Sometimes I feel my whole life is a spiral curriculum! You may be familiar with this model, but it is one where the same topics are revisited in a circular manner, but each time with new layers and complexities as appropriate for the educational stage which has been reached. It is a model popular in medical schools across the UK.
But that perhaps is a very pseudo-scientific way of describing how I feel right now! Maybe other readers feel this way at times too, but it is the conflict between KNOWING something as truth, as fact, as being unquestionably correct, but simultaneously there occur undercurrents of questioning, of revisiting questions which you thought you would never have need to ask again, basically of DOUBT.
Almost every week I hear of friends who are facing trials of one type or another. Sometimes it is illness, sometimes the life-threatening illness of a child, sometimes it is a more external challenge for example financial or employment difficulties, sometimes it is a catastrophe, a disaster, a road accident. You know the situations, which could be described in terms of cliché. Sometimes a phonecall changes your life. This should not surprise me! We live in a world which is flawed, which is imperfect.
The Apostle Paul wrote beautifully of this type of thing. ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subject to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ (Romans 8:18-21). What do those words mean? But that not just our own sin-damaged lives, but also the very substance of this world, the very scientific forces that were set into place at creation, all of these are flawed, damaged, virtually groaning in anguish at times, waiting for the time and day when the Lord returns to restore all things. DNA within a cell replicates, but errors creep in. Children are born with life-limiting syndromes. Cells become malignant and spread. Even the beautifully created structures within a cell, the triple helix structure of genetic material, all are subject to corruption. To what end? Why? I once heard somebody say that a reason why so many elderly people are bitter and cynical is that life reaches a point where it is characterised by one loss after another. There are days when I would agree; there is little in this world to look forward to. But fast forward to the end of the book: ‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’. (Revelation 21:1-4 – but you could go on and quote so much more!).
The question is, how then should we live? (Sounds like the title of a Francis Shaeffer book!). How should we live in the light of a world which is full of corruption, anguish, pain, sorrow, loss, frustration, suffering, death? What hope is there? How can we raise our children, knowing that at some point they too will see this? That one day they will face a turning point, a crossroads, a realisation that life is not all sunny days and adventures, that there are things which daddy and mummy cannot fix or make better?
These are some of the most fundamental questions of humanity. As a Christian, I KNOW a lot of the right answers. Many authors have written at length, in various styles and from diverse angles on ‘the question of suffering’, ‘the problem of pain’, however you might choose to pose the questions. I KNOW some of the answers I could point another person towards. But there remain times when I question again. I don’t always formulate the question fully, but it is more like a pang deep in my heart, a deep call of ‘Why?’
The Psalmist knew and understood some of these things. How many Psalms start in anguish, ‘As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’’ (Psalm 42:1-3). Who is ‘they’? For me, it is these deep uncertainties which stir within me. When Job was faced with suffering, his wife wanted him to ‘curse God and die’. I have known others who have suggested similar to me, perhaps wanting a display of anger or reckless behaviour, or some other evidence that I have inwardly cursed God.
My sons are enjoying learning about ancient civilisations, and the eldest is intrigued by the elaborate burial customs of the ancient Egyptians. In particular, he is fascinated by buried treasure. But he also knows about tomb robbers and decay. The other evening, we reflected on this, and read the words of Jesus: ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and here thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:19-20). Simple, but profound. What are treasures on this earth? I suppose all those things which the world values – this may be material goods, but for others, it is health and happiness, relationships and fulfilment, personal satisfaction and status within the community or society. Many of these things motivate us, but Jesus warns, that all are risky, all will not last. There is the parable of the rich farmer who build bigger and bigger barns, with the desire that he could then retired and live a comfortable life of ease. But he was decried as a fool, as his life had neglected God.
How should I live today? Should I waste time weeping for what is lost? (NB: I am not saying that it is wrong to weep, to grieve to mourn; by no means. But rather I am referring to choosing despair rather than laying these things before God). Being anxious for that which I cannot change? Fretting over failures, missed opportunities, clumsy words and foolish choices? I could do that. It would be quite easy really, and I could descend downwards into despair. I think many people do choose to do likewise, even if that choice has not felt like a conscious decision. Sometimes there seems no other option, especially to those who live without hope. Or I could consciously choose the opposite – I could run as far as I can from pain, from anything that reminds me of these things. I could live fast and hard, close down any conversation that seems to be verging on discussing such matters, and rid myself of any reminders of the past, of loss, disappointment or any other thing I would rather forget. I know those who live this way too.
Thankfully the Bible does help me today. ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’. Colossians 3:1-2. (I have underlined the verbs, the choices, the positive actions which we can pursue). What does that mean, other than that we should live with our focus on what really matters. We are to expect trial in this world. ‘For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me’. Philippians 1:29-30. It is not a problem of ‘the modern world’, but an age old quandary.
Today I can choose. I can choose to set my mind, my focus, my energies on eternity. I can bring my concerns before the Lord, yes with weeping at times, yes with groans that words cannot express, but to the One who fully understands. That is why the Apostle Paul, having discussed suffering, can go on to write, ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’. Philippians 4:6-7.
And do these things affect the education of my children? Absolutely! One big reason people choose to home educate is so that they can work through these type of spiritual and philosophical questions with their children as they arise, in an age appropriate manner. We can equip them with the right tools from an early age. Often I still struggle with a conflict between the secular humanistic worldview under which I was raised, and the true perspective given me by my faith in Christ; I pray that my boys will have less of this conflict.
And as I recently wrote, I can choose whether to lament that which I feel I have lost,that which causes me to grieve, or I can choose to look forward and fulfil the responsibilities which I have been given today. And in all things, I can focus on heaven and seek every opportunity to give Him glory in my speech, my actions, my priorities and my attitudes. Children learn as much through what is not directly spoken as the ‘lessons’ we provide. I pray that my attitude and responses to trials will teach them much, rather than causing them to stumble.