Adversity or Adventure?
Temptation touches us where we need to be touched, for its origin is our own stimulated desire (James 1:14). Temptation, therefore, establishes us in sanctification; it presses us into Christ. It exercises us in conscious abiding; it compels us, by trial and error, to find our helplessness with no hope outside of Christ living in us. We shall continue to be tempted where we are most vulnerable, that is God’s right way with us, until at last it dawns on us that appetites do not change, human responses do not change, temptations do not change; there will never be a hope of relief or release, not after forty years any more than after one year, except in the Absolute Other within, who is the Positive that negates the negative, the Light that swallows the darkness. That fact only will stabilize us in the only way of deliverance, the daily walk of faith.
Trials are for another purpose. They come from outside and for outside objectives. They are the normal pressures of life upon us. Right from the time of our new birth,we are told to glory in “tribulations,” which in the original means pressures. All of life is surely pressure. The question is why? The answer is redemptive opportunity. Temptations are for our redemption, trials are for the redemption of others. Every negative situation–this need, this frustration, this catastrophe, these difficult people, this church, family, business tie-up, is the very place where light will shine out of (not into) darkness. They are the negative which has as its polar opposite the positive, as south has its north. It is a dialectical relationship, where the two are related to each other, belong to each other and fulfill each other by being the opposites of each other. Need linked to supply, weakness to strength, problems to their solution, and the rest. This is what turns life into adventure; but it is the adventure of faith–not of sight. Disasters, disappointments, shortages don’t look like adventure; but it is the same old story. This life is repetition, the repetition of faith. The world which lives on the surface of things must always have novelty, for repetition is sameness and sameness to them is boredom. Children of the kingdom within never have boredom, for the same daily activities are always new; for they are God appearing in new guise for new ventures of faith. The sensational novelist always makes a lot of courtship and marriage; it is something new. A serious writer will examine how forty years of married life work out, for he knows that real life is repetition. Can every day have the freshness of the honeymoon? Yes, every day with Jesus is new, and therefore new with one another.
How can this be? By handling our circumstances in the same way as we handle ourselves or our temptations. We move back from appearances to reality, from the external to the internal. Who puts us in this situation? Man? Devil? Our own foolishness? Our own disobedience? No, that is not taking it far enough. The Bible makes it plain that God as purposively sends the unpleasant as the pleasant. No reader of the Old Testament, or of the comments made on God’s foreordination in the New, can call that in question. God’s will and its outworking in our lives is not permissive, but determined. That makes a decisive difference to our outlook. When even Satan is only God’s agent, and evil men only fulfilling His foreordained plan (Acts 4:27, 28), then we can start off by praising God for adversity, and counting it (not feeling it) “all joy when ye fall into divers trials.” That means we have transferred our attention from the situation and our natural dislike of it, to its underlying source, and we only do that by the act of faith. So we are back again to our familiar friend—faith in the absurd—that adversity is prosperity in disguise; and the assaults of Satan, or “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,”or the contradiction of sinners, when our eyes are opened, are Christ walking to us on the waters.
Paul calls that “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,”and being “always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.” That means that we are accepting unpleasant situations or daily pressures rather than resisting them, even as Jesus accepted Calvary; indeed, that it is He Himself in us continuing His death-process—“the dying of the Lord Jesus”—in our daily lives. This is nothing to do with the death relationship we have with Him in His once-for-all death to sin, which is never to be repeated in Him or us. That death was for our deliverance. These daily deaths are for the deliverance of others through us. That was the death of the old man. These are the daily deaths of the new man. It is not wrong that we dislike difficult situations; it is merely human. But these are deaths to our human reactions. We deliberately accept these things as ways in which God, not Satan or man, is coming to us, and therefore all we can do is to give thanks. “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Consider this and come to your own conclusion on Bible evidence. It is important externally, just as it is important internally. We are only free within, if we are unified, Christ and I without inner rival, though there are plenty of attempts at invasion. And we are only free without, if also we are unified: that is to say, if what comes to us comes from one source only, with one purpose. I cannot think that it is sufficient, nor indeed Scriptural, to keep calling unpleasant situations “the permissive will of God.” God does more than permit. That is not the kind of God the Bible portrays to us. There we have a God of an eternal purpose. He does not stand by and allow a thing to happen. He ordains it. If He passively permits things, may He not be equally passive about removing them? But if he sends things, then I can at once rise up in spirit and say, here is a purpose of God. What is it? And I can assuredly start praising, for, “as for God, His way is perfect.”
