Here’s a good Lord’s Day meditation by Puritan William Gurnall (d. 1679).
“As God makes use of all the seasons of the year for the harvest – the frost and cold of the winter, as well as the heat of the summer – so doth he, of fair and foul, pleasing and unpleasing providences, for promoting holiness. Winter providences kill the weeds of lusts, and summer providences ripen and mellow the fruits of righteousness. When he afflicts it is for our profit, to make us partakers of his holiness (Heb 12.10).”
This quote of Gurnall’s is found on page 417 of The Christian in Complete Armor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002 reprint).
When Christians are suffering in various ways it is made worse sometimes because we just can’t understand what’s going on – why is God doing what he’s doing? Samuel Rutherford (d.1661) here reminds Christians that we can usually only see half the picture of providence. Therefore, we need to be patient and remember that we have a limited view of God’s greater plan – a plan for his glory and the good of his people.
“…We look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building. When a painter draweth the half of a man; the one side of his head, one eye, the left arm, shoulder, and leg, and hath not drawn the other side, nor filled up with colors all the members, parts, limbs, in its full proportion, it is not like a man.”
“So do we look on God’s works by halves or parts, and we see him bleeding his people, scattering parliaments, chasing away nobles and prelates, as not willing they should have a finger in laying one stone of his house; yet do we not see, that in this dispensation, the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece. God is washing away the blood and filth of his church, removing those from the work who would cross it.”
In other words, God’s providence is like a huge painting and we can only see a little here and there. Sometimes it doesn’t look like a beautiful picture; instead it looks like a mess. But if we have patience and wait, in time we’ll see more of the picture and it’ll make a lot more sense – if not in this lifetime, then in the one to come. We need to pray for the faith to remember that God is the sovereign artist and architect who knows exactly what he’s doing.
Quotes taken from The Trial and Triumph of Faith by Samuel Rutherford, page 28.
“Our society has adopted a pattern of 48 weeks of work and four weeks of rest. We overwork for most of the year and then ‘binge rest’ for four weeks. But this was not the pattern for which we were made. We ‘need’ holidays because our normal lives are so out of balance. The sustainable answer is not an annual holiday, but to get back to a biblical pattern of work and rest structured around a week.”
“It’s doubtful if holidays are good for us. Eight out of ten people work extra hours before going away. One in three finds the days before a holiday the most stressful of the year. Most say they feel as stressed as ever by the end of their first week back. When your pattern is 48 weeks work and four weeks rest then your holiday is everything. People speak of working for their holidays. Christmas letters typically consist of holiday itineraries. That is the sum of people’s lives. Life has become week after week of toil for two weeks in the sun.”
“We not only spread the work-rest pattern over a year instead of a week. We spread it over a lifetime. We overwork for maybe 40 years to set up a retirement of leisure. Neither the overwork nor the retirement is healthy or godly. The Bible doesn’t recognize the category of retirement. Work is to be part of life throughout life. Clearly the amount of work we can do will decrease as our capacities diminish. Nor should we equate work with employment. People may retire from employment, but still have years of active service left to give to the church or community.”
After I read an outstanding book, I’ve often thought, “I wish I had tons of cash so I could get 100 copies of this book to give to anyone who would read it.” This book, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester is one of those books. I said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: get this book. (And yes, if I did have tons of money, I’d give this and other books to our readers!)
In a most excellent essay on Christians facing illness, Hauerwas chastens modern medical practice and ethics: “Modern medicine was formed by a modern culture that forced upon medicine the impossible role of bandaging the wounds of societies that are built upon the premise that God does not matter” (p 352). Modern medicine, he continues, is made up of a whole bunch of people who have only one thing in common – a fear of death (p 353). A whole bunch of people trying to push death far away creates a whole bunch of other people who follow the false hope of death being “way off.” ‘We can fix it!’ modern medicine cries; alternatively, modern man cries ‘we can fix it,’ which attitude in turn infiltrates modern hospitals.
“Technological miracles have schooled us in the false hope that death might be avoided altogether…. Modern medicine exemplifies a secular social order shaped by mechanistic economic and political arrangements, arrangements that are in turn shaped by the metaphysical presumption that our existence has no purpose other than that which we arbitrarily create” (p 354).
Hauerwas tells us not to be formed by such thinking when suddenly we’re in the doctor’s office facing the bad news of terminal illness. To be “patient patients” we need to understand and practice patience before we become dependent upon an oxygen tank or 7 pills a day. “To be patient when we are sick requires first that we learn how to practice patience when we are not sick” (p 364). “The patient patient knows – and can teach others, including physicians – that the enemy is neither the illness nor the death it intimates, but rather the fatalism these tempt us to as we meet our ‘bad luck’ with impatience.”
If you need some bio-ethics type reading, this piece should be on your list!
For the full article, see pages 348-366 of Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).