Peace that Passes Understanding

Part 4

A Practical Example

English Bible
Grantley Morris

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It is bewildering and frustrating that the very thing that to us seems certain to bring us peace is precisely what ends up destroying our peace, inflaming our fears, and magnifying our worries. That’s why it takes God-honoring faith to live in peace that passes understanding.

Nevertheless, I will endeavor to help you see that this leap of faith is not as nonsensical it seems. To aid your understanding, I believe you would find a concrete example illuminating. Since there is an enormous array of possibilities, whichever example I choose will have various details that are unlikely to specifically apply to you. Think of Jesus telling us about the Pharisee and the tax man: we could keep dismissing Jesus’ story as irrelevant, insisting we are nothing like the Pharisee, when suddenly it hits us between the eyes that, despite glaring factual differences, it’s a parable, and the finger is pointing at us in a most insightful way. So it is with the following.

As already hinted, I have been granted the privilege of vast experience pouring out my heart to people who are in torment over fearing God has rejected them and that they are beyond salvation. If anyone desperately needs peace and finds it torturously elusive, it is these dear people. So horrific is their distress that, had they not believed suicide would instantly send them to hell, most would have killed themselves. I am embarrassed over how many years it took me to finally discover what is well-known in medical circles: these people suffer from a chemical imbalance (sometimes as simple as a mineral deficiency) that produces an anxiety disorder.

This introduces the practical example – the parable, if you like – I have chosen for you. So let’s proceed, mindful that, despite it most likely seeming annoyingly irrelevant to your situation, it will end up peculiarly illuminating. Persist with it, and you suddenly see with greater clarity than ever before what is affecting you. All it takes is the patience to let what seem inapplicable details do their mysterious work. So here goes . . .

To explain what profoundly affects some devoted Christians, destroying their peace by keeping them feeling unforgivable, let me briefly quote from my extensive writings on the subject:

    Anxiety acts as an alarm that goes off within us, indicating that something is seriously wrong, and causing our mind to keep seeking the reason so that it can be corrected. Clinical Anxiety, however, means that the anxiety is driven not by a rational reason for concern, but by a chemical imbalance.

    When, for example, a fire alarm goes off, it sounds the same, regardless of whether it was triggered by an actual fire or by a technical malfunction. This makes it very tempting to feel disturbed about the alarm continuing, even when you have checked and confirmed that there is no danger. So it is with your anxiety. Unfortunately, for as long as you suffer from anxiety, you will just have to keep reminding yourself that it is a false alarm, and get used to it blaring and being unpleasant, and refuse to treat it as if it indicated real danger.

    When anxiety is a false alarm, it is not only disturbingly unpleasant, it can confuse us spiritually. Anxiety feels like a torturously guilty conscience that keeps nagging away, no matter how utterly we are divinely forgiven, cleansed of all sin and made holy by faith in Jesus. God has promised to forgive all the sins of everyone who puts his/her faith in the forgiving power of Jesus’ sacrifice. Since anxiety is far too incessant to be ignored, however, it is hard not to slip into believing the persistent, overwhelmingly strong feeling, rather than keep stubbornly believing God’s promise. Add to this, the fact that anxiety keeps telling us that something is seriously wrong when everything is actually fine, and the foundation to our entire relationship with God – believing that through Jesus our past failings no longer hinder our relationship with God – is under attack. The spiritual confusion can be serious, if we cave in to believing our powerfully deceptive feelings, rather than resolutely clinging to raw faith in both Christ’s eagerness to secure our full forgiveness and his ability to do so.

Whether such a chemical imbalance is behind your anxiety is of no concern at present. The point I’m seeking to impress upon you is that an intense lack of peace can drive us to expect to find peace in the very thing that ends up tormenting us more than ever. What I want you to grasp is applicable to so many of us: all of the literally hundreds of souls tormented by an anxiety disorder that I have ministered to one-on-one, are convinced as to what will give them peace. And each of them was seriously mistaken. They were certain they simply need a little assurance from God – often just some convincing biblical explanation. Compassion kept driving me to extremes in providing so much information over so many years that it would literally fill several books (all of it is still on my website). Not only did it fail, I finally realized that all my efforts were actually making these people worse. That’s a crushing conclusion, given the vast amount of effort I had invested into this, but it is the immovable truth.

To explain, here’s what I have ready for those who now write to me about this:

    I am desperate to help you, but despite what one might expect, my very many years of experience with hundreds of Christians asking such questions has proved over and over that answering your questions will not end up helping you.

