Saturday, December 01, 2007

Trust

Sometimes, when I worry about loneliness, my homosexuality, and my subsequent self-induced celibacy, I wonder why God has allowed me to suffer so. A reading through the Book of Job over the past few days got rid of that thinking. God is God. He doesn't owe me anything, and I am foolish for being resentful of the situations He has put me in. They are, after all, what makes me the person I am today. And I like that guy. I really do.

I am healthy, I am (more or less) full of hope. In my own respects, I am a teacher and a writer, the two things I have always wanted to be. I have a great family, and a great boyfriend who understands me, and who I can share my faith with. If Job, who was reduced to almost nothing, can still cry out and praise God, what makes it so hard for me to do so sometimes?

I am trying my hardest to trust God more. This is a two-fold mission in a lot of ways. First, I want to trust God with the events of my own life. I want to trust that the situations I have been put in are ones that I can handle, and that He will help me through. My life is rocky a little right now, on several levels. On other levels it is fine. In either case, I have to trust that He will be there for me.

Secondly, I have to trust in my own salvation. It's hard, because Reformed theology (at least in my limited understand of it so far) leaves little room for total assurance. This is good in a way, because it means there is more humility among the Christians who adhere to it (and, hopefully, myself included). A lot of Christians can get it in their heads that their simple statements of faith save them, and that can lead to a lot of arrogance.

So, Calvinists know that the Holy Spirit must be in you and actively working in order to save you, right? The problem is that it's hard to know if that's happening. I stumble and I doubt, and I sometimes wonder if I'm only deluding myself into thinking that God has really saved me, even though I desire Him so badly. Everyone will glorify God in the end, and I rejoice in that. But I can't lie and say that there isn't one side of the schism that I'll want to be on when the end comes. I suppose I have to trust that God is just and beyond my level of thinking, and there are some wonderful friends around to support me in my faith. Disputed Mutability showed me this wonderful sermon by C.H. Spurgeon about the very subject of assurance in hard times. Trust is hard, but it's rewarding, and it comes with time. Patience has never been one of my strong points, but I'm working on it. Welcome to December, everybody!

17 comments:

MR said...

It's so good to read the thankful attitude in your words. Yes, sex is a difficult thing to be missing in life, but God has given us so much anyway!

BTW, assurance of salvation and Reformed theology are NOT mutually exclusive. 1 John was written so that we would know we have eternal life."Perseverence of the saints" in Calvinism simply means that God enables His children to endure to the end.

Jay said...

Thanks MR. I wasn't saying that Reformed theology and assurance were mutually exclusive, but in my understanding assurance is harder, since Calvinism does put more emphasis on there being signs of regeneration. Hope you're well!

Brandon said...

Jay,

Thanks for this post. Sometimes it's hard for me to trust God in difficult times. And I worry and get frustrated about things because of that, which only tends to make things worse. But I read things like this and I feel so foolish for not seeing how God is with me even through those times. I really should trust him more.

kurt_t said...

I'm looking at this: "Everyone will glorify God in the end, and I rejoice in that."

And I'm wondering do you mean that that the unsaved will glorify God by suffering in hell for all eternity?

And that's something you rejoice over?

That's kinda twisted, Jay.

Joe said...

hi Jay,

When I looked at Job at two years ago in a Hebrew Scriptures introductory class at school, it really got me thinking about the fact that we're not necessarily meant to understand why anything happens (or, why God causes anything to happen), but that we should rest assuredly that there IS a purpose behind it all. But as mere humans, we shouldn't think we're able to understand God fully... but that God has revealed all we do need to know (ie. he's not maliciously hiding things, of course). I know this sort of thinking isn't exactly easy to take or totally comforting when someone's suffering, especially if it's something so horrible as your family has died in a car wreck. This might just be somewhat reiterating what you were saying about trust, but your post made me immediately think of all these things I garnered from this class (and more or less took to heart).

I took another Hebrew Scriptures class by this rabbi again and he was really great. I feel like, ironically, I grew much more spiritually in all those college class sessions than in much of the years of church up to then (though I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I was younger and just going to church more out of obligation). The Jewish perspective he offered really wasn't so different from the Christian one I already had (well, except for the whole Jesus thing...).

I realize I totally need to think more about this all than just a few class sessions... hopefully I'll read this sermon you've linked too, when school isn't piling work on me and I no longer have a lame excuse to not do outside reading.

Jay said...

