Perplexed About Nothing

Personal Matters

In our Friday prayer time last week the Lord started to speak with us from 2 Corinthians; “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (4:8-11). Of special interest was the subject of “perplexity”. Paul could speak without embarrassment about being “perplexed, but not forsaken”, and Jesus prophesied of the coming days of “distress of nations in perplexity” (Luke 21:25; 2 Cor 4:9). With global terrorism, economic uncertainty and climate change, perplexities are very present realities of our time.  My computer gives as synonyms for “perplexed”, “puzzled”, “at a loss” and “mystified”; each of these is a state of mind which come upon us through forces beyond our control. No one ever desires to be perplexed, yet the Spirit seems to be saying that perplexity is something a Christian can welcome on their way to becoming more like Jesus. This teaching attempts to demonstrate that perplexity can bring a gift from heaven bringing insight into our true creaturely status, for immersion in emptiness is a precondition for seeing the glory of God.

Seeking Completion

Genesis broke with all other existing ancient creation stories by teaching that God created out of nothing. The meaning of creation “out of nothing” is not self-evident; but God did not lay hold of “nothing” and turn it into something; for nothing is no-thing at all (Heb 11:3). Creation out of nothing is absolutely unique and without analogies, but its implications are total. Since humans are completely dependent upon the Creator for every aspect of their being, then the glory of the creature is to have all its honour given to it by God (Acts 17:28). To be a created “son of God” is to have one’s identity as a child of God drawn absolutely from the Father-Creator without any contribution whatsoever (Luke 3:38). The satanic temptation to “become like God” seduced Adam and Eve into attempting to complete their being by an act of will independent of their maker (Gen 3:5). This original sin was an effort to seek completion by becoming something, rather than glorying in being nothing apart from God. The fruit of sinful self-effort was the loss of the glory of God freely given to humans as creatures and as sons (Rom 3:23). Whilst it is us who are culpable, the loss of glory leaves all fallen people feeling abandoned by God. From our eviction from Eden on men and women struggle to make sense of the world and their place in it; such perplexity has birthed countless idolatries as part of an endless attempt to becoming something rather than nothing. Jesus alone has been free from this dynamic.

The Incompletion of the Son of God

Jesus “made himself nothing” by giving up all the eternal glories of heavenly Sonship (John 17:5; Phil 2:7). This meant that as a limited human being Christ exposed himself to the need to ask questions and experience genuine surprise (Matt 8:10; 15:28; Mark 15:34). Perplexity is something Jesus is intimately familiar with. Yet in every case where Jesus experiences surprise or professes lack of knowledge a miracle subsequently follows bringing all glory to God alone. The purpose of perplexity in a fallen world was fully realised in the humanity of the Son of God as Jesus depended upon his Father again and again to complete to a situation of lack (Matt 15:34-36). What sense then can we give to our perplexity over Jesus’ perplexed cry from the cross, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). If Paul’s affliction did not lead to crushing and his perplexity was free of forsakenness, why was it necessary for Jesus to endure crushing and forsakenness extremities (Isa 53:5; 2 Cor 4:8-9)? This was the climax of the true nothingness of the Son who for the Father’s sake never attempted to complete his identity by self-effort. So radical is his creaturely sonship that if it were not for the initiative of the Father the Son would still be entombed today. “I lay down my life in order that I might take it up again…. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:18). In the resurrection it was “the glory of the Father” that was seen through the utterly broken life of Jesus raised from the dead (Rom 6:4).  Through his confessed inability to raise himself from the dead Jesus reveals that the glory of the Son as God and man is to receive all things from the Father (John 5:19). He is the perfect image of what we as creatures were always meant to be.  Such is mystifying to even the closest of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 24:21).

