Several weeks ago, I spent some time getting to know the man who gave me my Patriarchal blessing. He grew up as a member of the church in oppresive Nazi Germany, and was conscripted to serve as an infantryman in the German army during World War II, where he served on both fronts and sustained nearly fatal wounds. The war destroyed his homeland and upended his entire life. He began a new life in America, where he found modest employment as a tailor and served in the church, but tragedy still followed him. Over the years he served as patriarch, he and his wife buried four of their seven children.
This man once wrote, “During those days, Job, in the Old Testament, became our friend.”
He said “I have experience that not everything in life will go according to our expectations. There are times when we are confronted with circumstances over which we have little control. When with the war the bottom dropped out and all our plans became uncertain and I was deprived of a foundation I had depended upon, I had to adjust to a new beginning. Every ending brings along a new beginning. Some things are lost and some things are gained. We grieve and we grow. Something dies in us and something is born. We leave behind some of the unpleasant experiences, and we prepare for a new future.”
I have recently suffered a nontrivial share of unpleasant experiences myself, and I am adjusting to a new beginning. I am in the middle of it all. Many of my plans are uncertain, but I would like to tell you what I do know.
When the patriarch “Jacob went out from Beer-sheba...toward Haran,” a journey through a harsh wilderness, he found it unpleasant, exclaiming at one point, “How dreadful is this place!” (Genesis 28:10,17).
One night along that journey, as he slept using rocks for pillows, he had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him and said, “behold, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac...and behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest...for I will not leave thee” (Genesis 28:13-15).
“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16).
Sometimes, like Jacob, when we are called to pass through a dreadful place and suffer unpleasant experiences, we cannot see how the Lord could possibly be there—no not in that place! But the truth is that in our extremities we come to know God. Surely the Lord is in that place. We just need to notice Him. What a tragedy it would be to overlook Him!
Satan will do all he can to distract us. One of his most successful methods is to preoccupy us with the suffering. He glories in his handiwork and wants to rivet our attention to it. When he successfully convinced the Jews to kill their King, his work stood prominently for all to see, “for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” (John 19:20). Satan wanted everyone to focus on the suffering, to admit defeat. But the suffering is not the end of the story. We do not leave Jesus hanging on the cross. Joseph of Arimathaea put an end to Satan’s flagrant display. “He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus” and laid it to rest (John 19:38). Then freed from the captivating cross, the minds of men moved on to hope in the resurrection.
Paul taught us in this week’s letter that the resurrection has the power to transform something “sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42). Even now, we can lay down our suffering, cease to be distracted by it, and raise up a new creature, a new beginning.
Jesus repeatedly emphasized a spiritual resurrection or spiritual rebirth. At the time Lazarus passed away, he explained to Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
As a result of the Fall, we are subject to two forms of death: physical, and spiritual. Physical death is the death we commonly speak of, the separation of the body and the spirit. Spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. We have not yet experienced physical death, but by being born into mortality, we have been separated from our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. When we sin, we also separate ourselves from the Holy Ghost, and experience spiritual death. The good news is that we can be spiritually resurrected through repentance and our baptismal covenant.
Paul taught that “we are buried with [Jesus] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Though we must yet hope for our eventual physical resurrection, we can immediately enjoy the fruits of a spiritual resurrection. Ours is the privilege to walk in newness of life, in a close relationship with God.
It has been my experience, that happiness is not dictated by the circumstances that surround me, but by my relationship with God. Paul expressed it this way: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound...I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Through high points, and low, Paul was enabled by the grace of Christ to do what he was called to do. As he walked with the Lord, Paul accumulated the reward. All that the Father has awaited Paul at the resurrection, but, daily, Paul experienced a far more satisfying accumulation: all that the Father is.
It is trivial for our Father to give us his possessions, but he cannot give us who He is. We must obtain that for ourselves by drawing close to him, learning from him, and humbly doing what he would do. Jesus followed that path, and was pleased with who he had become. When He introduced himself to Moses, he had countless titles to choose from. He could have introduced himself as the “Great I Have”, to emphasize his power, wealth, and dominion, but he chose a title most precious to him, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). “I AM THAT I AM.”
Paul, pleased with his progress on the same path, likewise exulted, “by the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Ours is the privilege to follow the same covenant path, to daily walk in newness of life, to become. The Lord promises, “thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me” (Moses 6:34).
I leave you his invitation in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.