Blog

Victorious Christian Sobbing

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.

9 Responses to “Victorious Christian Sobbing”

  1. But as Luther, we must always distingish between the “theologia crucis”, and the “theologia gloriae”. And the Cross alone is one theology, and here we always find Christ!

  2. I have often pondered the realities of life as expressed in your blog with Jesus’ words in John 10:10b. How do you folks resolve the tension?

  3. Wow, as a person who has serious chronic issues, heart and lung, I’ve got to tell you that it is discouraging to hear platitudes even from someone as respected as John Calvin. Folks who are basically healthy don’t really get where we are and what we have to deal with, so I understnad your wife’s tears and I don’t think quoting John Calvin either gets it done.

  4. Whether we weep, or not, Christ is there with us.

  5. I think our faith gives us harsh words pretty much in the vein of Calvin’s thinking as well as incredibly tender words of comfort, love and shocking grace. These are nuances that we will never figure out in our lifetimes. I do understand that God speaks loudest in our pain, that if we seek to know Him then the way to that is through deep suffering – this is true..Yet it is easy to misinterpret Calvin’s voice, it sounds very similar to the voices that dragged me down in my depression. It’s easy for sensitive people to infer from these quotes that God will only give us pain, that we just have to bear it till our time here is done.

  6. mbaker,

    Calvin suffered through his life from a number of ailments. I suspect he was not always in the pinnacle of health when writing about pain.

  7. I tried to communicate at a couple places in the post that we should hope, pray and seek to not be in pain. Even Calvin, in the very next section from the ones I quoted goes on and talks about the times when life is going good. I purposefully, however, didn’t want to dwell too much in this area. My main point of the post is when you are in a season of pain (hopefully it’ll just be a season) you may be at your best in this season when you are sobbing.

    Yes, I recognize there have been many people through church history who’s suffering never came to an end on this side of glory. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus we have this happening. The poor begger never recovered. He died in his state. I think Calvin’s words are even helpful for him too.

    Calvin’s words are not spoken from an ivory tower. I think for those in the middle of suffering I hope we’ll all feel comforted from his perspective.

  8. Very good post, Tim. We do tend to become attached to the in the things that give us comfort in this world. When we are so satisfied we are not as likely to call our to God in humble, desperate dependance. He keeps bringing us back…testing our faith…filling us with a hope that is only, truly, found in Him and His future for us. We should expect this process to be ongoing in this world as we now know it.
    This ministered to me. Calvin’s words are rich. It’s good to know you’ve found him a friend. Share more of your friend’s words any time!

  9. My 30 years of chronic pain have taught me much. The pain certainly has kept me dependent on God. I have learned to be content with food, clothing, and shelter. I’m thankful for the time to rest and reflect. I have time for prayer and Bible study. This life is only a short time in light of eternity.

Leave a Reply