Our Response

Rom. 8:31.---' What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

That question faces us every day. Things happen to us, and we make some response to them. We take up some attitude to them. Some of them we resent; some we welcome; some we resist; some depress us. It is a very useful thing occasionally to note what effect these things have had on our minds, and how we have met them. What have we said to these things?

It is a very important question, because the effect they have upon us, and the attitude we take to them registers itself within, making us what we are. It also produces an effect on the world in which we live. The real difference between two people is not in what happens to them, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are fortunate or unfortunate, whether they have sorrow to meet of life flows on like a sunlit stream that never ruffles the surface of their days. It is in the way in which they respond to these things. Put one man in prison unjustly, and he eats out his heart in resentful solitude till his soul becomes bitter and dark. But put St Paul or John Bunyan there, and the solitude becomes a spur to his imagination and an immortal book is born. Sorrow makes one man hard; it makes another equally soft and tender. One who has suffered will tell you how unjust the world is. Another will tell you how in his suffering he came to know the comforts of God as he had never known them when life was undimmed by a tear.

It all really depends on the response which each one makes to what meets him, and that is in our own hands. Most people forget this. We become so accustomed to meet things in certain ways---as automatic as raising our arm to ward off a threatened blow---that it does not occur to us that there may be a better way. When life puts something up to us we must do more than react in a mechanical way; we must respond. That takes our spiritual contribution in.

There are those who say to these things, "whatever happens is the will of God," and they preach the doctrine of submission. This doctrine of submission to the will of God has been preached to slaves and the victims of all sort of tyrannies. Men have been told to see in all calamities the judgments of God. One might well ask where would the advocates of such a view stop? Would they say to the man who has been swindled that he has been swindled by the will of God? This is not the teaching of St Paul, nor is it that of the Master. Christ would not allow that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell had been sinners above others; He would not call that event an act of God's. It was very probably the result of the fact that some builder scamped his work!

It will not do to blame God for the results of man's wickedness, cruelty, and folly. Human freedom is a fact, and sometimes a terrible fact. War, and fraud are the fruits of the misuse of that freedom, and they work havoc in human affairs. But we must realize that these things which are due to the misuse of freedom have only a limited power. They pervert the course of things, but they do not defeat God. Behind them God remains---an eternal force making for good. They come and go, but His love remains, urging towards life.

If we ought not to blame God for all the troubles that come to us, let us be quite sure that always God comes with the troubles if we will but let Him. He is always in every situation. And so what the chance happenings of this world shall really effect in us depends upon whether or no we face them with God, whether we allow God to be a partner in our lives. 'If God be for us who can be against us.' If we let God come into all the things which happen, even the sad and painful things, He will bring some real good out of them. He can make suffering bring forth beautiful effects, and poverty yield a noble self-possession, and the slander of man a wonderful forgiveness. And so even out of the whole set of facts and circumstances, some of which may be superficially very bad, God brings some really good result. The man who wrote these words had had an amazingly large share of bad luck. He had had illnesses and persecutions and poverty and slander and loneliness in his life. Yet he meant what he said, because he had lived with God.

I can only tell you what I have felt to be the only thing which makes life endurable at a time of real sorrow---God himself. He comes unutterably near in trouble. In fact, one scarcely knows He exists until one loves or sorrows. There is no "getting over" sorrow. I hate the idea. But there is a "getting into" sorrow, and finding right in the heart of it the dearest of all human beings---the Man of Sorrows, a God.

'What shall we say then to these things?' It is worth while to get into the habit of putting the question to the things that meet us. What shall we say to the sorrow that has invaded our home? What shall we say to the big disappointment that has dashed some hope to the ground? Some door has closed, perhaps; some opportunity has passed us by. What shall we say to the closed door? What shall we say to ourselves and to do it exactly what we first feel about it, making the burden twice as hard to bear? What shall we say to the man who has let us down; or done us some real injury? How shall we treat him? It matters tremendously for ourselves, and for the world in which we live. What shall we say to the difficulties of the present hour? Business is at a standstill; we have to cut down our expenses, to do without. The future looks dark; the stars go out one by one! What shall we say to these things? Are we going to make them a stimulus or a challenge, or are we going to let them become an irritant, or drive us to despair or to self-pity.

What did Paul say? His first reflection was 'If God be for us, who can be against us?' His first thought was to assure himself again that nothing, literally nothing, not even death, could be against him. Nothing need hurt, or demean, or degrade his spirit. On the contrary, because God was for him, everything in this clash between him and circumstances had possibilities of good. This faith robs everything of its power if we once get it into our blood. If we meet life in this confidence we shall find in it a transforming secret. And this faith will begin to produce in us new capacities for meeting life---courage, and kindness, and patience. Difficulty will work on us like a tough problem on the mind of the engineer, who knows that difficulty has always been the doorway of discovery.

The practical conclusion which forces itself upon us is that the misfortunes which come upon us need not conquer us. We need not be their victims. What God gives to those who seek Him is very largely just courage---courage to carry sorrow and go on with our duty; courage not to think about ourselves and keep busy serving others; courage to resist our own nature when it cries out for ease and pleasure; courage to brace ourselves and just endure. Why all the military language in the New Testament, in which the Apostles called on men to fight bravely, endure hardship, and wear the whole armor of God? Why the calls to watch? Because this is a world in which we have to meet every new day. Perhaps some day we shall see that they are really the onslaughts of evil. In any case, they have to be resisted, and that is why life has to be very much like a campaign. God's servants are the bold. Not the naturally strong---not the great in ability, not those whom the world counts great---but the bold who are bold with a boldness begotten of the fact that they know they fight with God on their side.

"Masters of fate"---that should be true of all Christians. Not people immune from the strokes of fate, but people who cannot be conquered by fate. And that is possible if we go up to meet every evil-stance in the decisions and acts of men, or the devil; in the strength that God gives.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha