The past few weeks, I have had an ongoing conversation with a friend who has experienced traumatic evils and has questions about how to respond to them as a Christian.  This is the latest installment in that series:  it begins with their questions, with my reply following.

Now, believing that God’s character means He would seek to have a horrifying situation like this brought to an end, and being assured from Scripture and Christian history that He often works in situations like these through His children, my question then turned to right: if vengence is God’s, yet He works through His servants, how can I know if He would have me act in this situation?  As I’m oft inclined to do when I’m having trouble trusting God, I turned to Lewis.

I remembered Perelandra and the concept that sometimes God seems to give us “jobs” (for lack of a better term) that are entirely for us; succede, fail, something in between, it’s in your hands.  That made me even more confused.  How could I even come close to figuring out if this was a job God gave me to tackle, or if I should step back and “give it up to God” (a loaded phrase that I’ve never understood)?

A few months later, I believe I found the answer quite accidentally. I reread LOTR, and ended up with this: “Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”  Yeah. I don’t know if I *can* do anything, and God may well choose to use another instead of me or work in some crazy way that I cannot even begin to guess or understand. But somehow it seems that the people hurt by this situation are about as close to “the fields that [I] know” as I can get.

That was long, but I think it’s important.  My spiritual question for you is how do I come by faith/belief/trust that if I wait on the Lord He *will* answer? I get that I should believe that, and I truly do wish that I did…but I find myself praying that He would show me something, do something, anything to help me believe that.  Right now it’s just intellectual lip service; I believe that Scripture is true, and it says He will (whatever that means), so I guess He will (whatever that looks like)…

I’m going to go straight to the heart of the your struggle (it seems) by answering your two questions (which were very well put).  First, you wrote:  “Now, believing that God’s character means He would seek to have a horrifying situation like this brought to an end, and being assured from Scripture and Christian history that He often works in situations like these through His children, my question then turned to right: if vengence is God’s, yet He works through His servants, how can I know if He would have me act in this situation?”

This is a difficult problem.  Allow me to offer a few thoughts.  For one, it’s clear that when you ask the question, you are thinking primarily of ‘acting’ through legal (or extra-legal) channels to bring about justice.  That is, you feel impelled to do something to put an end to this situation.  The impulse is certainly noble, though I suspect it might be tinged with more of a desire for retribution than you might admit.  To that extent, you should hold that impulse up with a grain of salt–it too needs purification.  More to the point, should we not think that prayer is doing something?  Andrew Murray, a great saint, wrote that there is no higher act of love than intercessory prayer.  I am persuaded by this, for it seems that even what is demanded in the eradication of great evils is the cultivation of love, both in us and in those whom we would seek to help.  For you, intercession must be your primary activity–all else must be secondary.

None of this entails, of course, that the crime should not be prosecuted or that those in danger should not be rescued.  That intercession should be your primary activity does not entail that it should be your only activity.

Tolkien’s answer, then, is precisely right and I think your intuition that this situation is near enough to you to warrant involvement correct.  The question for you is whether anything should be pursued beyond what you have attempted.  In other words, if legal action and recourse is taken without results, should the Christian pursue extra-legal means of remedying the situation?  I would argue that they should not–the law and the State have been placed here by God for the preservation and the pursuit of public justice, and a matter such as this falls under its authority and dominion.  While you might seek to remove those being harmed through persuasion, financial support, or other means, I am persuaded that our position as Christian citizens demands working within the rule of law whenever possible.  If nothing else, shadow-justice systems make me queasy:  they are built on the assumption that an individual has the moral vision to discern what is right in any given situation, and the moral stamina to avoid the temptation to pursue vengeance instead of justice.  The rule of law and the State are meant to act as safeguards against individuals abusing their power, safeguards which I think important to maintain in a world infected by original sin.

As a model, then, for engagement of the sort I am proposing, I would suggest Wilberforce.  Perhaps this is your calling–to work to bring justice here and now through legal and social engagement.

As for your second question, it is extremely difficult to answer.  You wrote, “My spiritual question for you is how do I come by faith/belief/trust that if I wait on the Lord He *will* answer? I get that I should believe that, and I truly do wish that I did…but I find myself praying that He would show me something, do something, anything to help me believe that.  Right now it’s just intellectual lip service; I believe that Scripture is true, and it says He will (whatever that means), so I guess He will (whatever that looks like)…”

The question of faith is difficult, and I am not surprised to hear you say that it feels like intellectual lip service.  The difficulty of faith is that it is an event in us which we can not engender–it can only be given to us from outside, from God.  So the answer to your question is that you cannot come to faith.  It will seem like intellectual lip service, yes, but you have to realize that it is God who gives Himself to us in His Spirit, and it is God who determines what level of comfort we need to remain faithful to Him.  If you do not feel the Lord’s presence, you may walk away, but to what?  Alternatively, you may rejoice in the reality that God has seen you fit to endure (for now) without a sense of His presence.  Had you needed it, He would give it to you.

The question, then, is whether we will throw a fit like a child might and rebel against that which we know to be true and demand that God meet us in the way in which we want and have come to expect. I am persuaded it is God’s intention to wean us off our dependancy upon experiencing his presence in a particular way.

I am often reminded when struggling with this issue of T.S. Eliot’s lines from The Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.


What might you do, then?  I would suggest immersing yourself in Scripture–and not just isolated verses selected at random, but a book of the Bible that you read twice a day for a month.  Choose Phillipians–it has much to say about these issues, I think.  Faith, after all, comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Second, I would suggest asking the Lord to show you where in your own life you are holding on to idols and have not allowed Him to speak to you.  Your desire for justice is good–perhaps as you seek fulfillment the Lord would show you areas in your own life that need submission to him.  I sometimes wonder, after all, whether we actually want to hear the voice of the Lord–it may be the case, after all, that he would have you pause in your pursuit of justice in this case because you are not yet ready for it.  Opening yourself to that possibility may be more difficult than you anticipate (a sign, I would argue, of a heart that has not yet surrendered this area to the Lordship of Jesus).