Kurt: The answers to those two questions are "Yes" and "Yes." I'm sorry, but that's just what Christianity calls for. There will be some who do not share in eternal joy with God. Will they suffer in Hell? I'm not sure. I'll admit I'm a bit of an annihilationist when it comes to thinking about the non-elect. However, it doesn't matter. There will be a separation, and that's hard but true.

It's not that I rejoice in the suffering of people. I do, however, rejoice in the sovereignty of God. Any person saved by grace has reason to rejoice.

Joe: Definitely read the sermon! Spurgeon is great. It's also cool to hear about your experiences reading Job. It's a gem of a book.

MR said...

Actually, Jesus is clear on hell in the Gospels and so is John in Revelation.

Jay said...

I've read the passages where Jesus speaks on Hell (or Gehenna, which was a real place near Jerusalem where executions took place). His words are not clear about the nature of Hell. Many of his references to fire are included within parables and metaphors (such as the weat being destroyed in the furnace). Also, some references to "unquenchable fire" are also used by John the Baptist to describe baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since those who are baptised don't literally burn forever, I see little reason to think why the un-elect literally do either.

The only clear things I know about Hell from Scripture is that it's real, it's not pleasant, and that those not in Christ will go there. I don't like the traditional view of Hell because in large ways it's influenced by Greek and Roman mythology more than it is Scripture. The very word "Hell" is a term for the Norse goddess of the dead.

And I was raised to take everything in Revelation with the grain of salt that it was written in both metaphor and code. All that it shows me is that there will be a separation, not what natures await us after that separation.

Karen K said...

Hi Jay,

I can relate to some of the thoughts about God's salvation and how that fits with action. Certainly, fruit is born when the Spirit resides in us--and I certainly see that evident in you just from what I have read of your thoughts on this blog. But, one verse that I really loved has always helped to keep God's salvation in perspective and how much it is really *him* doing the rescuing of us (not us rescuing ourselves). Titus 3:3-6 "For we also oncewere foolish ourselves, disobedient . . . But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for humankind appeared, he saved us *not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness* but according to His mercy . . ."

RikFleming said...

Jay,

In Reformed theology assurance does not coming from looking from within (the subjective state of being regenerate) nor to the unrevealed secret decree of God (Deut. 29:29), but rather to the objective promises in Scripture signified objectively by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

We can also know that we are children of God if we believe what the written Word says about the incarnate Word of God (John 1). We can also know that we are children and not illegtimate bastards if we cannot continue in sin because we are chatened by the Father (Hebrews 12:5-11). Finally, we can know we are children of God if the Spirit bears witness with our spirit (Romans 8:16) So, assurance is Trinitarian as well.

But if you do not believe and submit to all that the Word says... then you can have no assurance of knowing anything let alone your salvation.

Jay said...

Rik... So, I don't really understand what you said. It sounds to me like you're saying that assurance comes through baptism and communion... Unless we're talking spiritual baptism and communion (which are non-objective, in my view), then you're saying that physical works lead to salvation. I don't know much about Reformed theology, but I know it doesn't believe that.

Also, submitting to all that the Word of God says implies that our fallen nature doesn't get in the way of a perfect understanding of Scripture. I would argue that it does. We're simply too fallen to be able to comprehend all the finer points of God's grace and love for us.

Even if we could possibly understand the Bible perfectly, few people have the ability to actually study it to the extent that makes perfect understanding possible. And of course, don't get me started on the multiple translations and versions of God's Word. Which one is the right one?

Also, how is knowing that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit in any way objective? There is no objective proof that we have been touched by the Holy Spirit. As for the Hebrews verse, where does that say that an inability to sin is a sign of salvation? To me, it sounds like it says that God will help us through our struggles with sin, not that we will stop sinning (though, of course, we should try our hardest).

After all, I don't think there's a single person, saved or un-saved, who has gone a single day without sinning. All save One. :)

Nice hearing from you, but from now on could you cut back on the five-dollar words? I know it's second nature to you, but it just makes you come across as arrogant. Cheers.

RikFleming said...

Jay,

It wasn't my intent to be arrogant, it is just the way I talk. Sorry, most of the children in my church would understand me because they have been catechized.

