Suffering and Weakness

You’re all ridiculous. I hope you know that. I’ve said it before and I’ve no doubt that I’ll say it again: I don’t write anything worth reading. My random thoughts are not far off from a madman’s ravings, which inevitably implies that all of you are following a lunatic. At least I’ve kept my post count above my follower count for a while. I think that means I’m winning, but honestly I’m too tired to be sure right now. However, I do hope that in my insane ramblings I at least keep good company. Peter and Paul are both rather depressing authors of the New Testament at times (many times). Between the two of them we are exhorted (repeatedly) to rejoice in suffering and weakness (Consider 2 Corinthians 12 or 1 Peter 3 if you need examples [though really the entirety of 1 Peter will do]), two things that are fairly anathema to the American way. We don’t rejoice in suffering and weakness. In fact we don’t even approve of suffering and weakness. According to the American Church at large (much like Job’s friends) if you are suffering then you must be a bad Christian, and weakness simply isn’t tolerated.

Suffering is, apparently according to the Gospel of the US, God’s way of telling you that you are a sucky person, and if you weren’t such a sucky person then he would be giving you many and varied blessings like he does to all the non-sucky church-goers. This, of course, flies in the face of scriptural teaching and 2000 years of Christian tradition, but who cares, we’re Americans!

… … …So, I might be in just a little bit of a mood this morning… slightly… I blame it on the fact that I didn’t get any sleep again last night. After a week’s worth of wonderful rest (yes the alliteration is intentional) I had another night of sleepless torment, temptation, and failure. After I’d finally given up on sleep I turn to scripture to find this waiting for me: boast in your weaknesses! Well… I have plenty of weaknesses to boast in. I’m prideful, arrogant, supremely confident in my own intelligence (which is, admittedly, modest at best), lustful, foolish, insecure, and terribly, terribly afraid. Oh, and I tend to be pretty lonely most of the time as well. I generally console myself that it’s because I’m a smart, deep thinker and most people can’t keep up with me (what a crock… did I mention that I’m arrogant? I think I must be pretty hard to be around at times).

My bad mood aside, honestly looking back over the past few months I think one of the major lessons God has been trying to teach me is to find joy in my weaknesses. Paul was a pretty incredible man, and he certainly had a lot to boast about, but in 2 Corinthians 12 he talks about a thorn in the flesh that God had given him to keep him humble. Some scholars argue that this was some physical deformity (which they inevitably attempt to identify as buggy eyes, bowed legs, albino skin or some such), but others connect this thorn in the flesh with his rant Romans 7:14-25 and conclude that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was some issue of sin that presented him a continual and humiliating struggle (of course they also feel the need to identify this, often as a sexual issue, though only Paul’s staunch stand against sexual sins provides any support for this). I tend to side with the latter as I have trouble seeing a physical deformity being of much shame to Paul (given that he had been beaten, stoned, drowned, etc repeatedly I would imagine that he had several deformities). However, for a man of Paul’s stature a struggle with sin (which we already know from Romans 7 he had) would certainly be very humiliating.

We are all weak. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we all suffer from many and varied weaknesses. As I write this my mind is drawn back to Desperate Housewives, which (as I’ve said before) is a surprisingly good and surprisingly uplifting show. There are two couples  (well, one couple and half of a couple) that, in many ways, exemplify what the church should and should not be respectively. First, Tom and Lynette are two imperfect people who accept one another’s imperfections and choose to continue in love regardless. One of my favorite scenes revolves around this couple. There is a portion of the show in which Lynette is tempted to cheat, and when Tom discovers this he confronts the man who is in the process of seducing her. Tom doesn’t threaten the man (well… much), but instead points out this (I’m paraphrasing here): “Have you thought about what’ll happen if she does slip and spend the night with you? It’ll destroy her. She’ll hate herself. And you think I’ll leave, but I won’t. I won’t go anywhere. I’ll stay right here and love her as hard as she hates herself, and we’ll get through this, because that’s who we are.” Honestly, Tom and Lynette are a fairly good example of the kind of undying, complete, self-sacrificing, gracious, imperfect love that the church could potentially show to one another. None of us are perfect people. None of us are even good people. However, when we recognize our own weaknesses and lovingly accept the fact that others are just as weak, we can show the grace that God has shown us. Does this make the actions that come out of our weakness good? Of course not, but it does mean that sin causes grace to abound.

