And these words, ‘you shall not be overcome’, were said very distinctly and very powerfully for assurance and comfort against all the tribulations that may come. He did not say, ‘You shall not be perturbed, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be distressed’, but he said, ‘You shall not be overcome’.Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Joy; Long Text, Chapter 68.
I was once chatting to a visiting speaker at our church. It was not long after I had become the minister and there were various people still in the diary to preach, as there had been quite a long interregnum. We were chatting about the challenges of ministry, and she said, ‘it doesn’t have to be hard, you know; just don’t ‘receive’ the opposition. I have to confess that I did wonder which planet she was currently residing on?
There is something deeply unhelpful in a theology that discounts the trials of life as being an integral part of our Christian journey. So much of the charismatic, evangelical theology that I have encountered over the years somehow seeks to ignore or dismiss the hard times, or even blame people for bringing it on themselves. With any theology surrounding healing for example, we must also embrace a theology of suffering. For how are we to embrace the Glory of Christ, when we are not prepared to accept the suffering that this brings. Of course, I’ve only found this theology in the western church where life is often pretty comfortable. I’ve found very deep and meaningful understudying of the trials and suffering of the saints amongst the victims of rape as a weapon of war in South Sudan, and amongst the refugee camps in northern Uganda.
To dismiss the trials that we face in our lives is to exclude God from them. There is an amazing, very recently published book called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. In it she explores the Presence of God in the darkness, and how the darkness can be redeemed as an essential part of our growth and flourishing, however hard that may be to face at the time. I’ve recently been through a few pretty dark times; and yet I wouldn’t change them for the world.