August 12, 2000

 

This came in this week from a long-time reader...

 

are you doing OK? I see that the Net is updated from time to time, but it is some time since you wrote a letter to us readers. It would be good to know that you were.

 

Am I OK?

 

Good question...I'm too shell-shocked to know, I guess...

 

The past year has been the most difficult of my life, so far...my dreams of being able to work on the Tank more (from the little business I started) didn't come to reality ("'yet', he added with stubborn naiveté"),  a painful ending to a last misguided attempt at being something I am not, a totaled automobile, the forced move from my home, the sudden death of my precious daughter, a near-fatal medical emergency last month of another family member (not covered by insurance...five-digits worth of extra expenses, from four days...), medical problems that I cannot get to, due to lack of current insurance...and other crises in the inner circle of my life this Spring  that cannot be divulged for reasons of confidentiality...and it's only August...

 

I daily fight my routine personal assailants of despair, self-doubt, acidic self-criticism, breath-stealing grief, vague fears, guilt (without the "significance" benefits I formerly could derive from it, in  my earlier more OC days), a sense of failure in all the things that really matter in life, paralysis from feelings of stupidity and from an audit trail of failed decisions, and overwhelming helplessness. [I don't actually fight 'powerlessness' per se, since I apparently have (only) the power to foul things up...]

 

Not that these feelings are qualitatively different than previous years and decades, of course, but the intensity and saturation levels are higher than even the most dangerous of previous occurrences...

 

So, I guess I'm OK (smile)...I can still type, and pray, and trust, and cry, and work, and breathe, and love, and express my heart to my companions in this Vale, and worry about my kids, and take flowers to the cemetery every Saturday, and long for Him to be honored more in and through my life, and eagerly await His return...I can still cling to my Shepherd, and cry to Him to come sit with me on the stairs while I weep...I can still close my eyes and sit in his Lap like those other little kids of Palestine did so long ago...

 

And I can wait for Him and for His comfort and for His closeness...The "Trinity" is composed of "The God of All Comfort" (2 Cor 1.3), "A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief" (Is 53.3), and "the Comforter" (John 14:16--KJV), how can I NOT make it through this time?!

 

Paul and Peter were SO CLEAR that one of the main purposes of trials in this life (for His loved ones) was so that the authenticity and vibrancy of our relationship with the Lord Jesus would be obvious at His return, and that consequently He would be "awesomely" justified--before a defeated, yet still sneering, mal-angelic and mal-human crowd--in gracing us with His lavish riches and inheritance...

 

 

Paul, in 2 Thess 1.4-5 says:

 

"Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.  All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

 

WBC comments on this concept:

 

"As in 1 Thess 2:14; 3:3, 4, the Thessalonians’ suffering tribulation is said to be a proof of the genuineness of their faith; their steadfastness under it marks them out as worthy of the divine kingdom. In both places in the Thessalonian correspondence where the coming kingdom of God is mentioned, the idea of worthiness finds a place (cf. 1 Thess 2:12).

 

 'that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God”; cf. Luke 20:35, “those who are counted worthy  to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead.” The kingdom of God here, as in 1 Thess 2:12, is identical with “that age,” in which the children of God will enjoy resurrection life.  for which indeed you are suffering.” This is hardly tantamount to saying that they are suffering in order to inherit the kingdom of God; rather, their suffering for the sake of the kingdom of God is their suffering for the sake of Christ... The kingdom of God is entered through tribulation (Acts 14:22), but the kingdom cannot be said to be the purpose of the tribulation on the part of those who inflict it or even on the part of those who endure it.

 

And Peter, in 1 Peter 1.6:

 

 "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

WBC on this passage offers:

 

"It is God who crowns genuine faith with “praise, glory, and honor” at the last day (cf. 5:4). Each term  can be used either for that which human beings offer to God or for that which God confers on them. Because of the way in which God is understood in this epistle (and in the NT generally), the two alternatives are not to be set against each other but regarded as two sides of a single coin. If “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a God of grace, then it is in giving that he receives (cf. the expression, “to the praise of the glory of his grace” in Eph 1:6, 12, 14). In honoring he is honored, in glorifying he receives glory, and in praising he is praised. There is a certain ambiguity in the three unmodified nouns, “praise, glory, and honor,” with the hint of a double reference that cannot be overlooked. Yet the priority is clear. Peter has in mind explicitly the praise, glory, and honor that God bestows on his servants, and only implicitly the praise, glory, and honor that is his in the act of giving...These three terms inevitably suggest the notion of reward, specifically as eschatological reward, for they are all part of the “salvation” for which the Christian community waits (cf. vv 5, 9, 10). They are not “prizes” awarded on the basis of merit but simply the eschatological equivalent of “genuine faith” itself. At the last day the virtues of faithfulness and endurance are no longer necessary—because persecution is no longer a threat—and are exchanged for a different currency. Faith gives way to vindication, and “praise, glory, and honor” are different ways of expressing this vindication.