The second character is Bre Van DeKamp Hodge. Bre is an excellent example of the faux perfection that the church often exhibits. She has her moments of true goodness and goes though some hard things, but generally she is unwilling to accept any weakness in others, even when that same weakness is all to apparent in herself. She does genuinely try to help people, but she is generally unwilling to show either grace or love, and this is a problem. Where Tom and Lynette forgive easily and often (as we should), Bre rarely forgives anything.

Bre seems to assume, as many of us do, that grace equals a lowering of standards, and this isn’t true. My students often tell me that my standards are too high and that I need to lower them. However, as I tell them, this is not going to happen. However, what will happen is the chance (if they seek it) to try again. To rewrite papers, seek advice, improve their abilities to meet my standards, and all of this I am more than happy to do. Similarly, we cannot expect God to lower his standards. It’s simply not going to happen. However, we can expect him to let us try again, and we should be able to expect that of one another as well.

forgiveness and… Forgiveness

I ran into my ex today… well, sort of my ex. This is a girl who I kind of dated a little over a year ago, and by kind of dated what I mean is that we dated for about a month, but she was never willing to make it official and eventually she stopped talking to me. After a couple of weeks of me bothering her trying to find out what was wrong she finally told me that she just wanted to be friends, and then jumped in bed with another guy a couple of days later. That hurt more than a little… kind of a lot actually. Still, it was necessary for healing from something else… not important at the moment… I’ll probably talk about that eventually. This was one of those relationships where she stopped talking to me. I tried everything I could to stay friends, but she wasn’t having any of it.

So, I ran into her today. Apparently she’s working at a bookstore I go to every now and then. I was there a couple of times, and the first time I noticed her and deliberately avoided her. Honestly, at the time, I wasn’t sure why I avoided her, I just knew that I didn’t want to talk to her. After that I took a long walk to do some praying and some thinking about why I didn’t want to talk to her. The thing is, I’ve forgiven her. And this is where I rant for a moment about the complete inadequacy of the English language, because the word I want to use here doesn’t exist. I haven’t Forgiven her, because Forgiveness is two-sided. The scriptural model of Forgiveness is the restoration of relationship, it requires two willing parties, one to repent and the other to Forgive. God does not Forgive our sins without our repentance and reliance on Christ, because until that repentance is made, the relationship between man and God can’t be restored.

So, when I say that I’ve forgiven her, what I mean is that I bear no grudge for the hurt that she caused me. I’ve let that go. I’m sure that she had reasons, and I have no doubt that they were not good reasons, but really our reasons for hurting others are rarely good. However, sometimes I’m not entirely sure of that. It took me a while to forgive her, and when I first saw her I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt or why I avoided her. I thought that maybe I was still mad at her, that I hadn’t actually forgiven her for hurting me. I thought that maybe I was afraid that I would say something or do something to try to hurt her, and I was half right about that. I was afraid, but not of what I would do. My ex is a girl that lashes out as a defense mechanism. When she’s scared or uncomfortable she says and does things to hurt people. This is part of the reason that I was so hurt in the first place, and I was afraid that on seeing me she would say or do something to lash out.

Well, eventually I went back to the bookstore, there was something I needed anyway, and I made sure that I saw her face to face (she was my cashier). I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I still kind of thought she might lash out or say something cruel, but she didn’t. She wouldn’t even look at me, and just pretended that she didn’t recognize me. This made me sad. I’ve forgiven her, but I haven’t had the chance to Forgive her, because she doesn’t appear to have any desire to restore a friendship or relationship.

I thought about that as well for a while. If I would want to restore a relationship with her, and I don’t. Honestly, even if I didn’t need to be single right now, I don’t think I’d want to try dating her again. However, I would like to be able to have a conversation with her without pretending that we don’t know each other. However, I think that is up to her. As I said, Forgiveness takes two parties, and if she doesn’t want a restored relationship, then I’m not going to try to force it. I could try to reach out to her, to say or do something to spark the conversation that we would need to have to actually begin a friendship again. I’ve considered the fact that it’s entirely possible that I’m just being a selfish bastard by not taking that step, but I don’t really think that I am. I’m not entirely sure how to defend that, it’s just a gut feeling.