Let me see if I can explain without sounding like I am talking down to you. Baptism and the Lord's Supper ae signs. A sacrament points to something like a city sign that says, "Welcome to Chicago." How do you know you're in Chicago? Because the sign says so. The sacramental signs must be accepted by faith, they’re not magical. These signs point to a promise. That promise is from God. They are an objective promise (something outside of you) just like the Scriptures. Assurance is in ink and paper, water and bread & wine. Assurance is in the objective promises of God. Our feelings and emotions are fickle. The promises of God in the objective Word and Sacrament remind us of the promises and the warnings of the covenant He made with us and our forefathers (Abraham, Moses, David, the apostles). So, I can point to my baptism and the bread and wine (or like Noah point to the rainbow in the sky) and say, “That is God’s sign for me. He made a promise with that sign and He keeps his promises. My baptism tells me that I am a Christian and it points to what Christ has done for me as Paul says in Romans 6.” I may feel like a lowly sinner who deserves hell. But then when I look outside of myself to the promises of God -then I have assurance. you might find it helptful to read the Westminster Confession and Catechisms on Sacraments and few Reformed books on the sacraments.

Does our fallen nature get in the way of a PERFECT understanding or complete understanding of ALL that Scriptures says? Yep, but assurance isn’t in the perfection of knowledge, that won’t come until Jesus returns. For now we only know in part. (1 Cor. 13:9-12; 2 Cor. 3:18)

Regarding translations... all translations of ANY language into another are imperfect and lack total precision. That is just the nature of human language. It doesn’t matter what you translate, there will always be some degree of imprecision. The closer the languages the more accurate the translation (Latin to Spanish to Italian for example). Most English translations (versions) are very close approximations such that the intent of the message is not lost. The differences are a matter of nuance. I happen to read Hebrew and Greek and find strengths and weaknesses in all the major translations. But, they’re all close enough and clear enough so that the major issues are clear.

My point about assurance being Trinitarian and the Spirit speaking to our spirit was a second point to the objectivity of the promises of God in Word and sacrament. I ahve written a paper on this which I can send to you via a link.

Rik

Jay said...

Thank you for the reply, Rik. I think you pretty much said what I was trying to say in my post. I sometimes don't feel assured, but because I have faith in Christ, work hard in my fight against sin, and try to spread His Word to the best of my ability, I trust in His promises that I am saved.

I have not been baptised with water since my infancy. It's been a long time since I've taken communion as well. However, I believe those are merely outward expressions of inward changes. Baptism is done through the Holy Spirit, and communion should be a constant state of remembering what Christ did for us. You could take all the signs out of Chicago and you would probably still be able to tell you were in Chicago. ;-)

RikFleming said...

Jay,

If you look throughout Scripture God repeatedly gives signs (sacraments) and feast days (such as Passover) as a means to remember His redeeming acts of grace. It is these things that people God have always looked to in faith as an assurance of their covenant relationship with Him.

But there were also people in the first century who had been baptized, they were in the church, who took the grace of God as an excuse to commit sin. They called themselves Christians but despised the law of God. The apostle John said that these people were false-Christians, antiChrists, and liars. Those who truly know Christ live a life of confessing their sin and repentance (1 John 1:9) and can have an assurance that they are true Christians if they seek to obey the law of God:

“And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in Him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we love Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 1:4-6)

If you read the entirety of John’s first epistle much of it is about knowing who is a true Christian and who is not, who may have assurance and who can not.

If we find that we can walk in sin, not keep His commandments, and not be convicted of our sin then we are likely an illegitimate child.

Rik

Jay said...

I already said I agreed with you, Rik. That's enough. :) Have a wonderful day.

David Roberts said...

Secondly, I have to trust in my own salvation. It's hard, because Reformed theology (at least in my limited understand of it so far) leaves little room for total assurance.

Wow, that made me ache for you. You have total and complete assurance, Jay. You may not always feel this or that, but you have His total assurance that nothing will change his hold on you. I don't like to speak in such absolutes because it makes me sound preachy, but on that one I feel it is core to the faith - you must know that you are His. Quite frankly, any doubts about that are not from God.

If your theology truly allows for doubt, you need to change it. There could be no peace that passes all understanding without that assurance. Take it to the bank. I think I know what you are going through, or beginning to, and I know it can be hard. Email me if you ever feel like it.

Jay said...

Thanks David. Actually, many of my Reformed friends contacted me after I wrote that to inform me that I had been wrong in that opinion. I agree with what you said. What I was having a problem with was walking by faith rather than emotion.

At the time I wrote that post, I wasn't feeling very saved, but since then I've had to learn to trust in God's promises and assurance even though I go through periods of spiritual darkness sometimes.

I am His. I wouldn't be who I was or do the things I do if I wasn't, and knowing the person I was before I was in Christ, I can see the change that's happened. I have to believe that that didn't happen on its own, and that Christ is working in me.

Simply put, my theology wasn't allowing for that much doubt. I simply didn't know the theology well enough. Hope you're well!