In the spirit of the Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about my four decades as a Christian. During the Christmas holidays, that first year I had become a Christian at college, I received a letter from our campus bible study leader. I remember nothing of what it said, except that he closed it with this notation: “Eph. 3:20.” The verse was new to me, so I looked it up: “Now to him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” There was something about that combination of superlatives, exceeding abundantly beyond, that moved me. I was 18. What might God do through me to bring himself glory?
My sister had given me a plaque that first year. It read, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I put it on my desk at school, a thousand miles from home, a thousand miles from knowing what God would do through me. I soon threw the plaque away but only because the glue under its porcelain flower had begun to run across the verse. I wish I had kept it. In retrospect, it’s a bittersweet metaphor. Sometimes in the day to day, it’s easy to wonder where the exceeding-abundantly-beyond qualifiers of God’s work went. God has done amazing things in my life, but like the defaced plaque, there has been a lot of goop I hadn’t expected. In his song, “Extreme Ways” Moby conjures the mood with his own adjectives:
Extreme places I had gone But never seen any light Dirty basements, dirty noise Dirty places coming through Extreme worlds alone Did you ever like it then?
Instead of feeling like I was stepping into some grand plan, it often felt more like stepping into wounds. It’s messy and painful to struggle humanly. But the wounds are Christ’s “extreme ways,” and in his hands they are redemptive.
In The Simone Weil Reader, editor George A. Panichas explains Weil’s thoughts this way: “Affliction, malheur, she believes, is necessary so that ‘the human creature may un-create itself.’ Along with beauty, it is the only thing piercing and devastating enough to penetrate the soul. It marks the occasion of a supernatural process when one hears the Word of God and has a part in the Cross of Christ: ‘Affliction, when it is consented to and accepted and loved, is truly a baptism.’” As Paul says, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” C.S. Lewis says the weight of glory is the “divine accolade;” being called by God a good and faithful servant. It answers all the questions wounds raise, and the exceeding-abundantly-beyond yearning. We long to glorify our Savior. While I haven’t always welcomed God’s ways in my life, I find myself saying with Moby, "I'd stand in line for this.”