Affliction produces endurance. Endurance builds character. But proven character as the source of hope? That jolts me. I think all too often I want it to be the other way around. I expect God to fill me with hope so I can feel strong enough to pursue good character and turn away from my sin. I look for a supernatural infusion of hope that is strong enough to pull my affection away from lesser loves and turn it wholeheartedly on God.
But really, if it worked that way, it would bypass the most necessary ingredient in all of this — FAITH! By faith we are justified. By faith we stand in God’s grace. Without faith, after all, it is impossible to please God.
I read a powerful illustration for healing this week in a book called To Bless the Space Between Us. The author likened spiritual and emotional healing to the way a cut heals. The healing doesn’t come from within the wound itself. It heals at the edges first and works its way in.
The centre is the last place to heal. Clearly it is not the wound that has finally relented and decided to heal itself. Rather it is the surrounding health and wholesomeness of your body that invades the stricken place with healing.To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue
I love the picture of encroaching wholeness swallowing up the rot instead of trying to start by healing the rotten places and building out from there. That’s not even possible! You will always crumple under the impossibility of it. The health and wholeness we need isn’t found in the centre of our wounds. Sometimes it’s a long way off, far out of our reach. But that’s the miracle of faith! Faith reaches all the way into eternity and grabs a foretaste of our ultimate happiness to pull back into the present, into our journey here and now.
I think sometimes I expect God to wave a magic wand over the centre of my wound when maybe He expects me to do a few things, by faith, around the edges, to build my endurance and character. Not that He is absent or aloof in that process. His love and His Holy Spirit poured out in my heart fuel these baby steps of faith that pave the way for complete healing. As O’Donohue observes, “The old patterns do not evaporate, but become transformed under the persuasion of the soul’s new affection.”
Too often I go about my Christian growth all wrong. I get so far but then lose hope and stall out far shy of all that God has promised. He wants to be my delight, to capture my passionate affection. But do I sometimes lack the faith to believe that He can satisfy me, that in His presence there really is “fullness of joy” and at His right hand are “pleasures forevermore”? (Psalm 16:11) As C.S. Lewis said,
“…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C.S. Lewis
John Piper, in his book Desiring God, describes it this way: “We have accustomed ourselves to such meager, short-lived pleasures that our capacity for joy has shrivelled.”
Too easily pleased — that’s me sometimes. Or maybe it’s not that I’m “pleased” with what the world offers, but that, lacking faith, I’ve settled on a plateau of Christian duty when God has promised me so much more! By faith, I want to refuse to settle for anything less than plunging ahead into the spacious place where I am free to delight myself in God. I want to wrestle my way towards the blessing of hope, being absolutely convinced that God’s hope does not disappoint! And I would venture to say that that is where healing for the very epicentre of our wounds is finally found.