Third, I would continue to meet in worship at your local church.  Go to church intentionally–ask the Lord beforehand simply to help you pour yourself out before him in worship.  And if you are unable, ask the Lord to open your eyes to see what He’s doing in the church around you.

All of these are ways of reinforcing the point that the faith that you have is faith in Jesus Christ, in whom God demonstrated himself faithful to his covenant and in whom God has judged the world.  And he will come again. You ask that the Lord would show you something:  he has in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. It is there that your faith is grounded.  It is not in the experience of faith, or in the experience of Scripture, but only in the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection which the Spirit makes known to us (albeit through Scripture).  This is the reality to which you must open yourself.   All this you know:  it is simply that the faith in this is not something you can produce through strength of will (or even through the activities listed above).  It can only be produced when the Holy Spirit engenders it in you (new creation!).

One final point:  you say that you feel more hopeful after writing your email.  I am not surprised.  At the end of Til We Have Faces, Lewis writes that Orual (in her dream) finds herself in a law court before the gods, reading her complaint against them over and over.  She is cut off by the voice of a God, who asks her whether she is answered.  She answers, of course, “yes.”  It is one of the most significant moments in the book.  My sense is that Lewis is suggesting that the ability to speak our complaints to God is itself the answer. It is precisely in and through the speaking of our complaints against God that we realize how inadquate, how poorly equipped, how insufficient we are to offer a viable complaint against God.  But it is his patience with us that allows us to offer them, and it is his grace that helps us to see that our offering them is simply an acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord. If he were not, for what reason would you complain to Him?  The Lord knows your trials–“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It is precisely through offering your complaint to God that you are able to identify with Jesus on the cross, and it is precisely through listening to your complaint that God gives you your answer.

Please let me know if this helps at all, and feel free to let me know if it doesn’t.  As always, I will continue to pray for you.  I look forward to your reply.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

7 Comments

  1. If we are truly to “wait without hope” it seems as though we should go the way of St John of the Cross and recognize a ‘dark night of the soul.’ Yet you suggest that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” Yet sometimes it God’s will to be silent. It is in those moments that we rail against God for the injustice of our lives and His refusal to answer our tears and fists. In those moments we are to wait without even the hope of hope and wait without even the desire of desire.

    Somehow this seems unsatisfying. We want an answer, a solution. But perhaps the injustice itself is the solution to the problem. When we accuse God of an injustice in our life, we like Orual put God on trial, as though we have a right to accuse Him. This is the natural inclination of man since the fall, indeed it is the very sin that caused the fall.(That is, “surely God would not…?”)This question implies that we know of a more exalted God than God. We hold God up (rather down) to a egocentric understanding of justice.

    But as you say, all of this does sound a bit like intellectual lip service. In this instance, the intellect seems dispassionate and uncaring. Perhaps it is.

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  2. […] Lee Anderson writes at Mere Orthodoxy on Faith and […]

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  3. Wow! Your response truly blessed me. Thank you for putting this in perspective!

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  4. I know that this blog entry is nearly two years old, but I wanted to respond to it. I googled “loss of hope in waiting” and found it. I love the T.S. Eliot poem you included. I have been waiting on the Lord for a year and a half now. I think it was about 10 months ago that my hope died. It was a few months after that that I received AMAZING prayer from a lady at church, and she clearly prayed (without my having said a word about any need at all) that I had lost hope in waiting. She prayed for hope to return.

    I had bucket loads of fear and anxiety when I first started on this journey. And its been about the last couple of months that I have noticed that i am not afraid of the worst outcome of my situation any longer. I don’t feel anxious or worried about what may or may not be. I think all those months ago, I locked up all of my dreams, hopes and desires for this situation and have kept them in a tiny box in my “waiting room”. Sometimes I think about what’s in that box, but it hurts too much, brings too much desire so I ignore it most of the time.

    This Sunday, Jesus pointed to the box and wanted me to tell Him what’s in it. I tried to. But it mostly felt wrong. Like I was doing something or saying something I shouldn’t. Which is confusing to me. But even more confusing is why it even matters in this situation what is is that I want, since truly in the end it only matters what Jesus wants. My desire means nothing, unless it is His desire as well. And I don’t know the answer to that, does my little box of hope look like Jesus’ intention for the outcome of my situation. It was very upsetting, and I wasn’t expecting the emotion of pain and amount of tears that His pointing this out to me brought.

    Do you think that hope is given back? My hands are completely open to Jesus’ heart in this situation, I want nothing. But I feel nothing too. I don’t know what to look for. I feel that if I believe that things will turn out a certain way, I will be incredibly heartbroken and disappointed. I can really identify with Lady Eowyn having “the face of one that goes seeking death, having no hope.” I feel like I have looked and considered the worst, and it doesn’t matter, I still go forward to fight to whatever end. So, I am prepared and willing to walk a road that may take years of waiting to come to a new light. I feel I have been groomed from my childhood to walk this road. But it is still difficult, painful, and sometimes frightening. Why do you think Jesus would want to know what I want?

    Thank you for your advice on getting into the word, immersing oneself in a Phillipians,etc. The Word has been my Rock through all of this. I love it, and will continue to delve into it. Thank you again for this post. It was an excellent read for me tonight. Blessings, D

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  5. Deanna,

    Thanks for the note, and the encouragement. It’s comments like these that make hours of writing worthwhile. : )

    I’ll follow up by email to you. I think that would be best.

    Matt

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  6. Justin Gambino July 28, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    What a great post thank you Matthew.

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