 

 

When I personally get in these "pit" situations, I TRY to remember this--that the entire grace and power of God is focused on this simple purpose of the moment--that my faith "not fail".

 

I remember a seminary Prof decades ago jokingly commenting upon Col 1.9ff (And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,  11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience). He talked about what a 'disappointment' it was, to have Paul get him all wound up with the "all power" and "glorious might" phrases--only to have the goal as simple "endurance and patience"! The Prof wanted the power/might for more 'spectacular' things, more ostensive victories, more 'kicking butt for the kingdom'...but Paul said it took all the power of God for us little creatures to not give up on God...

 

And so Paul can summarize his success at the end of his life--NOT by how many churches he planted, or now many people he introduced to the Beautiful Heart, or how many NT letters he wrote--but that:

 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4.7)

 

I have pondered this for years, and esp. every time I read "This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Sometimes it's simply a matter of holding on...and perhaps this is more difficult than first appears...

 

Apparently, the forces of evil (both within and without) hammer away at us to get us to abandon our faith (or exchange it for something else, like "religion" or "belief system" or "magic") in God. The basics of biblical faith are, of course, confidence in God's heart and in His provision for our situation of alienation from all that is truly 'alive' (Heb 11--"a rewarder" He is called). Every challenge (and in some cases, every abundance--cf. Deut 32.15; Neh 9.25; Mt 13.22; 1 Tim 6.9) "encourages us" to deny His goodness or His involvement (Job 1!)...

 

When we walk with God because "He is worthy", instead of because "it is worth it" (i.e., a basic exchange theory arrangement--"you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"!) , God is honored as a Person--as THE Person--as the only God...God is not a force, or a magical genie, or a "fully programmable" divine machine, or even as simply a formal "office" (e.g., "God" as title versus "God" as intimate Companion). It is only when (IMHO) God is treated as a Person, that He is treated as a true "God".

 

 

The reason for this is sorta philosophical, in Two Steps.

 

Step One: When we talk about God conceptually/abstractly (as in philosophy and theology) as opposed to personally (as "in stories" and in portraits of His heart), we tend to make earth-bound distinctions between His "mind" and His "essence". But it is highly questionable in my mind, that the notion of God's essence can be distanced so from His consciousness at all (other than linguistically). It is His consciousness that is the "furthest back" (the Ultimate Reference Point principle, remember) that creates the moral superiority of persons over things (in the Christian worldview). If "essence" was the furthest back, "essences" would have more value than what God actually values the most: personal responses and loving community (including Him as being in the community, of course). We could all just sit around doing nothing but "essence-ing" (which I occasionally do when I flip around the TV mindlessly with the remote control, of course--smile) and all would be well. But, since just 'being' doesn't create warmth and love and respect and honor and joy and tenderness, we have to be real 'persons'. We act, we respond, we commit, we empathize, we grieve with, we comfort, we encourage, we praise.

 

Step Two: If a specific consciousness or character or personality is furthest back (as opposed to some generic concept of "consciousness", and/or some generic concept of "essence"--which are still both 'things' at some level), then deity (ultimacy, 'furthest back-ness') is identical to this specific Person (not merely an "attribute of").

 

What this means is that when we are under duress, the world-machine tries to get us to deny God's existence or provision by getting us to deny God's heart (as a Person). The machine tries to get us to make His heart into a calloused non-heart ("He doesn't care for me/us in this horror after all..."), or His engagement in our lives into a non-relationship ("He has gone away, and abandoned us--in spite of His promises and love-songs..."). In BOTH of these responses, we push God away...out of our lives and our hearts and our relationships...and He is no longer a 'real' god--we have 'defined Him away' by de-classifying Him as a loving Person, into something 'less than' a real God...and the world smugly agrees with us...