Becoming Nothing

In the midst of our Friday prayers one brother made a profound statement about a point of deep humiliation in his early Christian life; “Becoming nothing is the greatest thing I’ve ever become.” (Lawrence R.). This testimony gets to the heart of Paul’s own confession of the need to be “hard pressed… perplexed… persecuted… struck down…”. The divine decree that we need to suffer is a sharp reminder of our radical incompletion as creatures and of the need to accept dying with Jesus so that the “life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:11). In a weakness surrendered to the Lord’s service Paul would not be seen, Jesus would be seen (2 Cor 12:9-10; Phil 3:10). This manifestation of the glory of Christ was Paul’s glory. Powerful flesh does not reveal the glory of Christ. Wise believers understand that such glory can never be achieved, only received, and they exult in the breakdown of the old world in their bodies for the sake of the emergence of the glory of the new creation (Gal 6:14-15). “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor 4:7). Nothing destructive can ever happen to you which cannot become a carrying in your bodies the dying of Jesus for the manifestation of his risen life. All you need to do for this to happen is to submit to the truth that the glory of the creature is the life of its Creator.

Conclusion

God wants us to be nothing, rather than something, so that in our true creaturely emptiness we might be filled with his glory. This radical message of nothingness is everywhere hated today. Normal men and women seek fulfilment in the stock exchange, employment success or advancement in church life. “Radicals” are driven to find completion in martyrdom, as if any act that does not share in the love of the cross could climax in glory (1 Cor 13:3). Despite pious prayers deep down very few people want to experience resurrection power, because life from the dead gives glory to God alone (Phil 3:10). In an age where we expect answers for everything the Lord surely wants to increase our perplexity. If perplexity was part of the dying/death of Jesus it must be part of our life too (Mark 14:36; 15:34). God –given puzzlement can only be solved by God, not us; this alone is the route of resurrection power (Luke 24:4). Understood in the Spirit, “Becoming nothing is the greatest thing I’ve ever become.”, is the testimony not of my praying friend nor of Paul but of Jesus himself. If we cannot see this, if we cannot glory in our nothingness, then it must be we need to be “given over to death for Jesus’ sake” in new and deeper ways (2 Cor 4:11). Is anything too much to bear for him?

Feeling the Kingdom

by Dr. John Yates

Personal matters

As far back as I can remember I have been an intensely emotional person. From embarrassed profuse weeping as a child to a systematic attempt to deaden all feelings, I was always trying to bring my sensitive nature under control. All such attempts failed, and the deep depression that followed was a key factor leading to my conversion.

The intensity never went away, and in my early years as a believer I was often overwhelmed by unutterable joy (1 Pet 1:8). Then sadly, when God put his finger on some inner issues I relapsed into a desiring a state of nonexistence where all emotional pain would be erased. Whilst I am well past these vain aspirations, I still sense at times a strong controlling urge to protect my emotions. Whilst such a desire is typical of the fallen ‘ME’ it runs in direct conflict with the ways of God.

I am sensing very clearly a call from God to ‘ME’ and the Church to radically shift in how we understand and express the realm of feeling. When this transformation occurs the result will be a revolution in the presence of God amongst us.

Ruled by Feelings

If ever there was a society ruled by feelings it is ours. Entertainment has reached colossal proportions in Western culture, and the desire for enjoyment through relationships, career, holidays and consumer goods is all-pervading. As a consequence we are obsessed with the alleviation of emotional pain. The breakdown of loyalties, marriages and moralities that saturates our society flows from the conviction that life’s goal is the satisfaction of personal felt need.

Most seriously, much of the Church has embraced the lie that God exists to make us feel better about ourselves. Religion has been corrupted into an industry of providing messages and methods to satisfy a thirst for a more fulfilling lifestyle that includes a spiritual dimension. “God” himself has become a means of grace to satisfy ‘ME’.

At the root of this rebellious social catastrophe is the deception that my emotions belong to me and I possess an unchallengeable right to express them. This is the core attitude of the ‘ME’ who must die and be reborn with Christ; for only Jesus can reveal to us that our feelings first of all exist to serve the purposes of God before they belong to us.