    Your questions will end up being literally endless. This is the nature of the tricks your mind is playing on you. You will never feel sure, no matter what experiences you have (angelic visitations, or whatever) and no matter how well you know God. You suffer from excess anxiety – a medical condition – and this anxiety will remain, no matter what I say, or anyone else says. You will feel sure that an answer will give you peace – and it might for a day or so – but the doubts will then start up again. So what you need is not answers to your questions but an understanding of the real source of your anxiety – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

    OCD is called the doubting disease, and it goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths. Your OCD takes a religious form, but to understand it, consider someone who checks locks over and over because of OCD. He locks the door and is sure it is locked. Then in just a couple of minutes’ time he begins wondering if he really locked it. The doubt grows until, rather than put up with the doubt, he decides to ‘put his mind at rest’ by checking. Phew! It’s locked. He is now at peace, and can get on with life. But then in a couple more minutes he begins to wonder if maybe the door had not been correctly locked. He puts up with that nagging thought for a while, but the worry grows stronger and stronger, until he is again convinced that the only hope he has of finding peace is to check all the locks. It would only take one check and then he would be really sure, and will never have to check again that night. He checks, and feels so much better. Then a couple of minutes later . . .

    What feeds this ridiculous addiction to checking is that checking temporarily feels good because it relieves all the anxiety. But, like all addictions, the good feeling is short-lived, and it just inflames the yearning for more. The only way to break this addiction – and any other addiction – is to stop feeding the habit – refusing to ease the anxiety by seeking reassurance that everything is okay.

    People whose OCD focuses on religion, rather than on locks, will keep seeking reassurance over and over that they really are saved, but no matter how often they ask, and what convincing proof they receive, doubts will quickly return.

    To reassure someone with OCD is like buying drugs for an addict, when what is needed is for the addict to simply endure the craving for drugs, because giving him the drug will give no more than temporary relief, and it will then end up increasing the craving. You simply have to accept as a fact of life that you will be repeatedly harassed by doubts, fears, anxiety, guilt feelings, etc., and learn not to believe them, no matter how convincing they feel.

    The only permanent help is to break the addiction to seeking assurance. Like the breaking of any addiction, this will be agonizingly tough, and there will be severe withdrawal symptoms – anxiety – but every time you give in, it will strengthen the addiction. You simply have to hold out, putting up with anxiety and refusing to relieve it. You must keep choosing to believe God, and refusing to believe your anxiety, even though everything within and without seems to scream the exact opposite. Eventually – after days or weeks – the anxiety will begin to fade, but that does not mean it will disappear. The longer the anxiety lasts, the more our wonderful Lord will use it to build within you faith that far exceeds the puny faith of those whose supposedly great faith is artificially propped up by feelings.

It turns out that I had unwittingly been acting like a drug pusher and, without realizing it, these people had been begging God to corrupt himself into becoming a ‘drug pusher,’ too. This staggering phenomenon is carefully explained in Scrupulosity: Worried about Salvation, Blasphemous Thoughts &Severe Guilt Feelings and the pages it leads to.

What I have just said, however, is so contrary to common Christian thinking that I almost squirm at mentioning it. I thoroughly understand you objecting that my response is not spiritual enough. God’s answer to such afflictions has to be power-packed, faith-filled prayer, or casting out demons, or something of that order, right? It seeming unspiritual, however, is a major reason for my choosing this example.

Our perception of how God acts and what is truly spiritual and biblical, is so critical to pleasing God and receiving his best – and, yes, to finding peace – that it is vital that we explore this matter. It is not at all that in your case, lack of peace might be aggravated by an anxiety disorder. It quite possibly isn’t. What is so critical is our understanding of God’s ways.

It took me very many years of seeking God over this matter to discover that holding on without a miracle is powerful, spiritual and utterly biblical. Consider, for example, the last part of the Faith Chapter, where people are hailed as faith heroes for enduring when they were not delivered from suffering (Hebrews 11:35-39). The Lord showed me that whereas a miraculous deliverance shows God’s power, permitting us to slog through hard times shows God’s wisdom. Miraculous interventions are an option to which the Almighty sometimes resorts, but far more of eternal value is built into our character through God trusting us tough it out.

Miraculous escapes are exciting. We feel ten feet tall as we swell with pride. No matter how much the crowd roars and onlookers gawk, however, the sobering truth tightens around our neck like a noose: escapism – miraculous or otherwise, keeps Christians weak.

Victorious Christian living is not about avoidance, but overcoming. In fact, seven times in two chapters of Revelation, and twice elsewhere in the book, Jesus gives promises to Christians who overcome (Revelation 2:7, etc., Revelation 12:11; 21:7).

Spiritual babies howl when God doesn’t pamper them. They pout; wanting everything done for them. But babying them will keep them babies. And as long as that continues, they are vulnerable. Babies are as loved as any other member of the family, but they are liabilities, and often do embarrassing things. They cannot be trusted.

