NOT everything happens in the world just as God wishes. When people say, “Whatever is, is best,” they cannot really mean what they say, or they mean it with certain conditions and reservations which filch the literal meaning from the words.
The writer met a friend one day, a minister, returning from a funeral. Even allowing for the sad errand which had occupied his mind, he seemed peculiarly low-spirited. “I have just buried a child,” he said, “and the child’s father is under arrest for manslaughter. Last Saturday evening, it seems, he came home drunk, clambered into the bed where his wife and the little one were asleep, and in his fuddled condition pushed the baby out of bed. It fell and, as it fell, the child’s head struck the fender. In the gray light of the next morning they found the little body cold and dead upon the floor. The police were called, of course, and the father is in prison awaiting his trial.
“But that wasn’t the whole of it,” my friend went on. “After the interment, one of the mourners, trying to make a little pious talk in the parson’s presence, said, ‘Ah well! It can’t be helped, I suppose. It was the will of God.’ “The will of God?” said my friend bitterly. “That wasn’t the will of God. God could never have wished that that dear child be pushed to death by a drunken brute. It was a horrible travesty of all that God would have wished for the little one.”
As we parted, I turned the old problem over in my mind again. What happens to the guidance of God when calamity comes? Calamity isn’t always the outcome of obvious sin. It overtakes the saints. Untimely death has nipped the life of the noblest souls, and not death merely, but death through agonizing pain. Disaster, like the rain, falls on the just and the unjust. The horror of it strikes one dumb, and when speech returns, a tempest of questions rises to the lips. Does God guide us? Is there knowledge in the Most High? Does he lead us to the lip of a calamity and leave us to fall in? The problem demands an attempt at an answer because any day might thrust it on our notice again and because it challenges faith. If anguish comes, can doubt be far behind?
God’s will, we believe, for his children, is the perfection of their characters and their ultimate bliss, but the cast of our inherited nature and the conditions of a sin-spoiled world do not allow an easy path to that great end. God therefore permits the woes of life to press upon us; the consequences of our own sin, and sometimes the sin of others; the consequences of our carelessness and ignorance, and the carelessness and ignorance of others. The loss of the Titanic was due to reckless racing through an ice-field, and the death-roll was lengthened by the fact that she only carried boat accommodation for 1,200 people, though the passengers and crew totaled 2,293. It was a compound of pride and criminal folly. But W. T. Stead was among the passengers, going to America in the interests of world peace and to take part in the “Men and Religion Forward Movement.” He was drowned.
Yet God meets us in every situation, hears the cry which our bleeding hearts fling to him, and bears with us when, in bitterness, we question his restraint, deny his love, and doubt his existence. Granted a willing and responsive heart in us, he can so turn tragedy to triumph, and loss to gain, that men have even believed that he sent the pain and devised the disaster, so marvelously does he bring good out of evil. Think how closely joy and pain are interwoven in the fabric of our human lives. Our achievements in love measure our capacity for pain. Before I knew my friend or cared for him, his doings were of no account to me. He could pass me in the street with a frozen stare, I did not mind. He did not sympathize with me in my trouble, and I did not miss his sympathy. When success came to me, he sent no congratulations, but it did not make me grave. We were outside each other’s circle and we had no sense of lack. But when I learned to love my friend, I armed him with the power to wound me deeply. I put a weapon in his hand and exposed my heart to its bare point. The more I loved, the more he could wound. If he ignores me now, I am hurt. If he denies his sympathy, I miss it. If he lapses into sin, I share the shame. Love has made me vulnerable, it has exposed me to pain, because pain and love are inextricably interwoven in the only kind of life we know.
When calamity has us in its grip, even this strong thought is not enough of itself. We look the ugly intruder in the face, feel its power to steal the joy from half our life, and cast our querulous inquiries at God, demanding to know why it had to be. In that hour the safeguarding of our freedom doesn’t seem enough. In our bewilderment we feel that a loving God would find effective discipline some easier way. We look at him through mists of tears and wonder if, in his greatness, he really feels our woe. Then it is that our Lord comes and shows us his feet, his hands, his side, and if there were a tongue in every wound of Jesus, we know what it would say: “/ have suffered!” Then it is that we feel with ‘Emerson how nigh is grandeur to our dust, how near is God to man. He has suffered. He does not simply reign in some far-off splendor, untroubled by our woe.