 

The mysterious Tetragrammon YHWH, often translated "I AM" has always produced in me the sense that its meaning is exactly that: His name means that He, the Person, is "in our face"... The "One with whom we have to do"...the Living God...the Only true God...The God who enters into relationship with us as persons (not as things)...

 

 

Hmmm....I thought rabbits ran straighter than that....(smile)...

 

But back to my trials and tribulations (as if I ever left them during the 'excursus' above, in which no doubt some of you said "excuse us"...smile)...

 

Sometimes I can sense the difference between trials in which I am supposed to "pray my way out" (i.e., His purpose in the situation is to encourage more interaction with Him), to "learn my way out" (i.e., His purpose is to get me to realize some insight that is important in becoming more like Jesus), or to "wait my way out" (i.e., His purpose is to develop more consistency and coherence in my knowledge of Him, by having me integrate what I know about His good-heartedness and kindness--gleaned from previous learning-- with the "less accurate" assessment I might have of His heart/loyalty to me when I am being crushed to death by my circumstances and by my internal attitudes and fleshly despair...smile).

 

[There are other motives and purposes for 'pedagogically oriented' trials in my life, of course, but these three come up very often for me.]

 

When it looks like this last type, my personal prayers are more for endurance and encouragement, rather than 'rescue and relief' (although this is clearly my expectation of Him--that when the allotted time or stress has been achieved, relief and rescue will duly appear and commence). And so, in the meantime, I pray that I would not 'embarrass' us before the angelic host (both good and bad) and before the world, by questioning His love or involvement in my situation. Although I must admit, about once a year or so, I definitely confront Him (briefly, as measured in single-digit minutes) with some remark like "I'm tired of just 'encouragement' and 'endurance'--how about a little 'RESULTS' now..." ("What?! More Lupines?!!")...But I never get very far down that sentence/paragraph, before the realities of His goodness in my life start to 'suggest themselves' to my conscience: my deeply satisfying relationship with Him, countless experiences of rescue/relief, warm gifts of children, family, friends, the previous meal, personal growth, tender touches of love...

 

The past two days (two days later than the first few paragraphs of this letter were e-penned), were filled with nuances of His love: an expression of honor from the one who has the most power to hurt me in my life, an email of incredible beauty from an of-whom-the-world-is-not-worthy first-time  Tank visitor (whom I will likely only meet in His Future), a card of sympathy for my loss--but so obviously motivated by a God-developed love, a short email of touch from an old, old tank-friend, and even a insight or two on the re-write of the piece on the dating of Daniel (smile)...not rescue, not results, but encouragement and endurance and strength and warmth and life...and I 'felt' (in the supremely mystical way so evident in all the Tank writings...smile) that my prayer requests (posted this morning) were already being responded to...I felt "lighter", I felt cared for by the hearts of countless unknown-to-me Tank readers, and I understood again the true unity of the Church--the bond of love between/among those beloved of the Beloved...

 

And instead of having to walk into a temple to see the bigger picture (Ps 73), I could--as part of a living Temple--sense that larger perspective as I walked from my car into the post office (to find the card alluded to above)...and I am "better now", though nothing has externally changed...

 

So, I am still confronted with the realities of the in-my-face love of my Lord...and for me to not factor that overwhelming, transforming,  and "substantiated-in-my-personal-history" reality into my 'assessment' of my current situation, would be dishonest, irrational, and frankly, embarrassing to someone who aspires to consider "all the data" when forming opinions...and so I cannot avoid Romans 8.38:

 

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

So, thanks for inquiring into 'how I am doing' and thank the multitudes of you who through the years have prayed for me (and for the Tank); have expressed appreciation, encouragement, and willingness to befriend me; have shared YOUR stories of His gentle grace; have (recently) expressed sympathy and condolences for me [well over a hundred of you transformed souls sent letters of co-anguish and co-grief to me--Roman 12:15]; have 'forgiven' me (I hope) for never even answered or acknowledged your emails; and have 'loved one another more' because of something you read somewhere on the Tank (or at least, THOUGHT you read it there--smile)...

 

I do love you all--with the same kind of Romans 5:5 love that also is manifested in 1 Peter 1.8a, toward the One who First Loved Us,

 

Warmly,

Glenn Miller

August 12, 2000

 


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