Perspectives on Suffering and the Gospel in Reality
The Spirit of God lives within us. How often do we hear that, among my Charismatic friends that entails, speaking in tongues and miracles, but do we really consider the idea? There is a wholly other triune person, living within our very being, having its essence in and alongside with our essence. Developing us in relation to Himself. The power of the Spirit is something you will hear about in just about any Charismatic church, about how God empowers us with a force we must release in order to make it effective. But that reduces and subjects the role of the Spirit to an impersonal power that indwells us, not a triune person that has the power and thus grants it to us from within. The Spirit of God is not just impersonal power that we must release, and I feel as if this is not treated fairly in circles I have been in.
We do not ask the Spirit to guide us from within except as the function of a voice, not as a whole person unto himself that is simultaneously without and within us. To be with God is to be in communion with God by the Spirit. We must interact with the person of the Spirit to be with God. The Eucharist points excellently to the indwelling nature of Christ within us. As we ingest the bread and the wine, the body and blood we experience grace, and such grace is experienced from within. Why is this? Because in the same manner the Spirit which is a person and not a force as bread and wine represent the actual Christ, conveys grace to us. The Eucharist is a symbol of our reception of Christ and the Spirit, by which we know the communion we need necessarily shapes and makes our being.
Thus our identity is again, a relation, between ourselves and the Spirit which while both remain separate from each other are joined to each other, as when in marriage the wife and husband to not become a single entity of being with both sex organs and a single consciousness but rather find the fullness of identity in relation to the other, so we too must find our being in relation to God. We do not become one with God because human marriage is the greatest analogy of that which should happen to us, we should be joined in intimate communion, aware of our being that participates in the being of another, but at the same time we are fully ourselves. The modern agenda of individual liberation form everything that is other in pursuit of authentic identity has only succeeded to remove itself from authentic identity. Identity, in every human relation is found in terms of the other.
What about mystics, and people trapped in desert places by themselves, are they less of people? Yes, and no. Yes they do not have the relationality that others in and amongst people. Thus they lack a vital element of humanness. But no, because there is still something other when we are all alone. There is the ever enduring and personal presence of the Spirit who is everywhere, and with everything, but there is also the world. The world is something other, and in terms of it also we come to know ourselves. We are always in the presence of something other, though whether we choose to engage it or not is our choice.
Relating to the other can bring us hope. In terms of the real spirit which lives with us it can bring us great comfort and hope to know the other. Finding ourselves comfortable in relations cam bring us great personal hope at the constant realization that we are not alone. But there are times when we are distraught and fraught with peril and despair at the sight of reality, but this is when we need to find hope and can find hope. Our hope is in Christ, and in his person, as the one who brings us hope.
We need hope, it is necessary to our existence. As Christians, we should hold to a personal revelation and expectation of the hope that we await to reveal itself. We need a personal expectation of the gospel that dwells among us. The gospel needs to have a personal and real presence in our lives and beings. Without such a life we are empty and have no hope at all. the gospel and its message need to dwell among us. a realization of the impending redemption of all things should live in our minds and have a real presence in our lives and actions.
The gospel is among us, its presence is known in our lives by the hope that we carry within ourselves. The gospel is not abstract ideals but is known as a personal and living reality. THe gospel must have its presence among us necessarily, because it like us is in the world but not of the world, influencing the world. We cannot forget the power of the good news of the kingdom of God that dwells among us as more than just the fact that we can now go to church and fit in with “the people of the pews.” Really, The power of the gospel is that it has personal power and relevance to every believer the world around.
In the midst of our suffering, we can look back on history and see that something has happened in history which has been done in our behalf. The New Testament writers witnessed something powerful and unique in the person of Jesus beyond just teachings or a god way of living. They saw something personally significant in his resurrection that allowed them to know that Jesus was with them in their lives.
The gospel is still among us today, in our hearts, as a reality beyond just intellectual or even intuitive assent. It is a reality, a powerful reality that carries presence, beyond just the words and ideas around which we shape our language about the gospel. The gospel’s purpose is to be among the people as a kerygmatic reality, to be among the people in proclamative presence. As we approach the valleys of our lives and find ourselves in them, we can acknowledge that we are not alone, that our hope is not in ourselves or in history, not in politics, not in emotional good feelings, not in self help, not in personal eternity after this life, but in the cosmic reconciliation of all things including but not limited to ourselves, our hope is in the true and living God. Our hope is found in the presence of the one who has declared from the beginning that we shall be saved. Our hope lies in the reality of a good and beneficial God who has personal redemption in mind for each of us.
Our hope is not idealism, we do not tell ourselves that the world is getting better and better without any alis, nor do we tell ourselves that it is so damned that it only serves to be destroyed. Our hope is that the God we see revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is among us, and living within and through us to indwell the world with His presence and Spirit. The gospel, is among us, it is in the air, in the words we speak, in our breath, in the grass and the trees, whispers of it can be heard in the mountains, and in the valleys, in the fire and in the water, in the trees. Creation knows something is coming, we know something is coming, yet is already among us beginning to change things within us, beginning to usher us into a new reality.