A key in revolutionizing my understanding of God’s perfect ways came through pausing long enough to study the context where God twice tells us to rejoice when we find ourselves immersed in oppressive situations. I used to speed through those Scriptures, presuming our loving Lord was saying we should rejoice despite hard times. In reality, even though written by different apostles, both Scriptures actually say, under the inspiration of God, that hard times are a source of joy and rejoicing because they achieve things of immense spiritual value within us. For a very brief exploration of this, see Rejoice Because of Trials?

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Once you understand biblical revelation about how much good comes from tough times, you’ll see how a miraculous escape would be like someone building a furnace to refine ore (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7) and then abandoning the plan, having decided the ore is of such low quality that it is not worth the effort. Put another way: we often get things as confused as a young athlete who boasts that he must be special because the coach goes soft on him, no longer insisting that he train as hard. The other athletes foolishly feel inferior and envious, when the real reason for the difference is that the coach has given up on the athlete who thinks of himself as favored, and the coach no longer believes he has the makings of a champion.

For a final illustration of our Lord’s attitude to hard times, consider Job. Those familiar with the book of Job know that his suffering begins with God boasting to Satan about how righteous and faithful Job is, and the old slanderer retorting that Job is only in it for what he can get, and if Satan were to touch him, Job would curse God to his face (Job 1:8-11). So many of us seem to think that for Job to have been really blessed, the Lord should have replied, “You’re right! I was only joking. Job is a self-serving wimp who treats me like a sugar daddy. Don’t dare touch him, or the whole world will know how pathetic he is.” Job suffered because he truly was righteous and worthy of divine praise. He suffered because God believed in him.

So rejoice when the training gets tough! Rejoice, not as an act of stoicism, but from having the good sense to understand God’s ways.

“Repay no one evil for evil. . . . but overcome evil with good,” implores Romans 12:17, 21. Why? Because that’s the very heart of God. When evil strikes his beloved, the Almighty is no callous on-looker. He is so deeply moved by our suffering that he refuses to let our distress be rendered a useless waste. On the contrary, what his enemies intended for evil, he repurposes into such pristine good that the result is worthy of the divine (cf. Genesis 50:20). Just as the Almighty – the One who always wins – maximized the staggering good that sprang from Jesus’ suffering, so he wrestles our suffering into such submission to his goodness that what was once a source of horror becomes a source of rejoicing. To quote from what I have written elsewhere:

    As an oyster, instead of ejecting a detested irritant, transforms it into an exquisite pearl, the infinitely good Lord takes acts he despises and, in staggering patience and breath-taking genius, fashions them into love-filled masterpieces of divine beauty. We end up so awestruck by the finished masterpiece that it is hard to realize that the initial elements were not acts of God, but satanically-inspired manifestations of ugliness that crushed God’s heart and repulsed him. We must recognize the process, lest in our confusion we defame our Lord by supposing he instigated things that were utterly contrary to the perfection of his love and goodness. On the other extreme, evil is so obvious early on, that one can mistakenly suppose the good Lord is nowhere to be found. Faith in God’s goodness is the one thing that will save us from the danger of seeing only the obvious and being thrown by circumstances.

Love it or loathe it, this is how God acts. If we fail to grasp this, we could so easily miss God’s answer to our need, just like leprous Naaman nearly missed his healing. Remember the incident? Elisha told him he would be healed if he washed seven times in the Jordan. Not only did that offend his pride, perhaps even more serious was that he had got it into his mind how an all-powerful God would heal, and this wasn’t it (2 Kings 5:11). Would he humble himself and accept the method of God’s choice, or would he reject it, and spend the rest of his life stricken with leprosy, simply because spiritual reality failed to match his expectations of how God should act?

Our presumptions about how God should act can get us into dire trouble. In Jesus’ day, thousands of devout Bible-believers rejected the very Messiah they had been praying for all their lives. Why? Because he was nothing like what their imaginations had led them to expect. What was mere speculation on their part, was played over and over in their minds until they ended up mistaking it for Bible-based reality.

It is terrifyingly easy to create our own catastrophe by presuming we have God figured out. When it comes to things of God, a tiny wisp of humility is often the only thing standing between us and disaster. If you want the truth delivered with a sledgehammer, God’s Word obliges:

    Proverbs 26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

For still more insight into how dangerous mind games get, consider the first temptation. Imagine the impact of having run through your mind, day after day, “Eat and you will be like God . . . you will be like God . . . you will be like God . . .” At the mere thought of it being possible to be like God, dissatisfaction and cravings would grow like cancer. And then there are the implications of the lie. Soon we could be thinking, “God is selfishly keeping something good from me. So he can’t really love me, nor is he good.” Imagine how dwelling on that would mess with your head, undermining your peace and your attitude toward God. To let it keep playing unchallenged in your head would be giving an insidious lie free reign to keep gnawing away at what should have been idyllic tranquility and contentment in Paradise.

Continued: Part 5

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Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2019, 2020 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered, this entire paragraph is included, readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.


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