Jesus

Jesus came not as a therapist but as a King in conquering power of God’s kingdom. His intense inner life, encompassing compassion, joy, grief, anger, sorrow and so on (Matt 9:36; Mark 3:5; Mark 14:34; Luke 10:21) was uniquely and constantly centered on the Father and his ruling purposes in the lives of others. All that Christ inwardly experienced was felt in the context of a great conflict to overcome the powers of darkness. The joy of the Lord in the power of the Spirit (Luke 10:21) was not merely a satisfying sensation, but a witness to the triumph of his Father’s kingdom over demonic forces. Jesus knew peace as an inward ruling power over which the forces of evil were helpless.

The prophetic word, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa 9:7) was revealed in all his acts of deliverance. The command “peace be still” calmed a raging storm whipped up by dark forces, because it contained within itself the wholeness of Almighty God (Mark 4:39). In the “clash of the kingdoms” Jesus was often attacked by wicked men and evil spirits he never lost his the inner rule of God’s kingdom of peace and joy.

What then are we to make of the cross?

The sorrows of Gethsemane and the forsakenness on the cross (Mark 14:34; Mark 15:34) are not to be equated with mere personal feeling. They are utterly agonizing to Christ because in bearing our sin he must experience suffering apart from the ruling presence of his Father. The emotional crisis of the cross is that Christ is stripped of a sense that the Father is conquering evil through his very grief. The emotional victory of the cross is that Jesus continues to obey and please his Father and so rather than himself. This is the place where the self-satisfying ‘ME’ is put to death.

The fruit of the passion is seen in the resurrection of Christ as reigning King. The joy and peace that he now imparts to his disciples are unconquerable because they are a share in his completed victory over sin, Satan and death. The whole realm of feeling has been fully redeemed.1)Luke 24:36, 41; John 14:27; John 15:11; John 20:19, 21, 26. Emotional wholeness is available to us all in Christ, but only in the way it lives in him, as the fruit of the victory of his Father’s kingdom.

Kingdom in Us

Since “the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” the goal of our emotional lives is to manifest the reign of Christ (Romans 14:17). Joy and peace are to be desired as expressions of the indwelling Jesus and a means by which the power of his Spirit is unleashed before a broken world. This is how the reign of God comes, “[L]et the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15 cf. Phil 4:7). We are to actively yield our emotions to the Lord so that evil powers may be subdued in his presence; “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:20).

It is not strength of religious feeling that is an indicator of godliness but a deeply ordered inner life. Mature Christian living involves a death to the ‘ME’ which insatiably demands emotional self-satisfaction and a re-centering on Christ alone. Through the power of the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead my emotional life becomes charged with new meaning (Rom 8:11). In the light of the death-and-resurrection of the Lord a grown-up believer accepts that even grief can be a term of victory rather than one of despair (2 Cor 7:11). In this way no realm of human experience is excluded from the glorious dominion of our Saviour.

Conclusion

For far too long the bulk of the Church has been deeply confused about the place of feelings. Through fear of excess the conservative side often denies the significance of emotions, whilst the Charismatic church frequently elevates feelings to a place of primacy. My long struggles with emotion teach that any attempt to either suppress or perfect emotion is doomed to fail.

We need to turn to Christ to redeem all things. The witness of the life of Jesus steers us away from the self-centered ‘ME’ to the Spirit’s indwelling power for a higher purpose. My emotions are not about my personal self-satisfaction but are an opportunity to manifest the kingdom of God. The gospel of Christ reveals that the true meaning of human emotionality is to be a vehicle demonstrating the victory of Christ over every evil power.

The implications of this understanding for life and ministry are immense and call us to repent of all that is simply therapeutic. This radically new paradigm of submission to Christ as “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36) means a new depth of discipleship that will mean renew the Church and reveal Jesus to broken world whose feelings are out of control. It is time to cease from protecting our emotions and allow God to reign.

References   [ + ]

1. Luke 24:36, 41; John 14:27; John 15:11; John 20:19, 21, 26.