always will be.
Desire pushes us out, where we are immediately faced with this struggle. This is the Spirit’s perfect place, for as it overtakes us again in a fresh way that it is always, “no longer I, but Christ,” we experience a “death” to whatever we might get out of a thing, which then “purifies” that desire as holy and of the Lord, because whatever that desire may be, once we have seen this, then we begin to have the object of our desire in clearer light. It then becomes a “desire” to see the end result of what we have believed, fought for and finally declared!
Prayers are prayed and we leave them to God for their fulfillment. But this is different. Once we give our prayers to God, we are not involved anymore. But in this we are totally involved. We have thrown everything on the altar fire, burned up in the consuming fire of the Deity, coming out the other side as beneficial and gentle light, and in that new light we see the object of our desire in that new light and purity. Jesus did not just pray to the Father to save everybody. He Himself became the forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation of His Father in His mortal flesh, and through the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, He gave these “gifts” unto men, that that same Divine Life unto Life which was His, is now ours also.
And that throws us into action. It becomes no longer just something we can “declare” God is doing, but now it being very personal and individual as well, we are joined with Him to gain the resurrection – not the resurrection of our bodies in the final day – but the resurrection Life showing up in that object of our desire. It is a divine commission, which sometimes dearly costs us, and because we are His and He in us, we are glad to pay the price, because we see the Life coming out of it. As did Jesus, in the same way we “endure the Cross despising the shame, for the joy that is set before [us.]” (Heb 12:2). What is it that is set now, before us? “To bring many sons unto glory.” (Heb 2:10) Same as Him.
Because of that we cannot rest outwardly (though inwardly always peace in the Lord) until we see our desire accomplished that God says will be to the benefit of the whole world. Even as Jesus relied on the power of the Father to bring Him out of hell, for when one is “dead” one cannot help or raise Himself, even so we, with trembling fears and conflicting emotions, willingly account ourselves as “sheep for the slaughter,” that the world (our individual worlds) BY US might be saved.
The incarnation of Christ is complete at this point, as far as this earthly existence is concerned. He has become fully formed in us now. And as this is true, HE has made us safe in Him to throw our full might and attention toward these ends He has established and set before us.
For the joy that is set before us is to bring the “many sons” to their glory in Christ, which is the same glory the Son had with the Father before the world began. (Heb 2:10; Jn 17:20-23). THIS is the “Shekinah” glory everybody is clamoring to see. The Old Testament “Shekinah Glory” that filled the temple of Solomon, is but a shadow or a parable of the True Shekinah, which according to Jesus’ prayer, is already present in everyone of us Who are His.
Therefore, we have no further need to go hither and yon trying to find some outer manifestation that will somehow be our witness or to bolster or solidify that faith already in our hearts. Why should we? Why go looking for what is already in us and ours? It is already IN us! And that being the case, WE ARE NOW this glory in our worlds. And that Glory is infectious, because it overtakes everything around us, purifying everything, accomplished everything that the Father desires BY US!
So here it is in short. We desire. The Spirit kills our “owning” that desire, as Abraham died to Isaac, yet holding true to the Promise that God gave him concerning Isaac. (“In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Gen 21:12)
Isaac was the “Seed-bearer,” the line of Abraham which when it came to fruition finally in the Lord Jesus Christ, became the blessing of all nations. And Isaac was part of that. He could not be left out. For the Seed to continue, it had to continue through Isaac, but if Isaac were dead, how could the Seed then go on to its next bearer, who would be Jacob later? Abraham had to “give up” Isaac in the flesh, but Abraham’s eyes saw further than that; he saw what God was up to. He was no longer just a child, one of the throng, knowing only the “acts” of God, but now he was grown up, and had been taken into the intimacy of God, and God showed Abraham his “ways.” (Ps 103:7).
So, Abraham gave up Isaac in the flesh, but kept him in the Spirit, saying to the young men waiting with the donkeys, “Abide here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you.” “I AND the lad.”
Therefore, we do not give up our desire, but instead God takes it out of the flesh (for me) and translates the same desire (for His Son to live and bear more sons) into the Spirit, and in that light Abraham received Isaac back, “as in a figure,” Hebrews 11;17 says. In other words, he saw it, the truth, the resurrection, already in the Spirit, and in revelation and Spirit, he received Isaac back from the dead before he had even taken his life. Though he “died” to Isaac, still he did not give up his desire for Isaac in the Spirit, and out of that came “And in thy seed, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Gen 22:18)
That is what Job meant, or we understand when Job said, as referred to above, “Yet in my flesh I shall see God.” This is it, right here. Amen.