Our family has been sick for most of the past week and I think it is starting to wear on everyone, particularly my wife, Chrissie. She has had a lot of sick duty recently. The kids have cold and flu symptoms. While each particular illness has not been terrible, it seems that our kids have experienced a series of different sickness one after another. As soon as they seem to be better - they catch something new. Right now, I am sitting on the couch next to two sick daughters. It makes me think about Calvin's discussion of self denial. And as I shivered under the blankets last night - I thought of our Lenten devotional and carrying our cross.
In this particular section (3.8.8), Calvin talks about the "calamity that we bear for the sake of defending righteousness." I will get to that tomorrow. But for now I want to look at the comfort that he offers later in the section. It is a comfort that can be applied to all types of suffering, even illness.
Calvin says a few very practical things in this section. First he acknowledges that suffering is painful. That may seem obvious, but his approach is very realistic. When suffering, "such cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain." That is, suffering really hurts - in all its forms. It is not a realistic goal for a Christian to deny the difficulties of our suffering. There is "harshness in poverty", "torment in diseases", "sting in disgrace", "dread in death." The Christian life doesn't deny these realities, but it looks to the consolation of God in the midst of our suffering. Calvin ends with this hope: "wounded by grief and sorrow, [we] rest in the spiritual consolation of God.
I can say that I experienced something of this "spiritual consolation of God" last night. As I look back over my life at other sicknesses, many have been more severe. And many have offered moments of deeper consolation. But even last night with a fever and chills I found comfort in God's consolation. When the world seems to close in around you and you have nothing but your prayers and trust in the Lord, there is a sweet simplicity in resting in God's comfort. This doesn't make sickness fun. And it doesn't make any of our experiences of the cross easy. But in our suffering we can experience spiritual comfort as we lean into God's consolation.
"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word." - 2 Thess. 2:16-17
Thursday, March 17
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 5:10
“Therefore, whether in declaring God’s truth against Satan’s falsehoods or in taking up the protection of the good and the innocent against the wrongs of the wicked, we must undergo the offenses and hatred of the world, which may imperil either our life, our fortunes, or our honor. Let us not grieve or be troubled in thus far devoting our efforts to God, or count ourselves miserable in those matters in which he has with his own lips declared us blessed (Matt. 5:10). Even poverty, if it be judged in itself, is misery; likewise exile, contempt, prison, disgrace; finally, death itself is the ultimate of all calamities. But when the favor of God breathes upon us, every one of these things turns into happiness for us.”
The favor of God breathes happiness into times when we “undergo the offenses and hatred of the world.” If we are disliked, slandered, ridiculed, and alienated because of Christ, then we are blessed (Matt. 5:10). But we must always be examining ourselves in light of Scripture, through the means of prayer, and with the honest input of our closest brothers and sisters to make sure it is really because of Christ, and not ourselves, that we are receiving abuse. Put differently, Peter tells us that there is a difference between being insulted because of Christ and suffering because of our sin: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (1Peter 4:12-16).”
Are people mistreating us because of our Christlikeness or for other reasons? Good news: Christ lived and died for those who are unlike Him in order to make them like Him, so that, they might make much of Christ and forget about themselves. Self-forgetters make the best Christ-exalters and other-lovers. These people don’t live to be persecuted they are persecuted because they truly live. They don’t have pathological and narcissistic thoughts like “people hate me because I tell the truth.” Instead, they think “do people hate me because of me? What about me must change in order to better love God and others?” (Justin)