by Glenn Fairman 11/24/16
It is perhaps one thing, on this Thanksgiving Day, to offer praises to God for His blessings when our circumstances are a net positive, or even tolerable. But how does one do it when they are not? How, in all sincerity, does one overlook the evidence that their life, as they have known it, is coming undone? And whether it is our material resources that have gone fallow or the inexorable decline of a beloved’s health, the subsequent prayer of Thanksgiving rings hollow and leaves a bitter taste on our lips. To many on the outside, it appears rote and contrived – “Thank you Lord for this cancer,” or “Bless you for our impending bankruptcy.” How does one lift their hands into the sky, like Job, and offer praise for the calamities that seemingly beset us on every side?
I certainly wish I knew. C.S. Lewis, perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th Century, and producer of some of the greatest books uplifting our faith, was driven nearly mad from the loss of his wife Joy from cancer. For all his intellectual knowledge and internalized reasoning, he was left mired in the ashes with her two young sons and a notebook in which he scrawled his agonies: bleak words that would eventually become “A Grief Observed.” In this damning indictment chronicling these darkest of days, he questioned not the existence, but the very character of God. Having been given the love of his life at a mature age, only to have her snatched away into the opaque abode of eternity, her death rocked his foundation as no other loss could. Indeed, his suffering caused him to groan to that silent celestial door that appeared bolted shut, “So this is what you are really like?”
Loving is a dangerous sacrificial act at best, because it involves a vulnerability that reveals our nakedness. If we love the World, we will one day lose it. If we love a man or woman, or even a child, will not the same occur when all flesh eventually runs its cruel course? We love to know that we are not alone, and yet, we are ultimately left alone to all but the mercies of God. There is no getting around this, and only God Himself has run the gauntlet and emerged at the other end victorious, but not unscathed.
It is such a victory that He has in mind for us; yet, it requires no less a sacrifice. In shedding our reliance on the things of this world – our riches and even our loves – we are borne up by His power through that gauntlet of despair that afflicts every life. I wish it were not so, but since I cannot see beyond the end of my street, let alone the rim of the world, I must disengage from my pain and anxiety and trust in that Whom I have no power to manipulate. It is only when we come to the end of ourselves that something beautiful can finally happen. Only then can terrified eyes open — and begin to see. Therefore, Paul tells us:
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NASB)
How do I thank God in my affliction? This will only come when He dwells within you and begins that mysterious work. And would that this could be accomplished in pleasure. But it seems that man is constructed in such a way that pain, rather than plenitude, is the most efficient vehicle for our schooling. For it is in our sufferings that we begin to listen and allow Him to draw near. Left to our own devices, we would vector out into eternity and continue running from the only source of true lasting joy in the universe. But God has made us for His own good pleasure, and there will be no end in His pursuit to have and to perfect us as His own valued possessions, until that time when our ultimate rejection makes His efforts finally for naught.
And so on this Thanksgiving, the bleakest one in my memory, I will offer up no laundry list of wants and needs to Him, for he knows them far better than I. As Lewis would say, “The pain I have now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” If I cannot offer Thanksgiving for today in a clear conscience, I know I can offer it for joyous days past and for the days to come when I will one day fully understand the reasons for these sleepless nights and endless tears. For then, I will see through that mirror plainly: in the same manner that He has watched lovingly over me—-all the blessed days of my life.
Glenn Fairman returns from the wilderness and writes from Highland, Ca.
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