Coming to terms with current suffering
I deserve every bad thing that has happened in my life, and worse.
Contemporary psychology tries to assuage guilt. It tells people that they "deserve to be happy." You don't. I don't. I think we all know this on some level. Happiness is undeserved. We are bad people who do bad things and deserve the bad done to us.
There are good reasons that they most psychologists teach this. Because we don't think we deserve to be happy (because we don't), we sometimes punish ourselves. As a Psychology Today article puts it "For many of us, the deep-rooted belief that we don’t deserve good things makes us resistant to taking care of ourselves as fully as we can." So they say we should realize we deserve good and we can have good.
Except, that's not really what the article, or probably any philosophically honest psychologist, says. That same article goes on to state that:
Feeling undeserving creates resistance to positive change. Here’s the thing: Once you understand what makes you feel undeserving, it's a process, and a messy one at that to become more self-assured and view your future more positively. What actually happens as you work on forgiving yourself [emphasis added] for the deep-rooted feelings that hold you back, is that you start to feel better, lighter, more relieved, and more understood in your own experience.
But here's the thing, "forgiving yourself" actually means accepting that you've done something that needs forgiveness. You don't deserve a thing. It means recognizing that happiness is not what you deserve. You deserve bad things. But you are going to take the happiness anyway, because it's being offered.
Happiness, then, is a gift.
That's what makes it so delicious. Most of us know that a meal with have prepared and worked hard to put on the table as a result of a job well done makes us happy. Realizing that we could never have done enough to really deserve the food on the table, despite how hard we worked, makes us happier. We get more than we deserve. That's part of how we know there is a God; we know we haven't done enough to have what we have. The poorest pauper in Malawi (the poorest country in the world, according to google) knows this. We in the Western world get so used to abundance, we forget it sometimes on a surface level. We know it's still true, deep down.
Footnote: [Of course, there are some logical assumptions here that, like most things when considered philosophically ultimately hinge on theology. The need to forgive yourself assumes some kind of objective morality with some source outside ourselves or our social constructions that say that there are actually some things that require forgiveness. It also implies that any happiness we receive can only be given by someone. Reasonably, it would have to be by the same source as the objective morality. That basically proves there's a God, if you need that. But I wasn't doing apologetics here. I'm actually whining in long blog form.]
Then, sometimes, we don't get it.
Sometimes we are not given the gift of happiness. Sometimes, we get some of the suffering we deserve, which is made many times worse because we've somehow convinced ourselves that we deserve happiness. We don't. We can and should claim it when it is available, but we don't deserve it.
Sometimes, we get the suffering we deserve despite the fact that we are actually doing good, moral, things in the moment:
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name" (I Peter 4:12-16).
The admonition in verse 15 that "none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler" sometimes hangs us up. The reason for that is that almost every bad thing that happens to us can be traced to some stupidity:
- I didn't take my prescribed pills properly
- I wasn't paying enough attention while driving
- I went to have coffee with my friend even though I knew he had a cold.
- I shouldn't have been at a place where stuff like that happens.
- I should have known the investment was shady.
- I knew I should not have had that doughnut.
- I let myself get angry and I shouldn't have.
Personally, I hardly ever really suffer for being a Christian.
Sometimes I can't be at certain events for my job because they are things a Christian just can't be a part of, but honestly, no one cares that I'm not there. Sometimes I get a bad student evaluation because I don't keep my faith a secret in the classroom, but both Academic Freedom and the Constitution of the United States pretty much protect me from retaliation or punishment based on that. It's been fine. Sometimes, rarely, someone makes fun of me, but I honestly don't care.
No, my suffering almost always comes directly from some mistake I've made.
And let's face it, mistakes are sin.
But there's a path to deal with sin (and suffering is a part of it).
First of all: God saves us from sin:
God often allows this suffering to shock us out of our humdrum. It is easy to let sin in not as an act of disobedience, but as an act of carelessness or ignorance. When these cause us to suffer, it is a wake-up call that God allows so that we can get away from these sins.
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter (II Cor. 7:9-11).
The suffering produces repentance that gets us away from our sin. That's awesome. Once we repent, we also get the Holy Spirit's power to actually be free from the sin. "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18)
Second of all, God saves us from sin.
So much of the New Testament, and an awful lot of the Old, talks about God forgiving our sins that I could fill up a page that talks about nothing else. Most people have their favorites, John 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:8-9, Etc. Etc. God forgives sin. If you need more scriptures, contact me, because I can get them: hundreds and hundreds of them. It's kind of a basic thing.
So, let's get this done: confession time.
I'm not going to into too much detail on a public blog, but I made some mistakes. My biggest mistake was that I became, as Tony Stark says in the 2008 Iron Man "And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero-accountability." I was not holding other people accountable. I was not being held accountable (because I didn't look for anyone to do so). So, some things were done in my name that I should have put a stop to, and didn't, because it was more comfortable not to. Now these things are my responsibility and I have to live with the fact that I was simply not proactive and the consequences of this are going to be far reaching and painful to me and my family.
So, I'm repenting. I am not just saying I'm sorry, I am actively changing my behavior. From now on I am holding that person accountable. In fact, I am no longer offering them the trust that the person once had. This is not vengeance or anger. It is simply the fact that I cannot and never should have had a zero-accountability relationship. This person may well see me as "throwing them under the bus" because I am taking away the trust, but that's just too bad. It hurts me to do it, but I have to.
Secondly, I am going to talk to a couple of people I trust about more of the details. I've got people I can trust with whom I can talk far away, but I am going to talk to a couple local men who are filled with the Holy Spirit and to whom I am going to give full permission to speak into my life. I will specifically charge them with guiding me and mentoring me to be a better leader so these things won't happen.
I have confessed. I am repenting. God forgave me. But there is STILL suffering.
Here's the thing, the suffering from this point on, while I definitely deserve it, is not coming as punishment. Rather, because of the continued suffering after repentance and forgiveness, the suffering is not in vane. I am suffering, badly. But, this is so that God can bring even greater triumph into my life and show his power.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
"strengthening the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith. 'We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,' they said." (Acts 14:22)
"and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17).
"For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (II Cor. 1:5).
"And our hope for you is sure, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort." (II Cor. 1:8).
"I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death," (Phil 3:10).
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24).
"if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us;" (II Tim. 2:12).