Our hope is not that Jesus would come back and take us out of the world,but that we would be kept in the world but kept from evil. We await not the destruction at the end of the age, but the redemption that is already breaking forth in each of our lives to appear suddenly and like a forest breaking through a city and transforming it, so to see the new heavens and new earth break forth out of this present reality and change, not only the world, but everything. The gospel is among us, it lives in our fingertips, in our emotions, in our suffering, in our triumphs.
The message of the gospel is not words alone but that which indwells the words and gives them life, that which lives among us in power and might, the very Spirit of the Living God. The spirit lives within us, we have a wholly transcendent Other, fully within ourselves as Christians. We have a completely different being not just upon us, but within us, working out the same resurrection that was worked out in Christ. This is the gospel in our midst: That the Spirit that omnipresently inhabits all things, even the very depths of Sheol as the psalmist says, is within us working through us and an actual presence for our lives. The gospel is a reality, the cross which is its center is our center.
As we face discouragement and labors, trials and temptations let us remember that something real and true happened to us because of Jesus Christ, and that because of this something true that has happened in history so too our history has a purpose. Divine history did not culminate in the incarnation, there is purpose to this life, even after the ascension of Jesus. History still has a purpose because we will be transformed at the last, and all those things which have been used in labor unto God will be tested. Everything we have set to use will be appropriated by the kingdom, and redelivered into our hands so that we can work out in the new heavens and earth the will of God as a present reality with those faculties, members and parts of ourselves that have been dedicated unto righteousness.
God’s will is to appropriate all that we can offer, and fill it with his presence as wine fills a chalice. The wine is not the chalice, nor does the wine become the chalice, rather creation is built to house God’s presence among his creatures and to be filled with his love, but still individual from and separate from.
Hope then takes this form, we know that the world we live in was created as “very good” and while fallen continues to have purpose, and that purpose is to be redeemed unto God through the gospel which has a real and active presence not merely as language or proclamation but as a reality unto itself made so by the Spirit.
History after the incarnation matters because God is going to use everything that has been put into his trust to extend his kingdom over all the earth. Our talents and “members” will be transformed and enhanced. Our talents will be renewed,a nd life itself will be completely different, yet altogether, not just a spiritual detachment but a grounding in this world, which needs the redempton that in Christ, we too can offer it.
Thus we can conclude that while we acknowledge and not blindly or arbitrarily the suffering that plagues the world, we look to God to be the solution to those problems, we must face the horrors of reality as we see them. There are those who today are raped, tortured, sold into slavery and killed, today in the world, parents kill children and children kill teachers, elders, each other as well. Violence takes place over inches and miles of land, children step on land mines, people lose limbs in combat, and female children are tossed aside into the garbage. These are realities that we do not ignore, push aside or turn away from.
You must hold yourself in front of them until it hurts, until your heart breaks with sorrow, until you cannot remember yourself anymore and all that exists is the suffering of humanity. You must feel every beating upon the skin of a scared and tormented housewife, every beating at the hands of a drunken father, every betrayal for the sake of material gain, every ounce of blood shed in the name of ideas. But once you have reached that place, it is not yours to remain there. To feel these things is to know the heart of God, but knowing alone is not ours. Once there, if we remain we will be overcome by distress and despair, and fall into a vulgar pessimism about life and God. When really our purpose is to realize these things are not culpable to God though we should wrestle with the reality of an omnipotent God allowing such suffering.
To know God is to wrestle with Him, and to ask the hard questions, not without reverence, but also not without really pressing to know why. We must be as Abraham and Moses, and ask the Father, why things are not getting better. We must be as Jesus and pray to the Father that the kingdom would come. We must live in awareness of the Spirit among us and in us and thus beg the hard questions of God. The problem of evil is no less complicated now than when it was first indicated by the first human thought that there was a real evil in the world. To truly know God is to beg the difficult questions and honestly expect an answer, not just passively submit mindlessly. To know God requires reverence, and honor that is due among friends, but does not require us to mindlessly accept things we do not understand.
To know God, is also to know grace, in the face of things we cannot comprehend, and then to accept in loving kindness that things are still being revealed to us in measures. To know God is to be gracious unto Him, as unto a lover. God is a reality, not a joke, not something we consent to, not an abstract person, but a person as real as your or I, as real as the lover in our marriage bed, as real as the children you have, as real as the friends you truly know from heart to heart.
God is not an empty idea, but a person, as we are people, this is known in Jesus Christ. God is Jesus, and therefore God has personhood. We cannot live with abstracts anymore, neither could the New Testament writers. They did not say Jesus represented God, they prayed to Him as God. God is personal, not impersonal, present in reality by the Spirit, and immanently concerned for us all.
We need to remember that grace is real. That the forgiveness of sins is not a divine joke, and that the reconciliation of all things is not going to turn out to be the greatest practical joke in all history. Rather, we need to remember that grace that is extended to us by the Lord, and remember that we are all called to inherit such a grace. We are all made to be filled with God’s presence and to hope in the eventual and impending reconciliation of all things. We are not hopeless idealists, but realistically concerned with God’s action in the world as a reconciler, eagerly urging on the redemption which has begun in us the people of God, and will break forth suddenly to redeem all things.
I hope this has made some sense somewhere, and that in reading these words something has come alive within you.