Monday, February 10, 2014

When Life Hurts, by Michael Horton

When Life Hurts

Monks go looking for a cross, thinking that they are pleasing God by their stoic resolve. We encounter this sometimes in our own circles today, as believers often feel obliged to smile in public even if they collapse at home in private despair.
John Calvin counters, “Such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain.”
It is not as the Stoics of old foolishly described “the great-souled man”: one who, having cast off all human qualities, was affected equally by adversity and prosperity, by sad times and happy ones — nay, who like a stone was not affected at all. . . .
Now, among the Christians there are also new Stoics, who count it depraved not only to groan and weep but also to be sad and care-ridden. These paradoxes proceed, for the most part, from idle men who, exercising themselves more in speculation than in action, can do nothing but invent such paradoxes for us.
Yet we have nothing to do with this iron philosophy which our Lord and Master has condemned not only by his word, but also by his example. For he groaned and wept both over his own and others’ misfortunes. . . . And that no one might turn it into a vice, he openly proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn.”

The Sufferer’s Asylum

Especially given how some of Calvin’s heirs have confused a Northern European “stiff upper lip” stoicism with biblical piety, it is striking how frequently he rebuts this “cold” philosophy that would “turn us to stone.” Suffering is not to be denied or downplayed, but arouses us to flee to the asylum of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.
It is quite unimaginable that this theology of the cross will top the best-seller lists in our “be good–feel good” culture, but those who labor under perpetual sorrows, as Calvin did, will find solidarity in his stark realism:
Then only do we rightly advance by the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its goods are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by many intermingled evils. From this, at the same time, we conclude that in this life we are to seek and hope for nothing but struggle; when we think of our crown, we are to raise our eyes to heaven. For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it is previously imbued with contempt for the present life.
Yet precisely because “this life, judged in itself,” is filled with misery, the obvious evidences of God’s grace to us in the gospel fill us with hope. For our life is not merely judged in itself.