Artwork by Mary Fleeson
Gospel living produces a number of unique effects in and around a person’s life. Some of them create pleasurable experiences, others unpleasant. The clear teaching of Jesus on this could be summarized this way:
“Don’t judge the validity of your Gospel activity based on whether it produces a pleasant sensation or not. Gospel living and pleasurable experiences are mutually exclusive…”
This is where we politely ask Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflow Dollar and others to pick up their mutilated copies of the New Testament, and leave the room.
This “mutual exclusivity” rule now stated, includes at least one exception:
“…except when they are not.”
Here’s an example.
Through the Gospel activities of prayer, Bible study, mediation and intimate community, Clark becomes aware of his deep, human brokenness. He is often angry for no reason, insecure, greedy and judgmental. Recognizing these things is an unpleasant sensation for Clark. He turns to God again (likely though the same activities which lead him to this painful place) and brings that pain to God. God forgives. God speaks in His eternal voice, The Word, Jesus the Christ, and the Word echoes in Clark’s soul, and he recognizes the immense love shown to him even in his brokenness – He soars with the sensation of love and acceptance extended to him by the Ultimate Source of Life, and this realization leads him to submit even further to this God, to “double down” on the Gospel life, to press in more, to intensify his Gospel activities…which eventually… inevitably… lead to…Clark’s awareness of his deep, human brokenness…
This is the Grace Spiral. And there is a point on the spiral where the unpleasantness of confronting one’s darkness is directly related to doing the Gospel right. Then there is a moment when Clark senses grace flowing into the void he created by confession and the sensation turns on a dime from deep darkness and pain, to freedom, light and intense love.
But the grace spiral can turn in reverse, and therein lies the exception:
Through the Gospel activities of prayer, Bible study, mediation and intimate community, Clare becomes aware of her deep human brokenness. She is often anxious for no reason, self-centered, spiteful and self-indulgent. Recognizing these things is an unpleasant sensation for Clare. She turns to God again (likely dismissing the activities which lead her to this painful place) and asks why she is experiencing this pain? What did she do to deserve it? Why all this guilt? After all, she was doing what God told her to do, and now He is punishing her with painful sensations! God is silent. But even God cannot give an answer to a non-sequitur question. He does the only thing Clare will permit, and the Word which was spoken before the foundation of the world echos unheard in the self-constructed temple of her chosen god: Clare. God’s “silence” leads her to judgment and mistrust of God, which causes her to withdraw by degrees from the Gospel life, which intensifies her anxiety, self-contentedness, spite and lust…
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
– 1Peter 2:20