“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”
~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon
One of my favourite musicians, a spoken-word and hip-hop artists called Propaganda, released a song last year called Crimson Cord. Its verses, recounting tales of abandonment and moral failure, are contrasted with the repeated chorus:
The pain that guides us
The strings that tie us
The coincidence that proves to us God's existence.
Joy we misplaced
The scarlet thread
The Crimson Cord.
Wear your scars out loud
That's the fingerprints of the Lord
A crimson cord, baby, a crimson cord.
A timeline, a scarlet thread
A crimson cord, baby, a crimson cord.
Let me celebrate your crimson cord.
And that's beautiful, a crimson cord.
No regrets, boy, a crimson cord.
Evidence of God's love, that's a crimson cord
The point of Prop’s song seems strange. How can such discouraging stories result in a chorus and, ultimately a song, so hopeful? Propaganda is looking beyond what is glaringly obvious in the here and the now. He looks through the lens of faith and sees a God who is at work and is redeeming the brokenness, even using it, towards something good.
In my previous entries in this series on suffering, I described the troubles of my past year. One afternoon, at the height of these struggles, I found myself on my lunch break thoroughly discouraged and almost despairing of any hope.
But like the beam of light from Galadriel’s phial that encouraged Frodo in his darkest hour, I remembered Psalm 118:17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” I began to remember all the small examples of God’s kindness during this period, the small knots on the rope I was hanging onto. I recalled the timing of my diagnoses, the wise council of my parents, and precious conversations with my pastor Gavin giving me guidance and encouragement just when I needed it. I recalled the moral support from friends at work, the understanding of my boss, and words of wisdom from friends at church provided at just the right season. I recalled the conversations (mentioned earlier) with my pastors and even the music from Josh Garrels and the quotes from books that proved so timely. I recalled my own Crimson Cord.
Here is another example, another knot from this scarlet thread. Over the last 12 months my church offered a “book of the month” for our congregation to read and discuss. The book for the month of May was the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs’s ‘The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.’ No doctor could have ordered a better medicine for my soul. I’ve already quoted excerpts from this work that spoke strongly to me. Several nights I would leave work having received a particularly devastating piece of news and think to myself; “the only way I can handle this is to go home, cry, then read another chapter of Burroughs”. I clung to the volume’s comfort and wisdom as it counselled, consoled, and built me up in the strength of the Lord. How kind of the Lord to have this reading assigned at just such a time!
As I write this, it is early October, five months since these trials were at their peak. Life still isn’t easy. Certain issues have been resolved, others I continue to struggle with. I’ve gone off and had other adventures and the Lord has taught me new things. I look back on this time of suffering and I remember the darkness. But I also recall a certain strange sweetness. The Lord was good. He provided. He brought those trials upon me and, in the end, I am glad for it.
At the beginning of 2015 I read I book of essays examining the influence of C. S. Lewis. In one, theologian Kevin Vanhoozer described a certain vocabulary Lewis repeatedly used. “For Lewis, waking is a way of describing one’s conversion, a coming to new life. The Christian life is all about wakefulness. Theology describes what we see when we are awake, in faith to the reality of God, and discipleship is the project of becoming fully awake to this reality and staying awake.”
That concept of describing the Christian life as “the project of becoming fully awake to this reality and staying awake” has stuck with me and churned its way through my thoughts this whole year. I become so focused on the here and now. My way of thinking defaults to that of the world around me, which feels so real and is so all-consuming. But it is not ultimate. It is, in fact, the “shadowlands”. That is not to say it is not real, or does not matter. It matters very much, for it is made by God and is in fact the theatre of God’s salvation, the world in which we learn to be in awe of him even more.
But when my eyes get lazy and when I fail to see God at work, I then walk around with my nose to the ground, stumbling over roots and rocks rather than beholding the vistas of greatness all around me. So I need discipleship. I need community to alert my to the unseen and align my vision with that of God’s Word. I need to reorient myself daily in the Bible and seek the face of God in prayer, and then I need to continue to be awakened throughout the day.
“I believe” cries the psalmist. “Help my unbelief!”
So I’ll continue to seek God’s glory. Not by just by aiming to succeed in lofty accomplishments, but by a life of what my friend calls “radical ordinariness”. A life of seeking his face through prayer. A life of seeing his face clearer by fighting remaining sin. A life of bearing fruit.