When I was in college, there was always that one guy. He’d stand in the same spot every day in Freedom Square, passing out flyers or post-it note-sized screeds-of-the-week, most of which ended up on walkways and in stairwells all over campus.
College student protests are not new. But thanks to the media’s virtue signalling, the angst and posturing of some of our best-and-brightest is reserved for the appropriation of ethnic dishes in the dining hall and political graffiti on campus sidewalks. (Really? In the midst of everything else going on?) And the nation’s experts on hand-holding and sighing, a.k.a., those media-exalted professionals, build the case (otherwise known as an advertising strategy) against triggers -- any images, words or events that might cause a client or patient to reflect or ponder hardship or pain -- and call for safe spaces, where people who might be mean are prohibited from venturing near people who might get offended.
In the ongoing debate about how the church ought to engage the culture, I hope we all agree that movements should not inform the people of God, even movements with the best of intentions, the wisest of leaders or adherents, or the most virtuous foundations. Movements, by default, move. And they convulse and grow and far too often become distortions of what the movers intended them to be. It’s wise for the church to assess and gauge movements, Christian or otherwise, to listen with grace and humility, and to search the Scripture to make sure we haven’t fallen into ruts of dead traditionalism or brutal cold religiosity. And finally, to seize upon opportunities to care for the flock that Christ has entrusted to us. Only one Voice, however, informs the church: the Word of God as expressed in the Old and New Testaments, written down by holy men who were taught by the Holy Spirit.
On that paradigm, all of redemptive history demonstrates that the Holy Spirit moves against the powers of this world, not with it. The early missionaries were “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6-7) and endured persecution and physical suffering because they endeavored to present the good news of Christ wherever the Spirit would send them, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). They were described as those “who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). It’s possible there’s some hyperbole here, but they embraced the description, because they realized the Gospel itself does indeed turn lives upside down. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
The Lord’s regenerative means is always Christ’s atoning blood, but the template is unique for every one of us, and it sometimes inflicts pain, creates disarray, and results in scars. It hurts. And sometimes a word or an action unleashes reminders of the pain, and in some cases a sense of helplessness. It can feel like an ambush.
A victim-advocate would respond by ushering the aggrieved into the den of denial, creating a safe space and eliminating triggers and buffering any discomfort. Well-meaning, but how truly compassionate is it? It's an insult to Paul and the others who “were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself! Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
Suffering that makes us rely on God who raises the dead. It was the affliction they experienced that made the church stronger! Avoiding triggers and seeking safe spaces circumvent the refiner’s fire that purifies and emboldens the people of God.
My world was turned upside down the day I discovered I was pregnant as the result of sexual assault. If you don’t already know that story, you can read it here. The point is that the moment my life went topsy-turvy was not when the assault occurred but a month later when discovery of the pregnancy was the vehicle the Lord used to usher me into His reality, instead of leaving me in chaos. The world I was in was full of prettily adorned false hope, sweet-sounding deception, and hollow self-rule and aggrandizement. Tipped by the gospel and seeing it on the skewed axis on which it teetered, I saw that I had been saved not from the sudden dilemma I found myself in, but from spiritual death. God plucked me from sin and eternal damnation, judged me as just in the righteousness of Christ, and framed my life with his coherence, his order, his eternal truth, his glory-centric wisdom and philosophy.
The radical transformation in my life had nothing to do with someone taking me in hand after the assault, carving out a safe space for me and making sure there were no triggers to reignite supposed fears of being violated or to deepen the desperation I felt when I found out I was pregnant. That is a compassion shaped to fit the world’s virtues and would have left me lost and despairing of hope. The thought of being a single mom and having my “good life” stripped away wasn’t appealing; for a few moments, there in my room as I contemplated the obstacle in my path to self-determination, in my flesh I wanted numb denial and elimination of the reminders. I am eternally grateful God in his mercy didn't leave me to my own desires, that he drew me away from the voices that championed self-preservation and led me instead into the narrow way of salvation.
The Christian life is a journey of embracing affliction and rejoicing in suffering for the sake of others and the Gospel, in imitation of our Savior; our wounds will be for nothing compared to the glory the Father receives. This is the upside down message the world condemns, but to those whose ears are opened by the Spirit and made to hear, it pricks the heart and draws the once-rebellious, once-dead sinner from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We enjoy every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3), we are already seated in the heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 2:6), and “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
When I read an article about the hard cases of unexpected pregnancies, or hear stories of women and children trafficked and violated, yes, I react to triggers. I pause for a moment and remember having every propped-up excuse for myself kicked out from beneath me and experiencing my life in a tumble of despair until the hand of God rescued me. I am reminded that I was a lost, rebellious sinner, and He saved me. He makes every trigger an occasion for thanksgiving and praise. And the suffering that we share propels me to share the truly and only safe and eternal haven: Jesus. I don't want anyone to wallow in a false sense of security when strength through grace is possible through faith in Him.
As the body of Christ, instead of enabling denial, shouldn’t we be caring for the flock this way? Ian Hamilton asks, “When did we last disturb our own comfort and go out of our way to minister the Savior’s kindness to our fellow struggling believers?” Our discomfort should be the catalyst to fulfilling the "one another" commands of the New Testament. Paul writes later in this second letter to the Corinthians that the church serves as “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us” and reconciling the world to Himself through this ministry He’s called us to (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Ambassadors abroad live in embassies designed to be outposts for citizens of the homeland, providing a safe haven, protection and representation for travellers through a foreign land. In the Embassy of the Church (the Palace Beautiful, a la Pilgrim’s Progress, if you will), we the ambassadors of the King are charged with
. . . loving one another (John 13:34; John 15:12; Romans 12:10; Romans 13:8; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 5); bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:2-3); in humility counting others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-5); submitting, serving, fellowshipping, welcoming, comforting, forgiving one another (Ephesians 5:19-21; Galatians 5:13; 1 John 1:7; Romans 15:7; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13); teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16); encouraging one another in our faith (Romans 1:12); exhorting one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13); stirring one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24); confessing our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:6); showing hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9); showing humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5); living in harmony with one another . . . living peaceably with all (Romans 12:16,18).
This is a far cry from worldly safe havens that perpetuate victimhood and pursue self-actualization but are devoid of the power of God to stand firm in Christ in the face of trials and suffering.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
Christian, rejoice to be the face of suffering shouldered and comfort shared. And when a rescued soul shares in your suffering, it will be to your comfort and to the glory of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Amen!
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
© lauraenglandmiller, #thereyougothinkingagain, Laura E Miller
2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of written material and images without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to #thereyougothinkingagain, lauraenglandmiller, or Laura E Miller with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.