Monday, August 2, 2010

Christology: To An Abused Woman, Concerning Christ's Suffering

To the Mss. M. V. H*,

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. Perhaps in this world you have confused the two, as one is often prone to do. Perhaps you think that the world is joyful, but that the Christian life is suffering, sobriety, and privation. Perhaps you feel that the believer, to be like Christ, must be apart from the world, and thus be afflicted by it.

The world, of course, wants you to think so, so that it will continue to have power over you, rather than you over it. But this is manifestly not so, as the Apostle Paul quite clearly says. And he suffered greatly, even as he found great joy. Indeed, what carried Paul through suffering was Paul’s own joy in Christ.

Please understand, it is not the opposite that happened. Paul’s suffering did not carry him through joy. Paul’s suffering did nothing for him, in the end. Endurances produces character, and character produces hope, but what I ask you is, hope for what? Paul certainly did not hope for more suffering, but rather for more of that joy of the kingdom of God of which we are all a part.

Is this not, then, the end of all our sufferings? If our highest purpose is joy, is it not on joy that we should fix our eye? If we are to be Christians, isn’t it so that our gaze should be transfixed by the One who gives us joy, and not by our own afflictions, whether they make us great or tear us down? I remind you that that which delights us has dangerous power over us. I fear you must ask yourself very carefully where the source of your delight must lie – is it in Christ? Or is it in your own suffering?

Notice that I say it is the Christian life that is joy, and not the life of Christ. The distinction is important, though seldom enough noted. The life of Christ is by its nature as different from the life of a Christian as the Christian life is distinct from the life of the world. And that is so because Christ must reign over all; take heart, for he has overcome the world! He must certainly be over the life of any Christian, and He must be beyond it.

You are too proud, I think, if you continue on your present course. Would you deprive Christ of his victory, by re-entering the lists? Would you summon the powers of darkness, and rise up against the Adversary himself? Would you take the Lord’s place, by climbing up upon His own cross? Would you defy the will of God, which Jesus Christ himself did not forsake? I know that you would not.

Life is suffering. From this no soul, however faithful, can be exempt. It is true of Christian and atheist, Buddhist and Jew. To be humble before our God is to confess that our life will be no different in its essence. You can do nothing to escape this groaning world. No one can. The question the Christian must ask is what he or she can add to it. What boon can we ourselves grant the world? How can one add the Christian life of joy unto the base life of suffering in the world?

A fierce atheist can be mistreated by her husband and be made harder by it. But it will be a true Christian indeed who can overcome the evil of her husband by so manifesting her love of Christ that he must certainly repent. You speak of enduring trouble, but can you overcome it? You say your husband would be lost without you, but when he is with you, what has he found? Does he – not will he, not could he possibly, for now is the time to speak very frankly of everyone involved – does he find the joy of the love of Christ in you, who he so mistreats?

If you would cast yourself as Him – and I pray that you would not – does your husband not then take the part of the pugilizing Romans, who know not what they do? If you think not of yourself and the goodness of your own pain – as, again, I know that you do not, lest you be presumptuous – but if you think not of yourself, but of your husband, I ask you, what boon do you grant him by allowing him to treat you so? Not all who are shown the truth repent, as Christ himself proclaims. The same Pharisees with whom He has so many conversations, and to whom He discloses so much truth, are those same Pharisees upon whom He pronounces woe.

Perhaps that is the best, sometimes, that even He can hope to do. And would we think that we would succeed, where He himself would not? If you stay with your husband, acting as he does, you accept his proposition that you make him a better person. Satan get behind you! Far be it from you to consider such a work! Far be it from anyone to attempt what only the Lord Himself can do!

But the Christian life is joy. Are your children happy, with a terror in their home and a mother who takes upon herself all the burdens of the world? What do they learn of Christ if their father only causes suffering, and their mother only silently endures it? How different is their home, then, from all the other homes of all the suffering mothers of the world? From the world one can certainly learn much about the law of God.

But from the world not one soul can learn God’s grace, the goodness that overcomes the world. And there is no goodness at the end of the road you are upon.
Men who abuse do so because of wounds and distortions within themselves. They abuse more than once. They abuse more than one woman, because the women in their lives are interchangeable. Your husband’s abuse has little to do with you. He learns nothing from it because marriage is not for instruction, but for delight. So I hope you understand what I mean when I say that what your husband does is sin and that the wages of sin is death, and that the road you are on ends with you and possibly your children dead and your husband a criminal at large or quite possibly arrested. What joy can you give your children in this way?

You see, the world would have you understand this backwards. It would have you think that suffering is a result of choice, and that joy comes to us by and large through chance, whether by love or wealth or pleasurable association. I am here to tell you that for the Christian it is suffering that is chance and joy that is our willful choice, because we choose whether or not to delight in our Lord and Savior. Yes, I say to you that suffering is chance, not because it is escapable, but because it is unnecessary.

God does not need pain. Our salvation, heaven forbid, does not require sin, either yours or your husband’s. God does not need any of our works, whether good or ill. What part, then, can human malice have in the ultimate will of God? The pain your husband inflicts on you and on your children – do not say to me that they are not in pain! – that pain is in no wise necessary. It is not necessary, and it is not helpful.