“Jesus knows all about our struggles.
He will guide till the day is done.”
The whole story of the Passion is rich in its power to bless. We go with Him into Gethsemane and feel, even when our own sorrow is most vivid to our thought, that we have not drunk the cup of bitterness so deep as this. In all the dark mystery of it, the shadows seem never so dark as they do in Gethsemane. The word “agony” is used of our Lord only in the Garden. He was master of himself from the kiss of Judas till he cried with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. But in the garden….agony…the bloody sweat…the pleading prayer. “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” So he prays, “first on his feet: and then on his knees: and then on his face.” He knows it all: deeper, further than any of us. Beside his agony, our own seems to shrink. “And every cross grows light beneath the shadow, Lord, of thine.”
Then the voices through the trees and the gleaming lanterns. Judas and his leprous kiss. Poor Peter dragging the sword from beneath his garment and taking a blow at the nearest. He meant it for his head but it only got his ear. The shouts, the trampled undergrowth, the scared disciples, and the inquisitive mob.
But Jesus is master of the situation again. His will is perfectly attuned with the Father’s. He is going right on by way of the cross. Turning on Peter, he ordered the sword back into its sheath and broke their last hopes of spectacular conquest. He would not appeal to force. “Thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and he shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels?” But he would not call them. He was taking the long way, but the only possible way, the way of love, and no pain would turn him back. Never had his Father broken the rule of the ages and bludgeoned his way into the unwilling hearts of men. Jesus would not ask him to do it now. There was no discord in these wills so perfectly attuned. He would conquer sin with love. He would make the cross a throne. He would use the shame and pain and humiliation of it to expose the very heart of God, and sin would not triumph : it would be but a dark background revealing, by contrast, the wonder of that love. So he takes the cross, not of compulsion, not by mere submission or resignation, but willingly.
And when we see him there, we have our greatest aid to understanding how the calamities of life can be wrested to our soul’s use, and the use of others. He takes it willingly. His arms are not merely stretched upon it: they are wound around it. He holds it to him. He does not merely suffer it, he employs it. And so the symbol of shame becomes the focus point of glory.
In that same willing spirit he desires that we meet, and use, the calamities of life that overtake us. An evil that can be put right must be resisted. The call of a situation that can be corrected is not easy acquiescence but spirited opposition. But those are not the problems we are considering now. There is a finality about bereavement, an amputated limb, an incurable disease, a lost fortune. The real crosses of life have to be borne. Can you bear the cross willingly? That will change it from a weight into wings: it cannot crush you: you rise by it.
“So by my woes to be Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!”
Through the shadows he guides still and converts the loss into gain, working out of our folly and mistakes something which will be worthy of the price pain has paid.
So we believe. They shall be made, by the wisdom of God, the basis on which he will build blessings. Our sins and our mistakes! Even the saddest of our mistakes : the ones we made when we listened for his guiding voice but did not quite succeed in disentangling it from the voice of self-love. He will build a blessing on it, and in the light of heaven the mysteries will be solved, the gains of our losses made clear, and fullest scope be found for the disciplined abilities we have developed on earth.
“Then shall I see and hear and know
All I desired and wished below,
And every power find sweet employ
In that eternal world of joy.”
Holiness is, perhaps, the most misunderstood concept in Christianity. Anyone who has striven to follow the life of Christ can likely tell you that it is impossible to do. No one can match His love, His grace, or His compassion. For no one but Jesus is perfect. Once the believer is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, though, he or she is filled to the brim with the love of Christ, and desires nothing more than to please God and follow in Christ’s steps. The love of sin is gone. In its place is a love and passion for others. That is Christian Holiness. This is Christian Holiness Daily.