My wife stood last week in the entryway of my kid’s school sobbing. Not a little quiet cry but really letting all the emotions come to the surface. A lady had asked how she was doing and she let it all out. Six or seven godly women gathered around her praying. They laid hands on my bride, praying passionately, many of the women started to cry as well.
I would usually be embarrassed by this situation. We’re supposed to have it all together. We’re Christian leaders so we need to lead the way in the Victorious Christian Life. What will people think if they see my wife sobbing in public? As I stood there, however, I thought to myself, “This is the Victorious Christian Life…this is Victorious Christian Sobbing.”
Early in our marriage my wife had chronic pain lasting several years. For the last few years she has been pain free. A huge blessing. The pain started to return about a month ago and we’ve been working with doctors and physical therapists to get it back under control. As she stood there sobbing she was letting the women know she needed God’s strength to carry her through every moment. It was clear to me these other godly women were moved realizing they desired my wife’s healing but also desired the same thing from God. As I stood there praying along I kept thinking, “This is good. This is not normal…it’s a little embarrassing…but this is good.”
I’ve been mentored in this area recently by a godly man. When I first met this man I was excited because of his reputation. I knew he had mentored others but I didn’t know if we’d click. It’s pretty easy for guys to have relationships where you hang out with other guys going fishing, working on backyard projects, watching sports, doing all sorts of activities together. It’s hard, however, for men to have relationships where you “go deep” in the things of God. A friendship where your walk with Jesus is truly better after spending time together. These deep spiritual mentoring relationships can be hard to find. I’ve been blessed, however, to find this friendship in John Calvin.
As I stood there watching my wife sobbing I kept thinking about the last time Johnny C (yes, we’re that tight) and I sat down together. It was in the 702-715 page range of his magisterial 1600 page Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume version edited by John T. McNeil). Calvin brought up the subject of the Theology of the Cross. The cliff-notes version of the Theology of the Cross could be worded like this: If we aren’t familiar with continual pain we won’t continually understand, appreciate, or benefit from the cross. We need to frequently enter into pain to continually enter into Christ. Calvin, as usual, unpacks these ideas. Whether or not you agree with Calvin on issues of salvation, I ask you to set them aside for a bit and listen to this man who is obviously well acquainted with the Bible, Jesus and grief:
Calvin opens the conversation by saying:
We are to take up our cross, as followers of Christ. But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.
Most churches don’t lead with this reality. Who would want to follow Jesus if they are guaranteed a “hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil?” Yes, I’m even a little uneasy about his statement. I feel like we’re at the Credo House having a Luther Latte and Calvin leans forward saying, “Now Tim, I know this sucks on the surface. Who wants to experience this type of life? But, I don’t think you’ll fully trust in God’s power if He doesn’t let you first experience the need for His power.” I exhale slowly and reply, “Ok, I’m listening.” He continues:
We are by nature too inclined to attribute everything to our flesh – unless our feebleness be shown, as it were, to our eyes – we readily esteem our virtue above its due measure…Hence, we are lifted up into stupid and empty confidence in the flesh; and relying on it, we are then insolently proud against God himself, as if our own powers were sufficient without his grace.
This guy is good. He’s reading my mail. I would rather, in my flesh, have everything quietly under control than crying out to God sobbing in public. I see, however, God would rather have me doing the latter than the former. Calvin continues to hit me with Bible soaked reality:
He afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions. But even the most holy persons, however much they may recognize that they stand not through their own strength but through God’s grace, are too sure of their own fortitude and constancy unless by the testing of the cross he bring them into a deeper knowledge of himself.
Calvin spends page after page explaining all the great building God is doing in our: character, patience, perseverance, perspective and hope when we experience the cross. He then gets a bit angry and mentions the Stoics. The Stoics would bring up the fact we should be so internally close to God we are unfazed by the external circumstances of our life. The Stoics would look down on my wife for not just sobbing, but for having any negative feelings regarding her pain. Calvin, however, pleads with me to let my wife sob. He calls the Stoics a bunch of names I can’t repeat on this blog. He convinces me the act of weeping is a healthy part of the Christian life. He reminds me Jesus wept in public. He asks me if I’m more holy than Jesus? I keep my mouth shut and take another sip of my Luther Latte. This mentor is living up to his reputation.
I’m beginning to recognize the role of the cross in my life. It isn’t wrong for my wife to go to physical therapy, it’s not wrong for us to pray this season will be short, but I need to have eyes ready to recognize the cross when it comes my way. I need to remember the final goal is not health and wealth in this life. Health and wealth can be seasons of mercy and grace given to us by God, but they aren’t the only form of the good life. Calvin leaves us with a final thought:
In fine, the whole soul, enmeshed in the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on earth. To counter this evil the Lord instructs his followers in the vanity of the present life by continual proof of its miseries. Therefore, that they may not promise themselves a deep and secure peace in it, he permits them often to be troubled and plagued either with wars or tumults, or robberies, or other injuries. That they may not pant with too great eagerness after fleeting and transient riches, or repose in those which they possess, he sometimes by exile, sometimes by barrenness of the earth, sometimes by fire, sometimes by other means, reduces them to poverty, or at least confines them to a moderate station. That they may not too complacently take delight in the goods of marriage, he either causes them to be troubled by the depravity of their wives or humbles them by evil offspring, or afflicts them with bereavement. But if, in all these matters, he is more indulgent toward them, yet, that they may not either be puffed up with vainglory or exult in self-assurance, he sets before their eyes, through diseases and perils, how unstable and fleeting are all the goods that are subject to mortality.
Then only do we rightly advance by the discipline of the cross, when we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its good are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by many intermingled evils. From this, at the same time, we conclude that in this life we are to seek and hope for nothing but struggle; when we think of our crown, we are to raise our eyes to heaven. for this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it be previously imbued with contempt for the present life.
If you are experiencing the cross today please look up and wait on the Lord [Psalm 25]. Be a friend to others who are waiting on the Lord. There is nowhere else to go. You have a Savior able to identify with you in every way. Take His burden, find a deeper rest for your soul. Through the process, however, don’t be afraid to weep publicly. The Victorious Christian Life includes seasons of Victorious Christian Sobbing.