Please understand, you will not escape suffering no matter what you do. That is another lie the world would tell you. If you want pain, you will find it outside the confines of your home. If you want tribulation, you will find it in the world aplenty. If you want endurance, the world will burden you with concerns more than sufficient for the day. But I pray that it will be for the name of Jesus Christ. You say your husband harms your body and your heart, but does he do so because you are a Christian? Really and truly? We know that he does not.

Please understand, there is a large difference between enduring pain because you are human and receiving it for professing the name of Christ. Only the second is prescribed by Scripture. The first is warranted even by the world, because even survival warrants suffering. But to suffer something is only to allow it continue. And that yoke, as you and I both know, is neither easy nor light.

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. The Christian is the one who is most truly lives, because true life is joy. But tell me, do you think more often of Christ, or of your husband? Have you added delight unto the suffering of your house? Of your community? I confess that I have missed you in the church. When you come, you are not here. You seem always so much distracted – distracted and afraid, as of course you surely must be! But again I tell you it is not necessary.

I think of all the great things you could do, you and your children, for the sake of the love of God in this community! I would have you commit your whole heart, the entirety of your being – forsaking mother and father for His name – rather than continuing a life divided. Surely you must feel it. Certainly you must know that you are split. You are sundered because you are secret. You cannot tell, or you have not been able to tell, very many people about your husband’s hard behavior. And you will not be able to if you continue, because the road you are on does not permit it.

So, yes, keep your eye on the cross by any means at your disposal. But keep your eye on the tomb as well, and most of all on He who has already filled up both. Such things cannot be done by you. But they were done for you. Unless he is an immediate threat to the safety of you and your children, I cannot tell you, in a letter, whether or not you must leave your husband; I would first have to meet with the both of you, and ask that you come as soon as it is possible. But I can tell you to look for Easter. Look for the resurrection, without which all even He has done is vain. Because that is what the cross was for.

Look to Christ, yes, but follow also the eyes of Christ, who looked not only to the cross, but also to the Father. “If it is your will, take this cup from me,” was not said for the sake of Jesus Christ, who did not seek to save or lose himself. Rather, it was said for your sake, because it was you He hoped to find. Neither He nor I would have you lost to the violence of your husband. You have a home quite beyond your own. You have a home in the kingdom of your Father, who promises good things for you.

What Jesus came to tell you is that that kingdom is already here. Heaven is coming now. You already have a Husband who will never harm you nor forsake you, who does not need you, but who loves you and only wants your love in turn. With one hand you’ve found Life that gives life, and with the other survival that merely suffers its own continuation. Which would you choose? And I tell you it is a choice, not because one can choose whether or not to suffer but because one certainly can choose how. Will you choose to suffer for yourself, thinking that you suffer for your family but helping them not at all? Would you continue to seek to find or lose yourself in pain? Or would you think of finding Jesus Christ in the body of His members?

Because you are not alone in this. You are not responsible only to yourself and to your husband. You are also bound to Him and to His church, neither of whom can be increased by the measure of your suffering. Indeed, we suffer with you. We weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. We are one body, and we are of one mind . When you are struck, we are struck. When you are cursed, we are cursed. How horrible for your husband, to do this to the Lord! But for his sake, and for yours, I pray also that we would rejoice with your joy, and that come soon. It will not come while your husband hurts you, while your husband hurts us all.

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. Without Christ there is no joy, but in Him that joy must come certainly. Bear your crosses patiently, but mind that crosses can only come from the will of the Father, which is love. Conversely, I tell you quite clearly that one can only bear the cross that one does not will upon oneself; the cross one chooses is only an arrangement. How is love increased, when your husband strikes you? How is love increased when he insults you? How is love increased in fear, if love drives out fear? Wherever two or more are gathered, there is He, but your husband does not strike you or your children for His name.

What, then, can you see when you look in your husband’s eyes, or he into yours? In the eyes of one another, we see Christ and love abounds, but how can you see Christ in the fists and curses that our Lord condemned? How can he see Christ in your eyes, when he cannot see you at all? In allowing your husband to continue as your adversary, do you not condemn him to his face? No, no, I pray that this cannot continue. Love bears all things, endures all things, but love must also be genuine, or it is not good. It must be without dissimulation. Love must be without its opposite, which is contempt. When your husband strikes you, he thinks less of you, as you must think, I know, a little less of him. I pray you both be freed.

In love there is freedom, because love is what releases us. Love cannot take our cross away, but the Spirit of love can take us up out of our own tombs. And you are not yet free; you are still bound. You do what you do not want to do, or you would not have written me. You may or may not want to die, but you certainly want to live, because to be His bridegroom is to want the water of His life, which never ends. You are on a road that ends. Suffering ends, just as the life of this world must one day end.

But the joy of Christ is that road which does not end, but only goes on forever into the kingdom of God’s own love. So this, and all of this, I pray that you will do: choose to live rather than to suffer; choose to enjoy rather than survive; choose to love rather than endure; choose to tell, rather than conceal; choose to join, rather than to separate; and choose to walk in freedom, rather than to stand in defiance and in fear.

Come, come quickly, and I know the Lord will show us by His Spirit that which we must do.

You servant,
Benjamin Shank

*both the name and the woman are ficticious

1 comment:

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