Life is unified. First we see Christ only in ourselves through grace. Then we see Christ only in all men, either shutting men up in their unbelief that He may have mercy on them (Rom. 11:32), or being formed in those who have obtained mercy. Finally we see Him only in all things, working them all after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).
If we have this settled in our minds, and appropriate it by faith in each given situation, then we are ready to ask another question. For what reason does God come to us in adverse circumstances or in contradictory people? The answer is that it is not for our personal benefit, for our testing or further sanctification or something. We are so used to relating everything to ourselves in the spiritual life as much as in the material, that we tend to interpret everything in that light–what is God doing or saying to me through this? Not at all. God, who is pure outgoing love, has other ends in view. We are now His body, and a person has a body, not for feeding or clothing or coddling, but for using. So Christ in His body. He lives over again in us in all sorts of circumstances to reach others by us. Now that turns adverse situations into adventure. They are not for the dreary purpose of some more self-improvement (an impossibility anyhow!), they are the outflowing of the rivers to others. It is pitiful to hear so often even elderly saints still regarding their trials, physical or material, as some further lessons from which they are to learn, instead of the freshness of the outlook: here is God, even in old age, opening further doors for sharing Him with others.
God is wholly outgoing through all eternity. We have begun that life for eternity, for He lives in us. What a vista! And God specializes in giving Himself for those who are most unpleasant to Him, sinners and enemies; and now He specializes in doing it through us. That puts meaning and content into every possible situation a human can be in. Love is unstoppable. There is always opportunity to love. This is “the life also of Jesus manifest in our body,”which Paul says (2 Cor.4:10-12) always replaces the death. In the death we accept conditions we would naturally reject, and in doing so, we “die” to our reactions.
This now makes possible seeing things as He sees them and thinking about them as He thinks; and His thoughts are always redemptive and reconciling. This is the risen and ascended Person living in us. It affects us physically and mentally. Just as the fire of God in the burning bush refueled the bush, so He in us quickens us, body and spirit. A quality of life is manifest in us, though we may not know it. Faith and love in a person cannot be hidden. The medical profession today tell us plenty of the effects of mental attitudes on the physical; then how much more when it is the Spirit of God in us producing the laugh of faith, peace and poise, a relaxed outlook, freedom to bear other people’s burdens.
But that is only incidental. Christ’s risen life is manifested in our bodies. His ascended life flows out of us to others. So Paul continues, “So death worketh in us, but life in others.” We do not make that up. Flowing is effortless. Once we have taken the place of death in daily situations, accepting them as sent of God, there arises in us spontaneously the realization of Him in His outgoing love. He has a purpose for others in this. What? He will doubtless shew us. It will certainly bring faith to birth in us, for the next verse (13) speaks of having “the spirit of faith” (not, therefore, our faith, but the believing Spirit within); and it will be faith that the God who has put us in a place of need already has the supply on the way, for our timeless God has things the opposite way round to us. We think there is the need first, and that we must now seek the supply. God has the positive supply first, and sends the need to be the receptacle for the supply. The negative, the need, the problem, the frustration, is only the means of manifestation of the positive, which was already there. Bible prophecy is one form of the unveiling of those supplies which have been there long before the need, and are revealed “in due time.”
So every situation is a situation for faith and love. It may not at all be a matter of a great crisis. It may just be daily living. But as we said, daily living is repetition. Faith is always a necessity, for all life is a series of appearances. Things and people seem to be what our outward eye sees them to be—and that is ordinary, the same, maybe the wearisome, the tiresome, the boring, the irritating, the carnal. But faith sees differently. Faith sees Jesus in them, either seeking the door of entry into their hearts or growing up in them. Faith sees Jesus resolving problems or providing needs that are beyond man. And love means that God has put me just there to love through me, not to pester, not to judge, not to drive, but freely to give myself—patience, meekness, service, sometimes faithfulness; and in the secret of my spirit always “calling the things that be not as though they were.”