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Suffering, Affliction, Regrets — and the Larger Perspective

September 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Continuing through the collection of free used books received, I’ve started reading Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home —  a recent publication with modernized language and introduction by J.I. Packer, covering a portion of Baxter’s Christian Directory from the 17th century.  Even in the current form, it’s not always the easiest to follow, as it describes situations unfamiliar to us, in the Puritan-era writing style (wordiness).  This selection from his larger work includes chapters on marriage, children, family worship, and several other topics — Baxter’s wisdom and guidance to Christian laypeople regarding their daily life and life decisions.  As a guide to those facing such decisions it excels, well describing the hardships to be experienced from a wrong choice, descriptions of the experiences that others have had to “learn the hard way.”

A sampling from the first chapter, Directions About Marriage:

If you should marry one who proves to be ungodly, how exceeding great would the affliction be!  If you loved such persons, your soul would be in continual danger by them; they would be the most powerful instruments in the world to pervert your judgements, to deaden your hearts, to divert you from a holy life, to kill your prayers, to corrupt your lives, and to damn your souls.  If you should have the grace to escape the snare and save yourself, it would be by so much the greater difficulty and suffering since the temptation is greater.  What a heartbreak it would be to converse so nearly with a child of the Devil; it is like living forever in hell.  The daily thoughts of it would be a daily death to you.

Another short sample, a description of an ungodly person:

To habitually prefer things temporal before things spiritual in the predominant acts of heart and life is the certain character of a graceless soul.

Thus is the ideal (Baxter’s “Directions About Marriage”), and when followed to prevent poor life-decisions, all is well.  Yet as I have observed, in the Christian life and experience in this fallen world, those who “get it right” and make wise relationship choices on the front end will experience some other type of suffering and disappointment later in life—perhaps with children, or health, or financial or many other possibilities.

But what about those on the other side, who have already made poor decisions?  Here we must turn to other wise counsel, regarding the sovereignty of God.  Ed Welch in Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness (see this previous post), well stated an important point to continually remember:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best. … in view of God’s sovereign control, God will accomplish His purposes in our lives even when we make decisions we later regret.

Indeed, when the Bible speaks of “all these things,” or “in all things,” and the trials and tribulations of the Christian life, those trials can include the problems noted above that may come to those who at least have their “relationship-act together”; yet for some the trial does include relationship difficulty, even within marriage.  Here I also recall the great application from past Tabletalk devotionals, in this previous post, and relating to the “day to day” life experienced by Abraham and Sarah, by Isaac and Rebekah, and then Jacob.

Another book I’m reading ties into this in a rather unexpected way:  The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien  (a past Kindle deal); this book’s main focus is on Tolkien’s letters as related to his writings of The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings.  I first read it 15-20 years ago from the library, but through the years since and the maturing process of life, I now notice another aspect brought out: Tolkien’s own personal trials and difficulties in the day to day of life, during the years while he was still (slowly) writing the Lord of the Rings.  The letters reveal a life with its share of great afflictions and trials—along with hope, the times of looking beyond the present life to the glory yet to be revealed.

In a letter from August 31, 1938, he even notes that he had come close to a breakdown:

I am not so much pressed, as oppressed (or depressed).  Further troubles which I need not detail have occurred, and I collapsed (or bent) under them.  I have been unwell, since I saw you—in fact I reached the edge of a breakdown, and was ordered by the doctor to stop short.  I have done nothing for a week or two—being in fact quite unable.

Elsewhere, in writing and providing wisdom to one of his then-young adult sons regarding marriage (from the human side of events), he offered this:

Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.

And to another son during the son’s experiences in World War II:

If you cannot achieve inward peace, and it is given to few to do so (least of all to me) in tribulation, do not forget that the aspiration for it is not a vanity, but a concrete act.

As I’ve seen before, so again: a complete, well-rounded perspective regarding life in this fallen world requires multiple inputs, and truth, love, and encouragement come to us in many different ways, including from reading many different books and even types of books.