Sufficient Grace: Suffering is Hope
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
George Matheson, 1842-1906
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
George Matheson wrote this hymn on the night of his sister’s wedding, when he was 40 years old. Matheson was flooded with the painful memory of the woman he loved, and who did not marry him because he was losing his eyesight. Through deep and personal suffering, George came to know and trust in the love of God made known in Jesus Christ.
In the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul, who calls himself the chief of sinners, tells us God’s answer to his plea for God to remove a thorn in his flesh. “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10). The Apostle makes it known that this thorn is given to him. In ancient literature, a piercing of the flesh by a thorn or an arrow signified love’s invasion of the body; it was a common theme in love poetry. The love of God is found in suffering.
O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
In the deepest moments of our pain, God does not seem to be a particularly sentimental God. The heart of God and God’s willingness to share in the sufferings of the world God loves come to articulation in Jesus Christ's death upon the cross. To bear a cross is to bear the suffering that brings the crown of glory. The 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote: "The love of God does not find but creates that which is pleasing to it." He believed that and creates from the nothing he has reduced us to through suffering. God must rid us of the old so that the new life may begin. In a conversation with an esteemed Jewish leader, Nicodemus, Jesus says that unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
Contrary to what we might want to believe, we are attached to our sin, and the cross is an intervention -- it creates a real low point where false optimism and positive thinking cannot move our mountains. But, it is also where in faith, we recognize that God is gracious. In our deepest sorrows and our deepest wounds, we can be assured that God has shared in our suffering in the life and crucifixion of Christ. Jesus was crucified at the hands of the human race, but he makes it known that he laid his life down on his own accord; it was not taken from him. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). God’s grace is sufficient for you. God will have his way and this is good news because your life is held in the hands of a Creator who creates from nothing. God's saving work seems strange, but we must first die so that we may live.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
In an exchange between Jesus and his disciple Peter, Jesus asks who people say that He is: "John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.” Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers, “ You are the Messiah.” After sternly ordering the disciples not to tell anyone about Him, Jesus openly foretells His death and resurrection. Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:29-38). We will lose our lives on account of our salvation; we will die so we can live. We will follow after Christ in the way of the cross. In this passive experience of suffering, we come to know Christ as the Messiah, and we come to know that God is the ultimate answer to it all.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
We would never construct a religion patterned after the cross. As we experience our own sinfulness before the holy God who declares, “I am the Lord your God,” we may want to run away from God. But, in this declaration, God promises to be our God! God will not leave us nor let sin and death have the final say over our lives. As we come to know Jesus, we come to know God, disguised in human flesh and humility. God calls us in grace to experience God where he bled and died on the cross. God calls us to know the passion of the God who saves sinners.